The Year in Platform Cooperatives

*The blog post below is adapted from the first installment of our recently launched newsletter. Please consider subscribing!*

With this Year in Review, we inaugurate a periodic newsletter updating you on the cooperative digital economy. We’ll share practical and theoretical insights situated in their political contexts — from research papers, news articles, and podcasts, to emerging projects, events, and job opportunities. 

This has been a significant year for the cooperative digital economy. In this age of pessimism, we need bold near-term alternatives such as digital cooperatives that build a more democratic future with shared prosperity. Newcomers to this community might not know much about platform cooperatives.” They are businesses that use a website, mobile app, or protocol to sell goods or services. Platform co-ops rely on democratic decision-making and shared ownership of the platform by workers and users.

The newsletter is published by the Platform Cooperativism Consortium (PCC) at The New School in NYC. We are a hub that helps you research, start, grow, or convert to platform co-ops. The PCC works with hundreds of platform co-op businesses with tens of thousands of worker-owners around the world. 

Whether you are reading this in the Bay Area (US), Kerala (India), Emilia-Romagna (Italy), Catalonia (Spain), or elsewhere, write us with news and updates in your language at: info@platform.coop

All the best for the year ahead,
Trebor Scholz & the PCC

Ecosystem Updates

Start.coop launched its inaugural cohort of cooperatives in 2019 and is now accepting applications for its 2020 crew. Check out their work and consider applying!

Several new platform co-ops emerged in the past several months. Explore more about their work below:

  • SignCo.io in the UK offers health interpreting services for Deaf people
  • Beceer in Indonesia is a co-operative vegetable delivery service
  • FoodFairies in Berlin offers cooperative food-delivery services
  • Kolymar-2 is a new food delivery service also in Berlin 
  • Mensakas is a unionized platform co-op of delivery and messaging workers in Barcelona

Also check out this blog on at KU Leuven focused on the platform economy.

Learn more about the YouTubers Union, which gets support from Europe’s biggest industrial Union, IG Metall.

Don’t miss Leo Sammallahti’s tweets on co-op facts at Co-op Exchange.

At least two events deserve your attention, too.
In October 2019 at Utrecht University, NL, Damion Bunders convened a ”Young Scholars Workshop on Platformcoops ‘Governing the platform: Self-help, mutual aid, and cooperativism

Smart, in partnership with Saw-B and Febecoop, convened ”Platform COOP Brussels,” supported by the Brussels-Capital Region.

Beyond these events, Ampled, an ethical web platform for music artists became a cooperative. Read more.

New School professor and opera composer Stefania de Kenessey composed an anthem for the platform cooperativism movement. Listen to it here.

Write to us with your new projects to be featured in our next newsletter! info@platform.coop

Updates from the PCC

In 2019, we launched the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy at The New School with an inaugural cohort of Research Fellows. Read about our Institute and watch highlights from our April 2019 launch event. Learn more about the research topics of our Fellows. Their full-length reports will be published on our website in spring 2020. In addition to Research Fellows, we also formed a Council of Advisors to guide our work. 

Who Owns the World? PCC Conference
In November 2019, the PCC brought together 150 speakers from 30 countries, with more than 700 participants and thousands of viewers of the livestream! The event was supported by the PCC Circle of Cooperators, Open Society Foundations, and the Ford Foundation. You can find photo documentation and video archive of the event on our conference site. We added links to the video documentation in the program. You can also download most slideshows and presentations by clicking on the hyperlink to the File Swap folder within each session. You can also watch a series of short video interviews with 39 participants here.

You can also relive our Friday night keynote conversation between Wilma Liebman and Anand Giridharadas.

This really was our most extraordinary gathering, with video contributions from NYC Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, J. Phillip Thompson and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Senator Gillibrand noted: “I was proud that my Main Street Employee Ownership Act was passed into law last year. It reforms the Small Business Administration to help retiring business owners transfer ownership to workers, consumers, and farmers. That includes co-ops, which have for too long struggled to access this very important federal assistance. I want to extend my gratitude to the Platform Cooperativism Consortium and the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy at The New School for all their efforts and pulling together today’s event, and then leading the research that is driving new innovation in the cooperative sector.”

The Platform Co-op Development Kit
The Platform Co-op Development Kit continues to evolve and move forward as a collaboration with the Inclusive Design Research Centre. The Kit is supported by a grant from Google.org. The work ahead focuses on building an online resource library hosted on our revamped platform.coop website, and developing first iterations of share infrastructure for platform co-ops. Check out the project’s Fluid Project Wiki page online to read up on what’s next! And consider getting involved with our mapping project, to survey the global movement of digital co-ops! Reach out to Travis Higgins, Survey Project Lead, for how to take our short survey by writing to him at: platformcoop@newschool.edu. And check out the richly detailed blog postfrom the coopathon we hosted on mapping, facilitated by Danny Spitzberg.

Community Hangouts from this past year included talks with Namya Mahajan on the SEWA Model, Greg Brodsky and Stephen Gill on Financing Platform Co-ops, Jack Qiu and Gigi Lo on Platform Co-ops in Hong Kong, Jutta Treviranus and Colin Clark on the co-design approach for tech development, and several others! See highlights on our blog page

PCC Out in the World

In 2019, additional meetings and travels by the PCC have bolstered platform co-ops globally. Meetings and collaborations from 2019 included: 

  • A workshop at The New School with immigrant worker advocates.
  • Trebor Scholz met with the President of Sewa, Mirai Chatterjee, discussing future collaborations. Sewa Federation brings together some 300,000 working-class women in the informal economy in India. Sewa is also a union with 1.7 million members.
  • Interviews at the Brazil Congress of Cooperatives in Brasilia, Brazil.
  • Trebor presented to the Legislative Assembly of Kerala, India.
  • A discussion of our research with Kerala’s Finance Minister Thomas Isaac.
  • Trebor met with the President of Japanese Trade Unions, Mr. Koga and with Prof. Mizukoshi at Tokyo University, Akiko Taguchi, Director of the ILO in Japan, her colleagues, and Osamu Nakamo of Worker Co-ops Japan.
  • Trebor met with the leader of the Preston City Council Matthew Brown to integrate platform co-ops into the “Preston model” in the UK. 
  • We continued exchanges with Dieter Janaschek, a Green Party member of the German Parliament and specifically, the Committee on the Digital Agenda.
  • In South Africa, Trebor met with leaders Omar Parker, of the National Union of Public Service & Allied Workers (NUPSAW); Myrtle Wittboi, General Secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union; Gloria Kente, of WC SADSAWU, and Professor Darcy Du Toit & his research team at University of Western Cape.

Ongoing Research on Platform Co-ops
The PCC has continued its on-going research projects exploring the potential for platform co-ops in India, funded through an Open Society Foundation grant, with additional explorations focused on the potential for platform co-ops in South Africa, Brazil.

Books

Writer Anand Giridharadas wrote about platform co-ops recently: “If it is so easy to build platforms these days … why couldn’t workers and customers create their own platforms? Scholz [has] embarked on a global adventure to locate and study various attempts to do just this. The idea lived already … Here was a rarity: a no-strings-attached idea for actually changing the world.”
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World” — Book by Anand Giridharadas

Keith Spencer’s recent book follows the history of people exploited by or made obsolete by the tech industry, from the colonization of the Bay Area to the present day.
A People’s History of Silicon Valley: How the Tech Industry Exploits Workers, Erodes Privacy and Undermines Democracy” — Book by Keith A. Spencer

Articles & Blog Essays

The New York Times shockingly revealed that Big Tech “lost its way” in the past decade. Their report chronicles the growth of various tech companies and their effects on our elections, privacy, and health.
”The Decade Tech Lost Its Way” – The New York Times

Ryan Hayes at Vice wrote this piece inspired by our Who Owns the World? conference. 
“Worker-Owned Apps Are Trying to Fix the Gig Economy’s Exploitation” — Vice News

Read Rafael A. F. Zanatta’s reflections on the event in Portuguese here: 
Nem todo Uber é capitalista – Outras Palavras” — Outras Palavras

The Guardian recently reported that London’s transport regulator canceled Uber’s license, showing the need for a taxi app owned by drivers. 
”Uber’s London woes show the need for a taxi app owned by drivers” — The Guardian

Our friends at Shareable published a piece showing us how the failures of Pacific Gas and Electric Company are spurring a movement toward electric cooperatives. 
“Power for the People: How PG&E’s failures are spurring a movement toward electric cooperatives” — Shareable

Coop News’ Miles Hadfield joined our conference in November. Here is his coverage of the 3-day event: 
“Fire the bosses: Platform co-ops set out their radical stall” — TheNews.coop

After many years of hard work, the Fairbnb.coop website launched!! 
Fairbnbcoop holiday rental website launches.” — The Guardian

Writing about apps-based drivers, legal scholar Hiba Hafiz explores the links between innovative unions, and worker co-ops.
How Drivers Can Beat Uber at Its Own Game”  –The New York Times

Nathan Schneider and Sandeep Vaheesan demonstrate how workers and small businesses need to join forces against corporate power.
There’s More Than One Way to Fight a Monopoly” — from The Atlantic

As we are working with cooperatives in India, we are deeply concerned about our brothers and sisters in that country where Prime Minister Narendra Modi branded two hundred million Muslims as internal enemies.
”Blood and Soil in Narendra Modi’s India” — The New Yorker

Equally heartbreaking is the news from Hong Kong. The very campus where we convened our 2018 global conference was turned into a battleground between protesters and police. 
”How Universities Became the New Battlegrounds in the Hong Kong Protests” — The New York Times

Reports & Manifestos

PCC friend Francesca Bria, former CTO of Barcelona, published a widely celebrated report about her work as Barcelona City Council Commissioner for Digital Technology and Innovation. Her report develops a vision for cities worldwide to adopt “ethical, open, and responsible innovation, moving towards technological sovereignty.”

In Paris (France), Coop des Communs convened a ”Forum of plateformes cooperatives.” The group issued a declaration.    

In Spain, Stacco Trancoso published the DisCO Manifesto, a deep dive into the worlds of blockchain, commons, cooperatives, AI, feminism, and economics.

Co-operatives UK and the Nesta Foundation published “Platform Co-operatives – Solving the Capital Conundrum.” Authored by Simon Borkin, the report is a concise introduction to platform co-ops and the British Community Shares Model of capitalization. Platform co-ops struggle to attract much-needed funding but this report outlines pathways for solving the problem.

Papers

Anna Burnicka and Jan J. Zygmuntowski are exploring the potential of platform co-ops in Europe and specifically in Poland. They write that ”The investment potential of platform cooperatives in Europe is significant, as can be seen from the estimation model. There is nearly €1.3 billion of financial resources that could be allocated to such entities annually. In Poland, this potential amounts to 47.7 million PLN.”
“#CoopTech: Platform Cooperativism as the Engine of Solidarity Growth”— from Instrat and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation

Marisol Sandoval explores the platform co-op movement, arguing that it is shaped “by tensions and contradictions between politics and enterprise, democracy and the market, commons and commercialisation, activism and entrepreneurship.”
Entrepreneurial Activism? Platform Cooperativism Between Subversion and Co-optation” — from the Journal of Critical Sociology

Massimiliano Nicoli and Luca Paltrinieri rethink ownership of the firm using “the philosophy of the commons.”
Platform Cooperativism: Some Notes on the Becoming “Common” of the Firm” — from South Atlantic Quarterly

An international group of researchers authored this paper bringing together researchers from different Human-Computer Interaction sub-communities to “identify future research directions in HCI around cooperativism and platforms.”
Cooperativism and Human-Computer Interaction” — from the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems

PCC friend Ricard Espelt studied numerous case studies in Barcelona to build a framework for assessing the pro-democratic qualities of platform economy initiatives, taking into account governance, economic models, technological and knowledge policies, and social responsibility and impact. 
A Framework to Assess the Sustainability and the ProDemocratization of Platform Economy: The Case of Barcelona” — from UNTFSSE 

Haifa-based researcher Yifat Solel recently wrote that “Platforms create opportunities to enhance users’ democratic involvement in different aspects of their economic and social life. The technology allows direct and long distant participation and thus can help develop — perhaps for the first time in such magnitude and scale — a democratic economy.”
If Uber were a Cooperative: A Democratically Biased Analysis of Platform Economy” — from The Law & Ethics of Human Rights

Ronja Puranen from the Aalto University School of Business compares the business models of platform cooperatives versus investor-owned sharing economy platforms. 
Comparing the business models of platform cooperatives and investor-owned sharing economy platforms” — from the Aalto University School of Business

Scholars, take note: The Brazilian Conference on Digital Labor is making a call for papers. The deadline is February 3, 2020. More info here:
https://digilabour.com.br/brazilian-conference-on-digital-labor/

What’s Next in 2020?

Global Conference in Berlin
Mark your calendar for our 2020 global platform co-op conference to be held in Berlin in November. An informal organizing committee is already taking shape — do let us know if you would like to be involved! So far, several Berlin groups have taken the lead in putting together the conference, in collaboration with the Platform Cooperativism Consortium here in New York City. These Berlin-based groups are: 

A Course on the Cooperative Digital Economy
In Spring 2020, Prof. Trebor Scholz will teach the first university course on Platform Cooperativism at The New School. Guest speakers from across disciplines will join Prof. Scholz. Course materials will be eventually organized into an online course available on platform.coop as part of the Platform Co-op Development Kit. Write to us if you’d like to form a local learning group. info@platform.coop

Writing for the PCC
Throughout 2020, we will be publishing short, public-facing articles on Public Seminar focused on the themes of a democratic internet and the cooperative digital economy. Let us know if you are interested in contributing a short article, written for the general public on these issues. Public Seminar is a great venue to promote emerging ideas in support of platform cooperativism.

Summer Course in Italy
This July 2020, Trebor will teach at the Summer School in Global Studies and Critical Theory focused on “Theory, Technology and the Political Imagination” at The University of Bologna, Italy. Consider applying for participation.

Jobs at the PCC
We are building an online resource library of texts, books, articles, and other media that address issues in the cooperative digital economy. We need someone with experience and interest in archiving and libraries to help us catalog and organize resources. Please get in touch if you would like to work with us at the PCC for a few months on this project. 

Support Our Work
The Platform Co-op Consortium is a grassroots organization, dependent on the contributions of individuals and organizations who believe in fighting for a democratic, cooperative Internet. Consider supporting our work by joining our Circle of Cooperators. Your contributions make our work possible. Email us at info@platform.coop.