The fast rising (though unfortunately named) “Platform Cooperativism” movement got a big jump in 2015 with the first Platform Cooperativism Conference. The second conference in November 2016 was followed by the founding of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium
The conference and Consortium are hosted out of the New School in NYC, and carries a heavy burden of high falutin’ rhetoric. Fortunately, the Consortium aims to move from words to action.
From my own perspective, a lot of the rhetoric is redundant. I don’t need a complete theory of capitalism and possible replacements thereof to know that I don’t like exploitative digital monopolies (many of which call themselves the “sharing economy”), “free” services which vampirically sell their users to advertisers, and thrive by spying and appropriating personal data.
As a technologist, I know that these digital “platforms” do not have to run this way. The “genius” of Uber or AirBnB or Facebook is not in their (for the most part mundane) technology, but in their market dominance and breathtaking willingness to ruthlessly exploit their customers.
“Platform Cooperativism” hinges on this recognition: these internet enabled monopolies, termed “platforms”, are technically easy to replicate with any business model we want, including user owned cooperatives. (Legal and other pragmatic aspects are more difficult.) Hence, why not a user owned clone of Uber? (There are several already.)
This then is Platform Cooperativism: “2017: This year you’ll seize the means of production”.
Quite. That’s what we meant to do in the first place when we were booting up the Internet.
The 2017 Plan declares that the PCC aims to be “a sounding board for the needs of the platform co-op community”. The actions are a standard array for an advocacy group, including:
- A mooc about the cooperative platform economy.
- Templates (legal documents)
- Revised website
- Storytelling (propaganda)
- Directory of related and relevant initiatives
- Third US conference (again at New School)
- Launch Euro organization
- Events in major cities
The bad news is that this is a pretty limited agenda. The good news is that this is a pretty limited agenda.
Much depends on how the consortium tells the story.
My own view is that the PCC really needs to get out of the New School and NYC, and not just go to Europe. With regard to the US, the PCC should have a HQ in Silicon Valley (the belly of the beast), and branches throughout the flyover states. This is an urgent priority.
I would also recommend concentrating on the simple action plans to put “tools in the hands of the workers”, and not worry about the New School theory stuff. We don’t really need “theory” to know that we want to “seize the means of production”, or to try to really do it.
I note that this particular New School group is focused on difficult and important legal and organizational problems, but seems less interested in technology. That’s fine, but I think the PCC should aggressively partner with others to promote successful technologies, and to sponsor student opportunities and hackathons and such like. Let’s rev up some enthusiasm and get some smart kids cooking up ideas. The PCC could have an important role in matchmaking, and in making sure that the legal and other “templates” are integrated into the technological problem solving from the get-go.
I will continue to watch and support this movement, one way or another.
- Tom Llewellyn, (2017) The Platform Cooperativism Consortium’s Big Plans for 2017. Sharable, http://www.shareable.net/blog/the-platform-cooperativism-consortiums-big-plans-for-2017
- Trebor Scholz, Happy 17, in Platform Cooperativism Stories. 2017. http://platform.coop/stories/happy-new-year