If you’ve ever taken an Uber, stayed at an Airbnb, or bought something off of eBay, you’ve participated in the remarkable digital re-shaping of global economic flows which is sometimes called the “sharing economy.”
The idea :
The basic idea is simple: instead of the company owning assets it uses to employ people to provide goods and services, the company can simply offer a platform for people who have goods and services to sell.
In theory, it’s a great idea: people who have goods or services to sell can make money, customers have more choice, and the company makes money through middleman’s fees.
In practice, companies like Uber and Airbnb have been perfectly happy to reap financial windfalls while leaving users and providers to deal with costs and risks, from poor service to inadequate safety measures.
Where platform cooperativism comes from?
This is where platform cooperativism comes in, and it’s one of the most important reasons the movement is necessary: instead of a company extracting middleman’s rents from the people it depends on to provide time, labor, and asserts, platform cooperatives are companies owned by those people.
It’s hard to pinpoint where and when exactly platform cooperativism as a movement was born since it emerged out of a broader critique of the way big-tech platforms like Uber and Airbnb handled their contributors. A key early figure was Trebor Scholz, an author, and professor who argued for platform cooperativism as an ethical alternative to the big-tech gig companies.
Platform cooperatives offer users the ability to make money
Democratically controlled and collectively owned, platform cooperatives(1) offer users the ability to make money in a fairer and more transparent way.
One important aspect of this is the lower costs associated with using the platform.
For example, instead of a freelancing house-cleaner in New York City paying 15%-20% middleman’s fees to go through a platform like Handy or Taskrabbit, they can join a platform cooperative where they will have a say in pay rates and take home 95% of the revenue from the job, with the remaining 5% going to grow the company.
More pay and more control of pay offers the promise of hope for better conditions for the large and growing share of the working U.S. population – over a third, going on 40% – who work as freelancers and are thus not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Criticism on the Death star platform
Many of these workers live a rather marginal existence, eking out a living in jobs that do not offer the security of regular employment or benefits. For their part, the big-tech “Death Star” platforms have increasingly come under fire for exploitative practices, which have resulted in lawsuits filed against cleaning service Handy and ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft.
A platform cooperative is a welcome ethical alternative
In an age of frequently-marginal and precarious gig jobs, the rise of platform cooperatives is a welcome ethical alternative to the big-tech Death Stars.