Platform Co-operatives conference in New York draws a big crowd

Dec 1, 2015
Platform Co-operatives conference

The first-ever conference on platform cooperativism was held at The New School on November 13 and 14 in New York, NY. The auditorium was standing room only with technologists, students, academics, co-op developers, and activists in attendance.

Interest in co-operative Internet platforms is being driven by growing opposition to the “sharing economy” which is made up of digital platforms like Uber and TaskRabbit. The argument is that these “apps” have taken control of traditional labour markets in some sectors and that they are making on demand work even more precarious than it already has been for workers.

Organizer and keynote speaker Trebor Scholz suggests that we can “embrace the technology, but replace the ownership model” with co-operatives. The lack of concern for workers and the flouting of regulations in some sectors are undermining the vision of the 'sharing economy’, which had initially aroused hope for the empowerment of people.

There is little that is innovative or proprietary in the technology itself.  With that in mind, the conference presenters explored how member owners could copy or ‘template’ these monopolies and shift ownership of the sharing economy to co-operatively owned enterprises. Consumers, it was argued, have decided how the sharing economy will function and it is crucial that these disruptive digital platforms not be allowed to monopolize the ‘on demand’ economy.

The on demand economy indicates a massive global push in favour of monopolistic digital bridge building by companies who insert themselves between those who offer services and others who are looking for those services. The intermediaries extract between 20 and 35% for linking workers with prospective clients while shifting risks directly to workers. These decentralized and monopolistic platforms also have little or no infrastructure.

The Platform Cooperativism Conference brought together many experts for the first in depth discussion of co-operative solutions to technologically driven disruptions in the labour market. There are already numerous new start-up co-operative sharing platforms out there to emulate. Laz’ooz aims to be an alternative, decentralized ride-hailing system, while Loconomics is a co-operative version of Taskrabbit. All of these are new, and far from competing with Uber, Lyft or Taskrabbit, but they are providing an alternative vision using co-operative values.

Read a full report on the conference, or for in depth background, read the essay that inspired it. There is also a panel discussion on the topic and subsequent articles about how this idea can proceed through innovative accelerator projects with cities. The entire conference was live streamed and can be viewed online.

A Radio-Canada discussion on the event can be listened to in French.