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Worker-owned co-ops are coming for the digital gig economy

 — 31 mai 2018
As companies like Uber and Handy flail, they’ve cleared a path for worker-owned digital platforms to replace them–and now, there’s a new toolkit to help them get started.

As companies like Uber and Handy have fallen under scrutiny for toxic corporate culture and worker mistreatment (in 2015, a Handy worker sued the company, claiming she made only $14 for 30 hours of work), a space has opened up for more serious consideration of worker-owned platforms.

Platform cooperativism is a concept that Trebor Scholz, an author and New School professor, and a number of other researchers and advocates have been extolling for years as an ethical alternative to the gig economy. Instead of Uber and Lyft, for example, a worker-owned rideshare co-op could ferry people around cities (places like Austin, London and Denver are already experimenting with this model), and cooperative platforms like Up & Go could eventually scale to replace Handy and Taskrabbit.

digital platform is an online or app-based space and business model in which consumers (users) and producers (owners) interact. On the social platform Facebook, for instance, users interact with each other by liking and posting things, while producers collect data on those consumer habits and use it to sell advertising. On on-demand platforms like Handy, some users hire other users to clean their homes, and the producers take a cut of that interaction to pay themselves. As we’ve learned over the years, this digital platform model often creates vulnerabilities for users–especially those like Uber drivers and Handy workers, who perform labor for other users but also under the umbrella of the larger producer company, without gaining “employee” status.

Advocates like Scholz see platform coops–in which users ultimately own and control the platforms–as a viable and more equitable alternative to the extractive model we’re currently see scale. To that end, Scholz’s organization, the Platform Cooperative Consortium at The New School, is debuting a Platform Co-op Development Kit. With a $1 million startup grant from Google.org (part of a $50 million economic development grant competition), the Kit will help bring worker cooperatives into the digital economy, and fund the buildout of platforms that will support their work.


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