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Live Coverage: Platform Cooperativism: Building the Cooperative Internet, November 11-13 (2016) at The New School and Civic Hall

Platform Cooperativism: Building the Cooperative Internet
, will take place November 11-13 (2016) at The New School and Civic Hall in New York.

Select panels and talks from the conference will be live streamed at this link: https://livestream.com/internetsociety/platformcoop2016

This thread will be providing coverage of Friday and Saturday sessions.

The conference is convened by professor Trebor Scholz, and addresses emerging experiments in the cooperative platform economy.

It’s press information describes:


What is platform cooperativism? In 2005, cab drivers for Cotabo in Bologna joined a consortium of taxi cooperatives that now unites some 5000 cabbies all over Italy. With their app, TaxiClick, clients can order a car knowing not only that the price is right but also that drivers are treated fairly. In Queens, New York, an app connects a childcare cooperative with clients through the Coopify app and platform co-ops like Fairmondo, Stocksy and Loconomics are taking the co-op model to the Internet. This is what platform cooperativism is about.

As a growing movement facing the tsunami of low-wage work, platform cooperativism maps new terrain: it is about the convergence of 21st-century technologies and the rich, global heritage of cooperativism.
The platform co-op eco system is comprised of online platforms that support production and sociality, digital labor brokerages, web-based marketplaces that are collectively owned and democratically governed, and all those initiatives that directly support this economic model.

A return to the American idea of worker ownership, platform co-ops follow the principles of the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA). They are democratically governed, support the informational and material commons, and in some cases, experiment with the union-coop model.

Freelancers, unions, cooperatives, and startups can adapt the platform co-op model to build more sustainable and dignified livelihoods now. There are, of course, many more participants in that economy, ranging from regular citizens becoming part of multi-stakeholder platform co-ops and others who are supporting this eco system.

Late 20th century philosopher John Dewey wrote that until all institutions are under participatory, democratic control, we will not have a functioning democratic society. Today, the cooperative platform economy follows that dictum by taking greater democratic control of governance, production and surplus. It is a response to the “sharing economy,” which used to peer-to-peer ethos to push the corporate platform economy. To an extent, it brought about short-term consumer convenience but it did not fulfill promises of a fairer Internet or future of work.

As a project of transition, platform cooperativism is about the social organization of emerging technologies, which it aims to re-design with community wealth in mind. Rather than simply proposing a technical solution to social problems, the platform co-op model is about a re-orientation from what Jodi Dean called “commanded individualism” toward mutualism and cooperative ways of working. It’s about a cultural shift from a commitment to individual careers, profit-über-alles, and personal success to a mindset of solidarity, social justice, and genuine sharing.

While neoliberalism shifts the costs of its operations on the environment, workers, and their networks of care, platform cooperativism emphasizes the pleasures of cooperation and rejects the suggestion that the monopolistic adaptation of the Uber template is inevitable.

Responding to challenges such as environmental degradation, wealth inequality, the 40-year-long shift away from direct employment, gender inequity, and growing racial injustice, the cooperative platform economy is about what matters most to people.

Platform cooperativism is a holistic model that can deliver better outcomes than the corporate “sharing economy,” which will fail the ecology, workers, and consumers over the long haul. The emerging experiments in the cooperative platform economy ought to be taken seriously, nurtured, and grown by communities and policymakers alike.


Please join us for what should be an interesting conversation!

Lina Dencik – Worker Resistance in the Platform Economy

Lina Dencik is a professor at the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (UK). Dencik discussed arguments from her book, Worker resistance and media, which she describes as a US/UK perspective. She is looking at how technologies might help organize or protect workers’ interests as well as new forms of protest/activism. The talk characterizes our current state of activism as “more spontaneous and horizontal” than before in its use of social media and new street protest culture after the “wave of protests in 2011” (Occupy). Denick also notes throughout the criticisms of new forms of activism relying on digital platforms for organizing. Such critiques include that new tactics of organizing participate in the attention economy the struggle to sustain organizing platforms for workers resistance, specifically when you are campaigning around concrete outcomes and trying to get people to follow up on something outside of the context of the platform. She also notes that critics of new forms of digital activism have said there is too much emphasis on communication and public relations rather than organizing, with the lingering question of the question of workers undermining the power of their movements. Still, critics have said there is too much emphasis on communication and public relations rather than organizing–raising the question of how social media might both enhance and at the same time undermine the power of their movements.

How are more traditional unions engaging in the debates about new forms of unionism? Using the example of Fast food worker strikes, she describes a new distinction between campaigns as socially organized vs. coalition-led (non-unionized workers engaging in direct action) rather than traditional trade unionism. New tactics of coalitions that implement a combination of traditional protest and digital methods include the use of flash strikes, directly influenced by occupy, and symbolic actions against corporate inequality, greed. She also gestures towards using social media to create the perception of spontaneity (as a communication strategy). Dencik closes with sentiments about how digital collection of data isn’t just about personal privacy, it’s about how power is exercised in society. Labor movement needs to be part of that discussion, as well as the terms in which technologies are created and used.

Jack Linchuan Qiu – Claps of Thunder Amidst Silence: Resisting and Reinventing the Gig Economy in Asia

Jack Linchuan Qiu is a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is the author of Working-Class Network Society: Communication Technology and the Information Have-Less in Urban China, Goodbye iSlave A Manifesto for Digital Abolition, and World Factories in the Information Age, and Mobile Communication and Society (Manuel Castells, Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol, Jack Linchuan Qiu and Araba Sey, 2007), among other things.

Qiu starts by discussing a new type of worker formed amidst economic precarity, not that “haves” or “have-nots,” but the “have less”, but also have less than the status quo, but are not in total poverty. Such workers include drivers of ride-hailing, collective consumption platforms in China (Didi Chuxing which bought Uber in China). China just became the first country to legalize such widespread ride sharing apps on the national scale (Beijing). The Company has 5,000 employees and 1.8 million drivers (drivers classified based on how many hours people are working). Didi provided the their own taxi drivers (scabs) a cycle that has been repeated 3.5 times, pitting workers against each other, they were being disposed of, using disposable labor. In this way, Didi drivers are engaged with “algorithim-based class struggle.” Zooming in, he examines the position of Chinese drivers, and the local state responses around strikes around Didi in Nanching and elsewhere that have been extremely frequent, as much as one strike every other day, and also extremely organized, with 70% of workers hearing about strikes from online platforms “social media is the primary place for workers to share information about collective action.”

His presentation concludes with a few examples from Vietnamese micro-work platforms, including Freelance Viet, and a neighborhood cooperative started by working class single mothers. Such services offer us options to consider re-organizing relationships between service requests to service providers, connecting people to local NGOs, care work, training, and computer literacy.

Nathan Schneider – Welcome to the Internet of Ownership

Journalist and organizer Nathan Schneider discusses how the platform co-operativism “ecosystem” is developing. His use of the word “ecosystem” is used throughout the presentation, gesturing towards a certain type of strategic orientation and profile for platforms to consider themselves as allies and bottom-up institutions. He brings up the notion of platform co-operativism as ownership design, asking how we can do things better to organize the ways we communicate with each other. He locates platform co-operativism as part of a digital governance agenda, through models involving *code, *policy, *finance “rent capital, don’t be rented by it,” *education, and *governance (remembering the diversity and geographical specificity of governance models). Platform cooperativism, he notes, involves the recognition that value creators can be value owners, building solidarity along the technology supply chain.

Schneider brings up and invites attendees to use the website http://www.internetofownership.net and help build a direct of resources like legal templates, event announcements, instructional documents, which he describes as an ecosystem.

In addition to cooperatives who have opposed more sustainable alternatives to huge apps like Uber, there is the strategy of ownership transitions (conversions) that are off-shoots of more stable organizations, working with incubators so founders can take ownership of what they build, but it can also be incorporated into larger structures if it becomes a successful model. Schneider ends on a hopeful note, encouraging people to think of what platform coopertivism is trying to build as an ecosystem of ideas, we are building together.

Marisa Jahn – http://www.studiorev.org/

Jahn begins by discussing the difficulties of translating offline experiences to online organizing, these are often different sides of the digital divide that require us to understand how access also determines ways that people working on the ground are able to translate they are doing online. Jahn has focused on projects which integrating digital literacy and integrating the learning of skills.

In one project she’s worked on, the website (https://contratados.org/) migrant workers enter reviews about their employers. There is a fear of retaliation that has prevents migrant workers from using the site. Even to get people to write reviews, requires a holistic organized effort of getting people education, digital access, childcare, etc.

Jahn also worked to reach the 200,000 domestic workers in New York. Has created some audio-novellas where you can call in to hear more about your rights. Worked with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. In addition to providing for resources, encouraged people to identify and be proud of their work as caregivers, and not to be afraid to identify as caregivers.

Jason Wiener – Green Taxi

Next up: president and attorney Jason Wiener who founded the organization on the behalf of the worker-owned cooperative http://greentaxico-op.com/, and represented them in working to operate a taxi service in Denver, Colorado.

The story he tells starts with a regulated monopology system of service provision under utility model in Denver, which is replicated in many cities, where taxis have traditionally been regulated as entities using utility models, a legal structure that cooperatives have to work against.

He brings to the audience’s attention, Denver HB 15 1316 A bi-partisan bill that passed under a free market agenda (libertarian) promised to free the market to more open competition, freeing the market from monopoly-like Taxi companies to Green Taxi, a cooperatively and self-financed cooperative. Who is Green Taxi? It is an organization self-funded from contributions from its 800 members (drivers). The most important aspect is that it is 100% worker owned. Green Taxi’s website and app has the same functionality as Uber or Lyft. They like to say that Green Taxi is not for sale so it’s market valuation is irrelevant.

So, he leaves with an important challenge: how is it that micro-entrepreneurs are able to take such risks, being at the whimsy of the platform?

Joshua Danielson – Loconomics

Currently based in the Bay Area, it’s an “app for booking local services that’s cooperatively owned by service professionals.” https://loconomics.com/

He goes over the by-laws as a sort of center for the way they understand the app’s relationship to enacting its cooperative mission (by-laws are open source with a CC-0 license). Goals were to:

  • Make it a polycentric governance structure
  • Checks and balances with aligned incentives
  • Staff trusteeship with collaborative design process
  • Pay market rate employee salaries with cap
  • Cooperative profits shared among Owners
  • Loconomics is not for sale

Key take-away: an important principle of cooperatives is to work with other cooperatives and like-minded stakeholders to build new systems outside of more corporately owned models.

Emma Yorra and Ryan Perry – Coopify

“What if worker-owned businesses could “cross-pollinate with other cooperatives and clients to achieve economies of scale?” - http://community-wealth.org/content/coopify-new-platform-bringing-broad-based-ownership-your-smartphone

Coopify is similar to things like Taskrabbit, but represents a worker-owned services that connects clients to worker-owned cooperatives.

The team provokes the question, “why co-ops?” Co-ops provide leadership opportunities and basis of building community and worker-based support, ways to advocate also for women-owned and sustainable business models. How do we grow demand and take market share from venture-funded models? They have been using design thinking, rapid prototyping as a way to compete with venture-backed models and “refine the product.”

In light of the new US administration coming to power, such economic systems are a responsibility and a way to address the political fears of the rising neoliberal regimes.

Camille Kerr – ICA Group


Why are the people taking care of our loved ones, doing caregiving living in poverty, and going into debt? The ICA group advocates for “co-operative models” and “management solutions to business problems”, doing business consulting, governance design, and democratic design. They emphasize how business consulting can be part of the co-operative movement by introducing more sustainable and worker-friendly business models to more traditional supply chains and companies.

End of the day thoughts: I am interested in the way this conference reflects an “industry” perspective, and the audience that having an industry/union organizer conference attracts as opposed to a speculative or explicitly Marxist perspective. This is an action-oriented conference but in terms of devising community-based business strategies, and some of the presenters have MBAs, which allows the discussions to be more pragmatic than I am used to having attended my share of speculative art and cultural theory talks and panels. It makes me reflect on how dismissive speculative or radical thinkers often are of business, which still eating frito lays and using market toothpaste and Uber, or what have you. They have top-down speculative solutions, but don’t change their daily lives or consumption patterns. I appreciate that this conference is trying to understand how consumption (including software use) and the way we organize and regulate businesses can be a site where we enact our politics, even if such conversations are considered unglamorous in academic spheres.

File from one of the slides 11/11

The Union Co-op Model Panel : Palak Shah, Leonard Smith, Dawn Gearhart, Lieza Dessein, LiFrisia Donders, Michael Peck, Annette Mühlberg, Trebor Scholz


Representation from: National Domestic Workers Alliance, the AFL-CIO, Teamsters, SMart, 1worker1vote.org, United Services Union (ver.di) in Berlin,

Asking the questions:

  • What is the relationship between a cooperative and a union?
  • How can unions work together on transnational, North-South/global/globalizing issues?

National Domestic Workers Alliance


Teamsters Seattle



  • “Many organizations in the US have been looking for self-sustaining organizational models” but it is extremely hard, financially challenging. It’s significant because our labor laws are broken.

United Services Union (ver.di) in Berlin developed guidelines for online work, fair compensation, against workplace surveillance, etc.


Fredrik Söderqvist


  • Söderqvist starts by saying, labor market is self regulated in nordic countries (Sweeden)

  • Working conditions are set between employers and employees through collective bargaining, this works because union density is really high, unions and companies feel like they don’t need to go to the government to solve their problems, regulate

  • Economists have figured out that income inequality is bad for growth

  • IMF found out that union density is the #1 explanatory factor in why income is concentrating at the top of the bracket (The Sweedish Part Model - http://likeaswede.se/index_eng.html)

  • Higher union density shows how unions can be larger part of structural change to resist negative effects of globalization

  • Building successful institutions for Platform Cooperativism"

  • Delegating relevant platform functions to specialized governing body

  • How to make abiding rules more simple for platforms?

  • Resource pooling
  • Wage and benefit negotiations
  • Consumer labeling
  • Political lobbying
  • Balanced self-regulation

Vanessa Barth (IG Metall)

IG Metall has 2.3 million members
Barth seeks to explain the practical challenges of organizing platform workers, specifically how traditional workers don’t understand how/why freelancers should be part of the more traditional union

– What would benefit freelancers from unions?

  • Do something about the poor payment
  • Platform based work should be respectable work
  • Democratic control of platforms, especially of the reputation systems
  • (To some, not all) affordable health insurance and pension schemes
  • Building / supporting cooperatives might be an option if workers come up with that

Sara Horowitz - Freelancers’ Union


Evgeny Morozov, Neal Gorenflo, Mayo Fuster, Wolfgang Kowalsky, Andreas Hartl, Francesca Bria, Richard Barbrook

Evgeny Morozov


  • “Just because we call it “platform” capitalism doesn’t mean it is a different type of capitalism, that is not perpetuating the more traditional forms of capitalism understood by labor discourse
  • Classical critique of neoliberalism (harvey) re: business elites pushing for their relational interests, (origins in feudalism) are seen today in the highly advanced and technologically run states
    – Morozov’s terms for Platform Coop: globalization, financialization, flexibilization, monopolization, informationalization
  1. globalization - lower paid production settings to improve the profitability, greater effect at the liberalization of capital flows, allowing companies to extract value in places it wasn’t able to extract from before, capital becomes internationalized
  2. financialization, new breed of financial managers in charge, you want to make sure newly globalized environment can produce value, sophisticated informational infrastructure, information censors and data is the way to extract value
  3. flexibilization - minimize the burden of the employer, pushing the burden on the employee, do not underestimate the role Margaret Thatcher has had - the rise of the ideology of home ownership (as a capitalist ideology) home as a safe asset if the rest of the market collapses - but how to make sure people can buy homes? (access to cheap credit). cities cannot tackle the problem of privatized Keynesianism is engineered at the level of national policies
  4. monopolization - because of (US) changes in anti-trust law, “part of the strategies of adaptation to the reality” (Uber - result of a deliberate policy of tolerating monopolies bc monopolies are the way to generate value in this country) - “European markets increasingly influenced by Chicago School economics”
  5. informationalization - re: state apparatus realizes that the production of commodities produces a lot of data, which can also be commoditized, many things can be done with that data (financialization of digitalized platforms) - data is used to build extremely advanced AI (“Google has used its user base as a giant neural network to train its AI”
  • If we want to talk about the -ism, we have to deliver on the economics and the politics

Neal Gorenflo


  • Uber as a straight up no varnish fucking illegal enterprise, not a Silicon Valley success story

Mayo Fuster Morell - Director of the Dimmons research group