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

"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."

@h "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 (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."

This concerns me a bit... I'd prefer Google to stay out of the platform coop world, TBH

@Antanicus @h I'm a bit concerned by this too. Maybe it's a communication thing, but for those that have adopted the mantle it's a little worrying.

@samtoland @h call me tinfoil hat, but this looks a lot like Google trying to get into the platform coop thing...

@Antanicus @samtoland It's possible. So are other venture capitalists. There will be unethical people who will sell ideals and provide a feel-good Coop Lite.

That has always been expected.

@h @samtoland @Antanicus It definitely highlights the importance of being willing and able to patrol the boundaries of "cooperative" and poke at people who attempt to trade on the model's good will while violating the statement on cooperative identity.

The other question this raises implicitly for me is why and movement institutions w/ significant capital have not stepped up to support development at similar levels, and what needs to be done to get them to do so?

@mattcropp We are a mess. We need to stop being a mess. It's pretty simple.

@Antanicus @samtoland

@h @samtoland @Antanicus

"Pretty simple." Perhaps the diagnosis, but definitely not the cure... :P

@mattcropp I have some ideas but I haven't written about them yet, and I hope we can gather in person at some point so we can make progress in that direction. A assembly of sorts wouldn't be a bad thing.

@Antanicus @samtoland

@h @Antanicus @mattcropp

@h who are you lumping together in the 'we' you're referring to?

@samtoland We, the cooperativists, in the most general, broad, and all-encompassing meaning of the expression.

We lack standards, we lack cohesion, we lack a narrative that makes sense outwardly, we lack education, there's no end to the list of things we lack compared to our enterprisey counterparts.
(save for the canonical case studies and success stories)

@mattcropp @Antanicus

@h @Antanicus @mattcropp

I would be a little more careful about flippant remarks like 'we are a mess'.

I think the duality of 'we are X' or 'we aren't Y' isn't very useful, and succeeds in completely minimising the tremendous amount of work that many people have put into building out the movement and the ecosystem in the last few years.

Fair enough to point out areas for improvement - but I'd recommend a slightly more thoughtful approach (and accept you may be missing some progress).

@samtoland The enormous amoung of work that everybody involved puts is something I acknowledge at every turn, in every discussion. I just can't do it in every toot. You just happened to stumble upon one toot that didn't carry that expression of support.

@mattcropp @Antanicus

@h @Antanicus @mattcropp I think I stumbled across a couple of the last weeks with this inflection - hence my response to this toot.

But I'll accept what you say in good faith ;)

The challenges etc. - you wouldn't find anyone here disagreeing I believe - lots of work to do as you've outlined in one your replies...

But there is progress on this on a near daily basis - let's not forget this ! :)

@h @Antanicus @mattcropp from your particular vantage point my friend, maybe.

But from mine - I wouldn't frame it that way at all.

- for now at least haha, come back to be in 6 months and I'll review the situation.

@samtoland My vantage point is that the capitalist enterprise is already well on its way to own everything. I believe that's a fairly uncontroversial notion, not a special, strange, odd vantage point.

I was trying to make myself clear because you couldn't understand what I was talking about. I don't have a personal urge to come back in six months to do that again.


@mattcropp @Antanicus

@h @Antanicus @mattcropp

I understand what you were saying - I just disagree with you framing.

Anyway - good luck formulating your ideas, and look forward to hearing about them.

@Antanicus @mattcropp @samtoland

By this I don't mean that we have to be an uniform thing like the Borg, that would be the death of it.

We need to retain the diverse, and multicultural nature of the cooperative movement, and deepen that.

But we do have an imperious need to double down on technological development and education. We're decades behind the enterprise world and it's an advantage we can no longer keep giving.

@samtoland @mattcropp @Antanicus

The simplest radical coop idea I can come up with:

We need to keep the coop culture and deepen its multicultural richness staying true to its original values and doubling down on them, add the enterprise choreography and technically advanced know-how to act like a more unified front.

And steer clear of Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc.

@Antanicus @mattcropp @samtoland

I reckon that this is easier said than done and everything is in the details. I'm working out the details.

@Antanicus Tangentially related, Michele, you may remember that last year I attempted to introduce the concept of Business Process Management. We later got busy with other more basic things. I'm thinking of inter-coop cooperative work using something like this.

The free software code already exists, the know-how exists, we're lacking an enormous educational effort.
And I don't mean teaching Microsoft Word.

@samtoland @mattcropp

@mattcropp @Antanicus @samtoland @h It is my experience that cooperatives, especially larger older richer ones, are very risk averse, and have come very late to the digital party. Also, I don't know what it's like where you are, but here in the U.K. we do't have a tradition of the cooperative movement investing in its own future (it tends to put more into charitable causes, ironically). I'm hoping that this mill from the Google Foundation might stir some action.

@Graham_Mitchell It's the same in other places where the movement was absorbed as an integral part of bureaucracy.

You're right that G moving into the space might shake things up a bit.

What do you think is more likely... that 1) The rusty risk-averse old coops will reject G because they don't hold values at heart
2) Being risk-averse they will use whatever tried and true rubbish Google throw at them. And oh, also shitloads of money!

@samtoland @Antanicus @mattcropp

@mattcropp @Antanicus @samtoland @Graham_Mitchell

On the one hand, Google moving into is some sort of validation. Or at least confirmation that capitalism is finally dying. I'll take that gladly.

On the other hand, it would be nice if they just went to some other world to ruin things elsewhere.

@h @mattcropp @Antanicus @samtoland Ironically I think that small-c conservative cooperatives will see Google's backing as a mark of credibility and will therefore be more likely to offer support.

@Graham_Mitchell @Antanicus @mattcropp @h

hahaha you're absolutely right.

Plenty of people (including co-operators) need to see some 'success' from the movement (either in adoption or raising capital) before they get involved.

As soon as raised some signficant capital... it has a bit of a snowball effect.

Expect the same with this.

But concerns should be addressed though.

@samtoland @mattcropp @Antanicus @Graham_Mitchell

If cooperativists would rather work with the killer robots company than with younger cooperativists who are trying to break out whilst they keep the same values... well, maybe there needs to be a fork or some people changing their minds.

@Graham_Mitchell @h @Antanicus @mattcropp

They've definitely been (frustratingly) slow to the party - but co-operativism is inherently risk adverse (which isn't necessary a terrible thing in all cases).

Platform building is a really risky business - requiring a lot of capital and often a very uncertain return.

But things are developing.

e.g are running a accelerator

are supporting and set up a Co-operative Innovation Fund.

@mattcropp @Antanicus @h @Graham_Mitchell

The bigger commercial need a kick in the backside for sure, and many apex & co-op development organisations could be doing a lot more.

But it's a matter of poking/prodding and doing the hard work... consciousness raising! This takes time, is intensive but pays off in the long run.

It took the neo-liberals 30 years to establish hegemony... but it had profound effects in the end...

started in 2014 remember

@samtoland @Graham_Mitchell @Antanicus @mattcropp I have to say I’ve worked with many beneficial organizations who thought they could have a “strictly financial” relationship with companies like Google and found out the hard way about “fruit of the poison tree”.

I don’t mean to be hand-wavy about it, but making a concrete case is going to take more time than I have. The tl;dr is that it’s not impossible, but it requires a level of discipline and self-control I’ve never seen IRL.

@jjg @mattcropp @Antanicus @Graham_Mitchell this is certainly the concern that I have.

Not so much that taking cash in the first instance is such a terrible thing, or necessarily corrosive.

But it starts putting bringing people into the room, which doesn't necessarily have such a great long term impact on ethos.

I'm always reminded of how the 'traditional' environmental movement got co-opted over time....

I wonder how the could/should put up firewalls - maybe more accountability?..


Exactly. There’s also the risk of dependency that can develop from funding like this, which can lead to vulnerability.

@Graham_Mitchell @Antanicus @mattcropp

@jjg @mattcropp @Antanicus @Graham_Mitchell my gut is that since the funding has happened... the community (including those working at the etc.) should be actively thinking about how to deal with issues like this - and hopefully address them.

I'm far from ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater in this case - and I suspect I'm not the only one.

Plenty of great work and great people involved.

cc. @scholzt_newschooledu @ntnsndr

@samtoland @jjg @mattcropp @scholzt_newschooledu @Antanicus @Graham_Mitchell

I think we need all of the above here. The mil from Goog will help support particular kinds of things, including things big co-ops would be less likely to support. But just as important are the emerging co-op-led investment opportunities. And things like the mil from RChain to Resonate. And more. We need many pieces. In the scheme of what we need, the Goog mil is just part of the beginning.

@samtoland @jjg @scholzt_newschooledu @mattcropp @Antanicus @Graham_Mitchell

The Goog support will also help signal to others that this is a serious cause. Even some co-ops are more likely to support other co-ops if they see a big capitalist involved.

@samtoland @ntnsndr @scholzt_newschooledu @Graham_Mitchell @Antanicus @mattcropp @jjg

This is the open source of cooperativism taking the money whilst it's fresh and available, desirous of shaking hands with the killer robots company, leaving cooperative values aside, and being very correct expressing their concerns that the baseline might possibly be shifted when everything in history indicates that the baseline will all but certainly be shifted.

I can't waste a minute more, it's a fork.

@jjg @mattcropp @Antanicus @Graham_Mitchell @samtoland that there is a longstanding, working (even legal?) definition of what is a coop helps. The strategy of "locking it open" like open source licenses, to prevent cooptation (different kind of coop heh)

There's a Denver "commons" space that is just a business incubator space sponsored by the likes of Comcast and Wells Fargo. 🤢🤢🤢

@samtoland @Graham_Mitchell @Antanicus @mattcropp @jjg a cynical, slightly trolly read of this article would be

a headline rewrite, "Google comes for the platform coop movement" 😂

@jjg @mattcropp @Antanicus @Graham_Mitchell @samtoland but while good to be skeptical of forces like Google I'm excited to see the platform coop movement growing and the toolkit is a fantastic idea. 🌲🌲❤

@clayton these are good points (especially the fact that what a is pre-dates all the ”tech industry” nonsense), and like I said I don’t think it’s *impossible*, but strong vigilance and preserving autonomy is required.

@samtoland @Graham_Mitchell @Antanicus @mattcropp

@jjg @mattcropp @Antanicus @Graham_Mitchell @samtoland yeah, which reminds me. I need to talk with a space that opened up in my neighborhood calling itself a "coop" but is rumored to be simply a nonprofit run space. I think it's important that even if well intentioned, the term maintain its integrity. Call it a community space if you're not actually a coop.

@clayton @samtoland @Antanicus @mattcropp @jjg Agreed. I'm not concerned that Google is about to swallow platform cooperativism. The money is petty cash to them, and probably jus tone of many projects that they support annually.

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of on-the-ground-cooperation happens outside of what we might consider to be the formal cooperative movement, and if is interested in doing something in that space, I see that as a major step forward.

@jjg @mattcropp @Antanicus @samtoland The saying that comes to mind : "when you sup with the devil, be sure to use a long spoon". or words to that effect.

@samtoland @Graham_Mitchell @Antanicus @mattcropp even Google themselves couldn’t resist Google (remember “don’t be evil”?)

@samtoland @h @Antanicus @mattcropp

Milestones along the long and winding road include:

Highly successful worker co-op Poptel (an ISP providing email services to trade unions and the likes of the ANC back in the days of apartheid in SA), wanted to raise some serious money and asked the traditional co-ops to help. Had they backed Poptel, it would today be one of the major ISPs in the UK. Instead it ended up going into private hands.

@samtoland @mattcropp @Antanicus @h

At the end of the 20th century the innovative but broke worker co-op federation ICOM merged with the rich but doomed (by consolidation) Co-operative Union to create Co-operatives UK. A fantastic opportunity to bring the creativity and energy of the worker-owned sector together with the wealth and market power of the trad co-ops, but the opportunity was fluffed.

@samtoland @mattcropp @Antanicus @h

Ten years ago we pitched what we'd now call a platform co-op business model to a major consumer co-op in the UK. They declined to invest (a very modest sum). Likewise Co-operatives UK. Had one or other (or both) backed us, the platform co-op mvmt would be 5-10 years ahead of where it currently is.

@samtoland @mattcropp @Antanicus @h
These are just three examples of significant strategic opportunities that have been missed, so you'll forgive me if I'm not overly enthusiastic about the potential for our movement to get its act together. It won't stop me from making the case, however.

@Graham_Mitchell @Antanicus @mattcropp @samtoland

Different countries have different realities due to the variations in the local legislation and incentives that governments have created for the coop sector over the last 100 years.
In some countries too little, in some countries too much.

Seeing as things stand countries where governments intervened too little may have a comparative advantage if they want to break new ground, as long as they don't sit idle waiting for Google to mess things up

Sign in to participate in the conversation is a cooperatively-run corner of the Fediverse. The instance is democratically governed by its members, who generally share an interest in the co-op model, but topics of discussion range widely.

If you are interested in joining our community, please review our Bylaws and Code of Conduct. If you agree with them, you may apply for membership on our instance via this link

Our instance is supported by sliding scale contributions of $1-10/mo made via Open Collective. You must have an active Open Collective account to apply for membership; you may set one up here