Slobodna domena Zadruga za otvoreni kod i dizajn

Platform cooperativism

Cooperate platformly!

In his article "From sharing economy to shared exploatation" Tomislav Medak precisely analyses problems which emerge in the process of transformation of digital technologies into tools for making profit. More and more present "economy on demand" became a dominant business model in some industries, very often with negative consequences for workers, communities and environment. So called disruptive companies have privatised positive effects of culture of sharing and skillfully incorporated them into their own digital corporate platforms. All Amazons, AirBnBs and Ubers on the planet are trying to position themselves between customers and vedors. By changing the structure of relations in production of value, corporate platforms at large lean on resources and free time of their, as they call them, "associates". They deliberately eliminate workers from this process. The wheel spins faster and faster and endangers worker's existence while they have less and less options and are forced to take higher risks.
As a partial response to this situation, Platform Cooperatives were introduced. Inspired by models which were developed on the market, they are also middlemen platforms, with one important difference: they are not owned by corporations but by users - vendors and customers. Tradition of cooperatives, fueled by democratic decisionmaking and common ownership models has prooven to be applicable in the case of digital platforms. Platform Cooperativism as a movement was clearly and loudly articulated during a converence held in New York in 2015 which gathered an allready existing international community of projects which use cooperative model as a strategy of resistance against deteriorating work conditions. Trebor Scholz, organiser of the conference and spiritus movens of the movement wrote: "Silicon Valley loves a good disruption. So let’s give them one". He aluded on the potential of such platforms to compete against corporate pleyers.
Fourth conference on Good Economy, held in March 2017 in Zagreb, has hosted Thomas Dönnebrink from OuiShare. His optimistic lecture caught the attention of public and turned local cooperatives in direction to explore the potential of digital cooperation. Still, in an interview with Večernji list, besides his optimism, Dönnebrink also warns about the challenges. Above all, the power and money ratio most definitevly does not work in favor of cooperatives. The struggle on the market is cruel. There are relatively few sucesfull and finantialy stabile projects like for example stock photo cooperative Stocksy.
From this perspective, platform cooperativism seems more like a method of survival than of real resistance. Cooperatives are entering a conflict whose goal should be to keep and open new work places and not continuation of 'gig economy' through other means. Cooperatives want to acchieve fair economic relations. That can not be a fair fight against corporate platforms which exploit free time and private resources of their 'associates' and do not burden themselves with questions like what is fair or just. This is not just a struggle of David against Goliath but our David consciously gave up his sling while Goliath is swinging with an axe.
Another limiting factor are finances. It takes time and costs money to build digital platforms. Many start-up companies are financed through venture capital and in fact are not profitable. Amazon for example still did not bring any dividends to it's investors while Uber is loosing money. Platforms which are financed from below, with capital that was literaly taken out of worker's mouths, can not afford the luxury to be unsucessfull.
Without political articulation of cooperativism as a force and tactics in class conflict, we will not profit from platform cooperatives. Unless endangered, disempowered and excluded communities accept this form of joining hands as a method of struggle to keep work places and own resources, the fight is lost before it started. Although the perspective is not bright and labour market is becoming more and more cruel, maybe this moment of many people loosing possibilities for decent living will bring back to daylight the solidarity incorporated into cooperatives. Let us remember that this model was established in 19th century in an era when worker's rights were at low levels.
Cooperativa Integral Catalana is an example of a such politically motivated cooperative built on the margins of society. Gathered in need and struggle to survive activists have created a platform which uses digital and analog tools to provide means for survival of individuals but also of the community. In May 2016, Zadruga za etično financiranje invited an anonymous member of this cooperative to hold a lecture in club MAMA. The lecture was about methods and tactics of Cooperativa Integral while discussion was moderated by Toni Prug. The most interesting part of the lecture was the topic of their own crypto pseudo currency which conceptually differs from Bitcoin because it's transaction confirmation calculations are based on cooperation and not on competition.
Slobodna domena was founded with a vision to enter the arena of possibilities to digitaly cooperate. Therefore, we are calling all existing and future coops to colaborate with us so we can build communal democratic platforms together.