The People’s Uber

From this piece (boom!) by New School Professor Trebor Scholtz.

“What I call platform cooperativism is about experimentation with ownership; governance; and flexible, fair, and dignified digital work, as well as new forms of solidarity. It is about multi-stakeholder cooperatives, inventive unions, public infrastructure, worker associations, and cooperatives building their own labor platforms rooted not in greed but the needs of workers. It is about labor history’s cardinal lesson, which is that, in confrontation with owners, individual solutions don’t work. The future of labor need not be defined solely by venture capital-funded Silicon Valley ringleaders but by countless civic stakeholders.

Rather than leaving the economy exclusively to the productivity imperatives of owners like Amazon or Microsoft, platform co-ops could set an example of good digital work. They do, however, have to act fast. All too often, social movements, regulators, and cooperatives move slowly, while tech-entrepreneurs are rapidly creating realities on the ground. Labor advocates, organizers, workers, designers, investors, and developers—we all have to get our act together because the future is seeded now and the network effect is chiseling prospective global monopolies like Uber into stone.

Workers need to be clear about their principles and values. The principles of platform cooperativism include job security, good pay, transparency, a pleasant working atmosphere (acknowledgment and appreciation), co-determined work, a protective legal framework, weekly work time of 30 to 40 hours, and protection against arbitrary mandates. It rejects excessive workplace surveillance, along the lines of Upwork’s worker diaries or the constant reviews on Uber and TaskRabbit…

In addition, workers need to have the right to log off; decent digital work has clear boundaries. Platform cooperatives need to leave time for relaxation, lifelong learning, and voluntary political work. While such lofty goals are difficult to achieve over the short term, it is important to articulate them…

Let’s also make sure that the responsibility of family-friendly work is not solely transferred to the worker. Uber, TaskRabbit, and Handy are creating conditions that are not compatible with the everyday life of families or most other arrangements of domestic life.

Platform design would have to rival the habit-creating seductiveness of Uber. Design for platform co-ops would have to integrate worker training and consumer education. Every Uber has an Unter and such open-source design could contrast its ethical labor practices against the failing social protections in the dominant sharing economy. Cooperative platforms could give a face to the cloud workers who are—for all practical purposes—anonymous, isolated, and tucked away between algorithms.”


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