Platform Cooperativism is the term being used to describe the combination of coop business structures with online platforms that delivers real-world goods or services.
Coops are basically businesses owned and controlled by the members that they serve. This means that decisions made in cooperatives balance the need to be financially viable with the needs and interests of members and their communities.
In other words, coops aren't just profit focused or as profit focused as most venture backed startups.
Coops are not new nor are they uncommon. U.S. Credit Unions and mutual insurance companies are coops. Other large examples include Ace Hardware, which is cooperatively owned by Ace's independent retailers and Sun Made Raisins, which is owned cooperatively by raisin farmers.
Platform coops are simply coops that provide online platforms or marketplaces. Examples include New Zealand's Ensprial, a cooperatively owned and operated freelancer network, Loconomics, a coop version of Task Rabbit and Fairmondo, a co-op version of eBay.
The goal of these and the platform cooperativism movement in general is to give platform providers, workers and sellers more power and, hopefully, more income.
A recent report - PLATFORM COOPERATIVISM: Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy - goes into detail on this topic. The author's perspective is that for-profit platform companies such as Uber and Airbnb are not good - and that's putting it very mildly. He calls these companies the new middlemen.
Key quote from the report's landing page:
With these new middlemen sucking profits out of previously un-monetized interactions, creating new forms of hyper-exploitation, and spreading precarity throughout the workforce, what can we do? Scholz insists that we need not just resistance but a positive alternative. He calls this alternative “platform cooperativism,” which encompasses new ownership models for the Internet. Platform cooperativism insists that we’ll only be able to address the myriad ills of the sharing economy—that is to say platform capitalism—by changing ownership, establishing democratic governance, and reinvigorating solidarity.
A gentler description of platform cooperativism is presented in Shareable's How Platform Coops Can Beat Death Stars Like Uber to Create a Real Sharing Economy.
As you may have surmised from the title, the article is still not real positive about Uber and other VC backed on-demand companies. It also offers a blueprint on how worker owned coops could potentially compete with these firms.
Platform cooperativism is a reaction to the growth and power of VC backed online platform companies. It's also part of the broader set of concerns about income inequality, worker rights, wage stagnation and the view that corporations are abusing their power.
While we think cooperative platforms are unlikely to unseat the "death star" platforms anytime soon, it's an important movement to pay attention to.
Growing unrest with current economic conditions is leading to a number of politically driven changes. For example, there is now a clear, national movement to increase the minimum wage to $15.
It's quite possible the platform cooperativism movement will lead to new on-demand economy regulations. But even if they don't, it's nice to have alternatives - and especially alternatives that are worker friendly.