This collection is edited by Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider, organisers of the Platform Co-operativism conferences in New York City, who have really put this movement on the map. With contributions from scores of journalists and academics, case studies of working platform co-ops, as well as guidance for any would-be platform founders and designers, Ours to Hack and to Own provides the most comprehensive summary of the burgeoning platform co-op movement to date.
The simple claim of platform co-ops is that if ‘we the people’ own and democratically control the platforms we use we all get a better deal; without external investors extracting value every quarter, it can be recycled within the platform so that workers get paid more (and, most importantly, a real living wage), users get better value, and together we set the rules. The profit motive of conventional ‘platform monopolies’ like Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo are replaced in favour of benefitting the community the platform serves.
This is a model for a completely new economy. That may sound grandiose but, unlike other movements or startups claiming they will disrupt the norm, the platform co-op model genuinely has the potential to kickstart a reorganisation of life around collective ownership.
This ownership revolution is just one aspect of what makes the platform co-op model so enticing and grounds it within a pre-existing legal model, established by the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844. Ours to Hack and to Own is about reinventing the co-op movement for the challenges of the digital era, and equipping ourselves with the right tools to effectively organise.
The book’s editors begin by defining the main tenets of platform co-operativism as “communal ownership and democratic governance.” Susie Cagle then reminds us of the seven co-operative principles and Jessica Gordon Nembhard outlines eight facts about co-operative enterprise—both useful guides to platform co-op startups.
The second section takes us on a whistle-stop tour of ‘platform capitalism’, with insights from a range of authors:
Douglas Rushkoff proposes that “Platform cooperatives—as a direct affront to the platform monopolies characterizing digital industrialism—offer a means of both reclaiming the value we create and forging the solidarity we need to work toward our collective good.”
Juliet B. Schor reminds us that even within existing ‘alternative economy’ communities, such as time banks and food swaps, exclusive behaviour and discrimination can develop and the platform co-op community should be aware of these issues from the outset.
Mckenzie Wark explores the idea that a “third order of commodification,” which he calls “vectorialism,” undermines society through the use of brands, patents, copyrights, trademarks and infrastructures that limit or control flows of information.
Stephen Hill discusses the “uber-ization” of work and the “race to the bottom in the freelance society,” arguing that “cooperative platforms and greater economic democracy can offer consumers an alternative to runaway capitalism.”
Christopher Spehr co-opts SpongeBob SquarePants to help explain the issues for platform workers. He argues for a “bill of rights for the age of algorithmic capitalism,” including new labour rights, entrepreneurial rights (today’s equivalent of antitrust laws), and a “new legal framework for a new regime of accumulation” that gives the economy “a social purpose and a base in democratic values.”