Platform cooperativism (or, how to turn gig-economy jobs into $22.25/hour jobs)

Originally published at:


“there’s no venture capitalist demanding hockey-stick growth or profits,”

That’s no small miracle.


But they can usually buy the commons pretty cheap, and once it’s gone, it’s gone.


I don’t know why there hasn’t been a massive move to worker-owned coops and non-profit retailers. I wish I could do all of my shopping that way. Who needs VC or shareholders? Cut them right out of the loop.


The question I have about this approach is how do you pay the developers? Developers are accustomed to high salaries. While I expect there is a lot of altruism in the developer community (see open source software), developers still have bills to pay.

Pay the developers what they’re worth. You can do that when people who don’t actually do any work don’t get paid for the work they don’t do, i.e., shareholders and VC.


Co-operatives. The way forward. It has been this way for centuries and is likely to continue.
Our Local…


Socialism FTW


I don’t know if this crosses a line, but I don’t personally think it would be a big problem to say that ‘hey this developer or group put time in early, and now they draw a salary for upkeep/etc, or simply maintain an ownership stake’. That clearly steps closer to capital, but I think that the underlying principle is still there - they were the workers that developed it.

I’m actually curious about the philosophical implications of something like that.

Edit: honestly, the more I think about it, without capital, someone’s going to go unpaid or unrewarded for a while in any Co-Op starting into a new area. And with capital you’re running into the problems of capitalism all over again.

I still think this sort of thing represents a pretty reasonable chance of actually integrating into american society without a massive revolution. Worker-run co-ops are a relatively common thing in many markets - they certainly run a risk of being crushed by larger traditionally capitalist businesses, but as attitudes in america shift away from traditional capitalism, this might be a reasonable goal.

1 Like

I can speak from experience that this would be a great thing for home health workers and aides. I had a great person working with my wife while she was recovering from surgery, who left that field as soon as she found a better paying job at a hospital. I was paying the agency a lot more than the agency was paying her, and if she were working for a co-op she may well have been financially able to stay there … she really loved the work she was doing taking care of people in their homes.

And that brings me to my other point. I can see the problem with an Uber style rating system, but I can easily imagine that there are drivers, or house cleaners, or home health aides who just aren’t cut out for the work. We had two other aides who were frankly not very good at all before the perfect person showed up, and I would certainly want a way to say “I don’t want this person at my home again” and make that stick.


It doesn’t seem to me that an app to schedule home cleaners to come to homes is exactly pushing the outer limits of software development, or that it would require a number of developers working over a significant amount of time.

Worker owned co-ops - absolutely, especially in the fields where labor is 90% of the cost. (How about teacher owned co-op schools?)

Non-profit retailers - retail doesn’t work very well until you have enough cash to establish and maintain an inventory, and the bricks and mortar for either a walk in store or a storage/shipping facility. There have been a number of community food co-ops that have been stable and successful, but it’s hard to imagine how to start up a non-profit, worker owned Newegg or Home Depot without a bunch of up-front capital.


That’s a good point that acts as a converse of the “alienation from labor” that is created by capitalism. The alienation of the consumer from the laborer/producer. This certainly arises in the arts as well, where you find fans or independent artists are willing to overpay for a free album because they know the money is going directly to the creator. I mean, I guess it’s not terribly profound to restate “getting rid of the middleman” except that this lens focuses on a much deeper and more complex set of feeling that simple cost savings through reduced overhead.


Isn’t this what happened in Austin with Uber, who got kicked out or left, then Ride Share Austin was created?

QuickBooks can handle numerous paperwork problems, and a rotation of scheduling work can software and spotlight workers who are giving their BFFs all the hours and plum positions.

Home health personnel often steal drugs and other items from their patients, especially in little white shithole towns like mine where half the population is opiate addicted, meth addicted or both. Dismissing one of these jerks can get difficult when they already are lawyered up, as opposed to the law-abiding caregivers. Same problem is likely to arise with cleaning staff.

All the same, this sounds soooooooooo good.

There are large retail co-ops. REI is a co-op and The Co-op in the UK is the largest covinience retailer with over 70,000 employees between its various businesses (I’m one, and it’s easily the best job I have had as a developer). Note most co-ops are profit making, but they share them out between their members (typically in proportion to the amount spent in consumer co-ops).

Hi folks, some great discussion here. Thanks for the interest in co-op models, worker co-operatives, and fair value flows within our economic systems.

I’m writing from CoLab Cooperative, the worker-owned digital agency providing codesign and development services for the Up&Go platform with our dear colleagues at the Center for Family Life. We are planning to co-author a follow-up post on our working partnership getting into more of the specifics raised in this discussion thread based upon your interest shown here but for now, let me share the following context:

CoLab Cooperative is a transnational worker-owned digital agency building online infrastructure for the democratic economy. CoLab was founded to grapple with the questions being asked here (myself coming out of the startup ecosystem of Silicon Valley) regarding ‘How do you capitalize high-risk technology products designed for regenerative economic and ecological development without venture capital funding?’

This is a critical question for those of us designing and developing technology for the Common Good given that most forms of capital (and corporate structures) serve first and foremost investors rather than society and planet. And most technology platforms, including cooperative ones, require significant amounts of capital and labor to develop and maintain beyond what traditional cooperative capital sources provide as funding. Additionally, given our democratic structures, there is a need to not compromise organization governance through the process of capitalization. This is our current Capital Challenge in the cooperative platform economy.

After years of grappling with this question, we continue to hold more queries than answers to resolving the above tension between capital and work designed to benefit the Common Good, but I can share the following quick footnotes:

  1. More and more folks like you all are grappling with these questions which is in and of itself heartening. This includes some strong allies like the International Cooperative Alliance, The Working World, and Shared Capital Cooperative among others. And our coalition grows with each passing day.

  2. You may find interest in some research we published today on this topic with the Democracy Collaborative, “Patterns for cooperative networks and associations,” if you are looking to dive more deeply into the topic. We hope that some of the models proposed therein will help us to collectively find a way forward towards new economic models that support and benefit all of life.

In solidarity, and to be continued. :slight_smile:

1 Like

Patterns for cooperative networks and associations

So a great example of this would be sharing ad revenue on a community bulletin board to the people that provide the content.

1 Like

Exactly. If we are providing the value, providing the content … we should be sharing in equitable value flows.

Because corporations try to ensure that doesn’t happen, because it’s not in their economic interests?