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Platform Cooperativism: A truncated “cooperativism” for millennials?

“Platform cooperativism” is a truncated version of cooperativism. If we want to conquer work to reconquer life, we must not fear life and try to protect ourselves from it, but embrace it.

Yesterday, we talked for a long time about the video above. It’s worth watching. Sinek’s thesis is that the culture of adherence “hooks” us, creating real addiction, because receiving “likes,” retweets, and silly chat messages from friends makes us release dopamine. Immediate satisfaction. Dependence. And inevitably, a mechanism substitution is produced: in any difficult situation, just like someone who relieved stress with alcohol during adolescence says as an adult “I need a drink,” the adherence addict looks at their cellphone, disconnects from the immediate surroundings, and seeks approval in the form of little hearts. Whether they are venting online or not, they disconnect from interpersonal relationships. The correlation between depression and use of Facebook beyond a certain number of hours seems to show that he’s right.

What Sinek points out about the generation born since 1984 is that this substitution has a disastrous cultural effect: in the first place, friends stop being a community, people you lean on, and become people you have fun with. If there’s a better option, they’ll toss you aside. Nobody gets too involved. Deep interpersonal relationships are not developed. Secondly, work inevitably becomes frustrating, because work or professional experiences cannot be gratifying and create meaning if you don’t feel that you’re building, and that building is a communal activity. The result is unhappiness. According to Sinek, “millenials” are running into two “inescable” obstacles: moments in which deep personal relationships are needed, and work.

Platform cooperativism

When we created the term “platform cooperativism” a few years before it became fashionable in the English-speaking world, we were seeking quick solutions to the crisis at a time when unemployment was beginning to take off in more and more countries. The idea of a platform that took advantage of the possibilities of automation to aggregate the services of independent freelancers was appealing to us as a fast and simple tool capable of bolstering the economic situation of those who were weakly situated in the market.

But we weren’t fooling ourselves: “platform cooperativism” basically means cooperativism without community, and therefore without learning, without knowledge shared and developed in common. A “cooperativism without touching,” without even meeting, that lost all meaning of worker cooperativism, and which only was interesting in the framework of a cataclysmic wave of unemployment in which any tool had to be considered good. It didn’t occur to us that anyone would turn it into the banner of “a new cooperative movement” with pretensions of “overtaking” traditional cooperativism.

But if we connect the dots, the result is obvious: “platform cooperativism” is a way to overcome the “obstacle” that the logic of belonging and commitment presents to the culture of adherence. Instead of learning to make community, rather than finding what the Adlerians call “the courage to belong” and enjoy fraternity, it redefines work with the logic of the books of faces to make it “easy,” so there’s no need to get involved, make contact, be appreciated, commit to others…

If cooperativism has value, it’s precisely because it isn’t emotionally “low cost”; because it requires us to learn to discuss, to disagree, to be appreciated, to come to consensus. It has value because isn’t a sugar-frosted or truncated experience. It’s powerful, it’s personal, it’s full of life. If we want conquer work to reconquer life we  must not fear life and try to protect ourselves from it, but embrace it.


PS. When “platform cooperativism” is not proposed as a form of work, but as a way of economically sustaining and distributing the eventual benefits from a service in the so-called “sharing economy,” there is a different critique, which we have made many times. In the first place, for every centralized service in the “sharing economy” a free (in both senses) and distributed alternative can be created that does not need a hired bureaucracy. We have demonstrated this with functional and useful code. So, what sense does it make to maintain a centralized structure? The answer is obvious: to create a bureaucracy that “mediates” between the “members” by taking a cut to pay for wages and infrastructure. It’s a way of “inventing” unnecessary jobs by creating scarcity artificially.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

«Platform Cooperativism: A truncated “cooperativism” for millennials?» recibió 6 desde que se publicó el jueves 26 de enero de 2017 . Si te ha gustado este post quizá te gusten otros posts escritos por David de Ugarte.

Comentarios recibidos en este post y unidos a la discusión global de todos a través de la Matriz, nuestro espacio conversacional.

  1. Nathan Schneider dice:

    As someone who has been involved in forming the “fashionable” “English-speaking world” conversation around platform cooperativism (though it is really only marginally fashionable and is taking place far beyond the English-speaking world), I find that this post appears to be talking about something almost completely different. We have never, for instance, made any claim of “overtaking” the cooperative movement; indeed, we are working closely with leaders in the offline cooperative movements on a variety of projects. Nor have we ever called for anything like a cooperative without solidarity, “touching,” or community; indeed, you’ll see especially in Trebor Scholz’s writing, a strong emphasis on solidarity. If you see the member back-end of Stocky United, a successful platform co-op, you see a very vibrant community of members all over the world at work.

    These bizarre and misplaced claims, unfortunately, distract from the part of this post that strikes me as actually useful and interesting, the part relegated to the post-script, which is a critique of the centralized nature of the sharing economy and the replication of its forms of intermediation. There are certainly streams within the platform co-op community (such as those calling for “open co-ops” and “open work”) that address this, but others might do well to do so more. On the other hand, I do think it is a significant improvement on the “sharing economy” to replace corporate ownership with cooperative ownership, so I would prefer to support such initiatives rather than dismiss them.

    • Welcome Nathan,

      Lets see… First I guess when you say cooperatives you mean «consumer cooperatives» but when we say «cooperatives» we mean «workers cooperative». This frame is very important to be undestood: this difference is pretty the difference between anglosaxon world and the older coop and commons movement in continental Europe and South America since the begginings

      So, you are talking on consumer cooperatives, right? Then, do you really think in consumer cooperativism coop members know each other and really interact? Because the factual experience of off-line consumers coops worldwide says just the opposite. Consumer coops assemblies has a really low participation because what the member puts and receive from the coop is not worth the time a real control and participation demands. So consumer coops tend to be, worldwide, bureaucratic organizations controlled by members just formally, and really ruled by a professional managers, as big NGUs.

      So, tell me, how can this produce community? How and where platform coop members know each other? How, when and how will they work together?

      Putting aside the patronizing tone of your last paragraph: Is better an airbnb owned by a group of investors than an airbnb managed as a consumer coop and controlled by a professional over-controlling and probably over-payed bureaucracy? It remembers me what the old communists parties used to say about Eastern Europe countries. But what is important and your dichotomy makes invisible is there is no need: we can program distributed architectures with no need of a central server or a professional bureaucracy. In fact, as you know, we already made it for some networks as GNU-social, and -sourprise!- it works gently.

      • Nathan Schneider dice:

        Comment erased because of its manners.

        • Platform cooperativism is nothing but new. The first platcoop in Madrid (taxi drivers who own their cars, using radio for picking up customers who called to a public phone) is from 1947. They always have the same problem: bureaucracy, low commitment, with time few participation in assemblies, only verbal solidarity etc.

          There are hundreds of examples long time before of «sharing economy»: taxis, delivery networks, translators… Platcoop is the way of organizing individual producers who only join for having a common layer, usually commercialization, bureaucracy, telecom structure or a mix of them. Only the tech changed, apps not radio, but the structure and the idea is exactly the same!! And it has a very clear limit!!!

          I understand there is very few labor related cooperative movement in USA. But you have to understand we grew in a coop movement, that our parents, grandparents and grand-grandparents belonged to coops. We are critics because we have both a personal and a family memories and we know what works, what not, and why. Taxi radio coops are dying because of mytaxi app? No, but because of lack of interpersonal, real solidarity links. That is due to the structure, we have lived it for years!!! It has happened thousand times and it will happen again!!

          That is why we see platform coops as a last resource cooperativism, a trench for defending the weakest (meaning the most individualistic or isolated) groups of workers… but no panacea for making congresses…

          I guess they are not seeing the limitations of the form (and the underlying concept of individual which is poison). But limitation exists and no matter what you do it will affect the result. That is why a balance has to be done and platcoop be used only when what it provides is worthy. Taxi drivers in NY could be an example. But always knowing in time you will have to push it towards workers cooperative or the only you will have is a few hundreds individuals working for a bureaucratic machine through an app without any other link with each other. As has ever happened in taxi coops.

          Only when collaboration is part of the producing process solidarity becomes real, interpersonal, not institutional, and people can rediscover themselves as persons overcoming individualism.

          We think the hype around Platform Coops is dangerous because it will probably finish in a generational «disappointment» what will confuse the limitations of PlatCoops with a failure of cooperativism in general. If not -when we are talking about taxi coops- in an instrumentalization by local governments confusing workers autonomy with public clientelar networks.

  2. Hey, I totally missed this discussion, but I plan to add my two cents in my next post.

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