“Platform” businesses like Uber and Deliveroo use cutting-edge technology and huge casual workforces to provide extraordinary new conveniences – but are they delivered at an unbearable cost?
The platform co-operative movement (PCM) thinks so. This global group of activists and entrepreneurs says that the so-called “flexibility” offered to gig economy workers by platform businesses undermines the established employer-employee relationship. Classed as independent contractors, these workers aren’t entitled to basic benefits relied on by permanent staff. The movement says this means tech giants can shift risk onto their workforce; they can focus on short-term financial goals at the expense of fair working conditions.
So the PCM is trying to build alternatives, combining the platform model with established principles of worker ownership. They’re developing start-ups that offer the same services in fairer ways. Taxi services, peer-to-peer rental networks, and alternative business loan providers are already up and running. And some huge players use this model: Consensys, a New York co-op that builds blockchain-based software, employs 900 people and is valued at a reported $1bn.
But can they really compete with the tech giants? British innovation charity Nesta reports co-operatives are more productive than conventional businesses and are almost twice as likely to survive their first five years. Nesta is calling for a dedicated seed fund to support the co-op ecosystem. We might all be hailing cabs from worker-owned co-operatives soon.