The backlash to the corporate “sharing economy” is gaining momentum, and one key player is the movement to develop “platform cooperativism.” The New York Office of Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung has released a report critiquing the “sharing economy” and describing the alternatives. It’s called “Platform Cooperativism: Challenging the Corporate Sharing Economy” (pdf file). and it’s written by Trebor Scholz, an associate professor at the New School.
Scholz and journalist Nathan Schneider were co-organizers of a November 2015 conference that served as an historic flashpoint on this topic. People are starting to realize the many anti-social effects of the “gig economy,” as typified by Uber, Airbnb, TaskRabbit and Mechanical Turk, but the development of workable alternatives is barely underway.
The first half of the report addresses the many deficiencies of the so-called sharing economy. First of all, it’s not about sharing at all. It’s an “on-demand service economy” that relies on the same exploitative techniques of conventional capitalism, but with powerful tech enhancements.
While the system delivers amazing convenience and efficiencies, it also preys upon those who cannot obtain good-paying stable jobs with benefits. It re-introduces piecework on a massive scale, this time with sophisticated computer algorithms to ratchet down wages to below minimum wage. Since everyone is nominally considered an independent contractor, corporate platforms can shrug and exonerate themselves by saying that everyone is “free to choose” their working circumstances, in Milton Friedman’s classic phrase.
But as more jobs are sent abroad to countries that pay lower wages and have few worker protections, workers are in many cases victimized by a global race to the bottom. Corporate platforms act as lucrative intermediaries that shed the costs of conventional businesses – the capital infrastructure, regular paychecks and employee benefits.