Article of Institute for Solidarity Economics, April 4, 2017 by Kat D
A month ago we joined around 300 others at Open:2017, the UK’s first multi-day conference dedicated to platform co-operatives, organised by The Open Co-op LLP. As one of the early sponsors of the event, we were so excited to help make it happen, and to contribute to what became an incredibly inspiring couple of days.
For those who might not know, ‘platform co-operatives’ are owned and managed by their members just like traditional co-ops, but whilst traditional co-ops are normally based around a physical community of members, platform co-ops exist online and are normally populated by online communities of members. As Oliver Sylvester-Bradley, co-founder of The Open Co-op, explains in his Co-operative News article, the word ‘platform’ is often used to describe an internet service which brings together suppliers and consumers in an online marketplace. But they don’t necessarily provide traditional ‘products’, they often facilitate the trade of services, like taxis or temporary accommodation. Companies like Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo – platform monopolies – have been the recent focus of much negative media attention for their unfair treatment of workers, whilst generating huge profits for their shareholders. Platform co-ops, on the other hand, are specifically designed to address the issues of workers’ rights and the extraction of value by making their members owners of the platforms, and giving them democratic control.
So, coming together at Open:2017 were individuals, initiatives and organisations united in their vision of a transparent, democratic and decentralised economy which works for everyone. Contributors focused on exploring how collaborative software and co-operative ownership models are being combined to create this new economy. Workshops, talks and debates considered the practical steps needed to set up platform co-ops and accelerate their growth in the UK. There was much talk about an ecosystem of apps to support the Solidarity Economy in general, and the co-op movement in particular, and it’s really exciting to feel this momentum.