The “Sharing Economy” is comprised of corporations like Uber and Airbnb—that don’t actually do much sharing. But real alternatives that build community and cooperative ownership are under development across the country—like Green Taxi Cooperative, an emerging worker-owned business in Denver, Colorado that just received the regulatory approval they need to launch the 800-driver strong cooperatively-owned and union-organized company. As Nathan Schneider and Trebor Scholz put it in “The People’s Uber: Why The Sharing Economy Must Share Ownership,” the majority of the app-based services like Uber and Lyft provide a platform for “‘collaborative consumption,’ but not of control, real accountability, or ownership.” Green Taxi Cooperative, by rooting ownership and control with the drivers themselves, is helping bring equity and sustainability to Denver’s taxi scene.
Why is worker ownership so important, and why are unions increasingly interested in supporting it? The reality is that rapidly emerging services like Uber and Lyft, despite feel-good rhetoric about sharing and disruption—are just as profit-driven and extractive as your average corporation. Uber and Lyft can easily mistreat drivers, continue to extract profits, and drive down wages under the guise of flexibility they offer. The actions of these companies are proof that ultimately the people who own and control the services stand the most to gain from their success, often at the expense of the workers who make the platform run. As Schneider and Scholz put it, “[o]ver the long term, whoever owns and controls these platforms will determine who benefits from the emerging future of work.” So, in a world where convenience reigns and demand for these services continues to increase, can we build alternatives to Uber and Lyft that live up to the spirit of sharing the sharing economy pretends to embrace?
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