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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

How a platform cooperative breakthrough might happen in the 2020s

Platform co-operativism has one advantage compared to many other movements that have shaped the digital economy, such as open-source or blockchain. It is part of a 1.2 billion members strong, 150 year old movement, with a central global organisation. Open source advocates saw Microsoft as the enemy they faced alone, for blockchain it was the big banks. For platform co-operatives, there already exists a co-operative that is a bank and bigger than Microsoft in revenue, the French Credit Agricole. We do not have to build a new world - we can simply help an existing one flourish and expand.

 One straight-forward example of big co-operatives helping platform co-operatives is the Start accelerator program. Sponsored by numerous large and medium sized US co-operatives, it provided 8 young platform co-ops with 2 months of mentoring and a $10,000 grant.

Ideally, this would be advocated by using the existing, imperfect democratic institutions in the large co-ops. For example, in the 16 million members strong Nationwide building society, it requires a signature of 500 people to put forward a motion. In 1998, 87% of its members voted for a motion to donate 1% of pre-tax profits to charities, which meant £11 million last year. Perhaps platform co-op enthusiasts could put forward a motion to give 1 pence per Nationwide member to fund new platform co-operatives. This would be £160 000, enough to pay for grants of an accelerator program twice the size of Start Coop. 

 If these democratic campaigns are tried out repeatedly across many big co-ops in different countries, sooner or later there will be successes that can be replicated and scaled. Revitalisation of the big and old cooperatives will be far from effortless, but underutilising them might be a bigger misallocation of effort.

To make this merging easier, platform co-operatives should not just ask what big co-ops can do for them, but also what they can do for the big co-ops. There has been discussion at MIT about credit unions and how to enable members to form data co-operatives. Perhaps the platform co-operative breakthrough happens as a new data co-operative starts successfully co-operating with an old credit union, and the model is then replicated to include 1% of US credit union members, over a million people.

Read the rest at the Coop Exchange blog


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