There are a range of “platform co-ops” in Canada already—web and mobile app-based services that are worker-owned. Some are in the early stages of development, while others have proven track records going back more than a decade. Like traditional co-ops, they aim to sustain a business with decent working conditions and democratic oversight. Upholding these principles in a profit-driven capitalist economy is no easy task. Platform co-ops have the additional challenge—or opportunity—of delivering the convenience promised by new forms of technology.
Along with Sopher and several others, Rob Gill enrolled in an online course offered by The New School’s Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy, a university research centre that organizes an annual conference on cooperative platforms. “I do enjoy courier work, as shady as these companies are,” says Gill. “We’re interested in a completely different business model.” Before moving to Toronto about five years ago, Gill lived in Huntsville, where he participated in the Muskoka North Good Food Co-op, which currently hosts a grocery store, cafe, and shared commercial kitchen space under one roof. His previous co-op experience has helped him to imagine how a worker-run platform might do things differently.
Gill points to the partnership struck up between Foodsters United and Toronto food justice nonprofit FoodShare to deliver food boxes during the pandemic as an example of a more community-oriented approach. He believes that platforms have a duty to provide rigorous health and safety training for the hazards of courier work—and that they must find better ways to address harassment experienced by women. The vulnerability of migrant workers in gig work—where they are overrepresented—is also an area of concern.