How gig economy co-operative businesses managed to thrive during the p

In the Italian city of Bologna, bicycle couriers deliver freshly baked bread from local bakeries to nearby businesses every morning. The same courier network delivers books from city libraries and food from grocery stores to residents’ homes. Unlike other delivery platforms, companies don’t pay a commission for being part of the delivery service, and delivery people earn around 9 euros ($10.19) per hour after tax compared to the traditional gross hourly wage. from 5.5 euros ($6.23) that workers for other apps like Deliveroo or UberEats do; they also have accident and sickness insurance.

This service has not always existed; it was a direct response to the Covid-19 trials. An economic development branch of the city brought people together — business owners, students, city planners, a union of food delivery couriers, the local library system — and asked them about what they needed during the pandemic and how to how a business might meet their needs. From their responses, the city helped create a co-op platform – a version of a co-op, where workers are also co-owners of a business, which uses a website, app or other type of platform. -online form to sell its services.

Called Consegne Etiche (“Ethical Deliveries”), the courier platform is not just a delivery service. It is a way of deepening the “social fabric” of the community; there’s even been talk of couriers spending time with lonely seniors during the pandemic, says Trebor Scholz, founding director of the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy at The New School and co-author of a recent white paper on cooperative ownership policies published by the Berggruen Institute.

Consegne Etiche is just one of many platform co-ops that have formed in recent years, but “it’s a really interesting example,” says Scholz, “because you see what a city can do.” . By bringing all of these people together, the city has helped create “synergistic solutions” for the benefit of businesses and residents.

The promise of the gig economy was that workers could break free from the 9 to 5 routine, set their own hours, and earn money on the sidelines while pursuing their passions. The reality looked different; these applications quickly became full-time jobs for site workers, but as contractors and not employees, they were denied benefits; small businesses have lobbied to erode worker protections, such as the right to unionize; and rather than “sharing” the success of these new ventures, workers got only a small piece of the pie.

Cooperative platforms, says Scholz — and local policymakers — can help foster their creation. “What is the hope for construction workers who are underpaid and exploited?” Scholz said. “Cities, in a way. Cities may have a chance to step in and get things done, and [create] policies that can be felt in people’s lives.

Scholz first introduced the concept of “platform cooperativism” in a 2014 article in which he suggested introducing cooperative principles into the digital economy. “Worker-owned co-ops could design their own app-based platforms, fostering truly peer-to-peer ways of delivering services and things,” he wrote. In a cooperative, the workers or members also own the business, and the business is democratically controlled by all of these member-owners, rather than just one person at the top. Platform co-ops are worker-owned co-ops that use a website, app, or other type of online platform to sell their goods or services. Scholz now leads the Platform Cooperative Consortium, an alliance of universities and cooperative organizations. As the idea of ​​cooperative platforms spread, the group was approached by city councils around the world asking what they could do. This most recent white paper outlines ways in which governments, from municipal to national, can empower co-operative platforms through policy.

Cities, in particular, are in a unique position to help. They can summon people to learn how a cooperative platform can help residents. They can offer solidarity loan programs to finance the first cooperatives, create cooperative incubators, offer tax advantages and expand legislation to better support cooperatives rather than private companies. Some places are already doing variations of this work: the city of Barcelona funds incubators that help cooperative platforms. The UK has a ‘cooperative party’ in its government (the only country to do so) with 26 members of parliament, which works to promote democratic ownership of services and public services. Current legislation proposed by the state in California, called the California Cooperative Economy Act, would allow workers to join together in a cooperative that “then provides staffing services to gig businesses”; these workers would be W-2 employees of the cooperative.

Cooperatives are not new; they have a history of almost 200 years. There is some debate over which was first; a report indicates that it was a fire insurance mutual founded in 1752 by Benjamin Franklin. They are also commonplace; co-ops own and operate 42% of America’s power lines, the first of which was organized in 1937. “With the opportunities of the internet, you can really scale those principles that can really help people and diversify the economy,” says Scholz—especially the digital economy, which “really needs more diversity, not just this dominating model.” And cooperative platforms can be part of so many industries. In New York, Co-op Ride is a worker-owned ride-sharing company, where drivers also own a share of the business. In California, NursesCan is a cooperative of licensed professional nurses providing on-demand care. Based in Belgium but in nine European countries, Smart.coop transforms any independent entrepreneur (artists, dancers, musicians) into employees who enjoy social benefits and pension funds (members must buy at least one share to join the cooperative also takes a small percentage of customer payments as a fee).

The pandemic, in part, may have increased the popularity of co-ops, motivating people to start building this economy just as it spurred increased union support and greater participation in mutual aid. And to expand it even further, policymakers should step in. “It’s an international movement,” says Scholz. Some are still small; others have become quite large (Smart Cooperative earns $200 million a year). Yet, he says, “Without political support, this cannot be a win-win solution. And I think it’s a great opportunity for cities to show their values ​​and how they’re supporting communities in this difficult time. »

Virginia S. Braud