The digital landscape is undergoing a profound transformation with established infrastructures of information creation and exchange gradually yielding to corporate interest. The diminishing presence of public options due to the dominance of large platforms, alongside a changing funding framework that prioritizes corporate stakeholders, has propelled the ascent of platform capitalism. This evolution has not only undermined labor rights but has also facilitated the enclosure of common data to fuel profit motives. As we witness the pervasive expansion of the platform economy into every facet of society, it becomes imperative to envision a new trajectory that addresses the substantial material detriments faced by marginalized communities. In this context, platform capitalism has not only reshaped economic paradigms but has also deepened societal inequities, intensifying challenges related to dignity, justice, and exploitation in labor markets, while heightening environmental burdens with far-reaching consequences.

Platform Cooperatives: A New Way Forward

Having explored the challenges posed by corporate dominance and its detrimental impact on labor rights and data ownership in today's platform capitalism, it is imperative to consider alternative models that empower individuals and communities.

The concept of cooperatives requires an urgent, critical capture of the new and emerging forms of labor, capital accumulation, and resource use, which arise within the paradigm of platform capitalism we are in today. While a cooperative can be termed as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economy, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise,” if we want to optimize the platform economy for the many instead of the few, we must attend to new realities, such as the platform-based organizational structure of labor and our economies.

The platform coop is a model that provides support to fight back against the inequalities perpetuated by monopolistic Big Tech platforms. It also allows people to collectively organize against ceaseless data extraction of our habits, spending patterns, and our deepest selves for the profit of platform giants, and surveillance of us and our communities. Platform coops provide ways forward to decide what happens to our data on these platforms.

The Roots of Resilience

IT for Change, in concert with the Platform Cooperativism Consortium, and the Kerala Development and Innovation Strategic Council came together to explore how the platform coop model can promote feminist futures, climate justice, and sustainable agriculture through the 10th iteration of the Platform Cooperativism Conference. The conference, aptly titled, ‘Roots of Resilience’, brought together member cooperatives (both traditional and digital), researchers, engineers, policymakers, union leaders, etc., to Thiruvananthapuram, India to discuss both the current challenges facing the running and legislating of platform coops, as well as the future imaginations of just, equitable futures built through platform coops. The conference was organized from 30 November to 2 December 2023.

Snippets from the Roots of Resilience conference

Participants at the conference highlighted real-world growing pains of platform cooperatives through a range of sharing sessions. Thematic sessions allowed practitioners to deliberate on prescient challenges through their unique points of view and formulate plans for the future. Across the diverse threads of conversations, certain ideas appeared and reappeared. These ideas, at their core, were about sustainability and the possibility of building feminist economies. The impulse towards building sustainable and feminist economies builds upon the tenets of cooperativism, making visible the productive labor necessary in cooperative movements, and translating those tenets into the new digital ecosystem.

These two impulses can be further broken down into principles that call for reorganizing our extractive economies into social and solidarity economies.

Below are some of the principles drawn from our collective learnings through the conference:

But how do we actually get to implementing these principles and building the aforementioned sustainable and feminist economies? The constructive debates among our participants highlighted certain ways forward to facilitate the expansion of platform cooperativism.

Below are three important changes we must make.

Vibrant Coop Tech Ecosystems
Enabling Policy Environments
Contesting the Digital Economy

The discussions and insights shared during the ‘Roots of Resilience’ conference have presented hopeful pathways forward. Platform cooperatives emerge as a viable solution, empowering individuals and communities to take control of their economic futures while promoting sustainable, feminist economies.

The principles discussed, including centering social reproduction in production, building commons-based digital regimes, fostering solidarities against platform capitalism, and creating an enabling policy environment, offer roadmaps for navigating the complexities of the digital age. By investing in cooperativist tech ecosystems, designing feminist infrastructures, and advocating for regulatory frameworks that protect gig workers and promote collective rights, we can work towards a more equitable and just digital economy.

The Thiruvananthapuram Declaration, unveiled during the conference, represents a pivotal opportunity to translate our collective vision into actionable steps. By endorsing the Declaration and rallying support from stakeholders, including governments, policymakers, and civil society, we can amplify the voice advocating for an alternative vision of our future. This is our chance to make meaningful strides towards a digital economy that prioritizes people and the planet over profit, fostering inclusivity, sustainability, and social justice.

Let's come together and ensure that the principles outlined in the declaration are not just ideals but tangible realities that shape policies, initiatives, and practices across the globe. Endorse the Thiruvananthapuram Declaration today and join us in building a more equitable and cooperative-driven future.

This article was visually designed and developed by Intifada P. Basheer.

The research for this article was co-funded by the European Union and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.