Recently the Uber ride app was activated in Windsor immediately threatening the livelihoods of some 300 unionized cab drivers in the city. Over the New Year holiday many complaints were heard in Windsor over the cost of rides, and this seems to have prompted the mayor to talk about regulating Uber.
Uber is backed by venture capitalists and worth tens of billions of dollars. As with typical capitalist enterprises it’s only a small group of shareholders who profit while the rest of us struggle to make a living amongst all the disruption.
Going deeper, in November-December on The ShakeUp, I attempted to examine the roots of the Uber phenomenon and its claim to be an element of the sharing economy. Many see app platforms as a way to disrupt traditional systems (like cab rides and hotels) that need to give way to new forms of organizing work. However, what is being disrupted by the likes of Uber is the ability of workers to make a living wage. A wild west sort of world is being created as this article points out alleging sabotage tactics by Uber against a rival. It seems that the Uber-ization of app technology will turn us all into contingent contract workers driving everybody to a wage so low no one could make a living in an unregulated maze of anything goes. It doesn’t have to be this way.
A true sharing economy could be one based on principles of mutual aid and cooperativism. A sharing economy would also be based locally while also connected to the broader world. Instead of globalization, it could be internationalism where national and local economies are allowed to flourish. Instead, globalization is resulting in a new colonialism where local economies must serve a global market with the cheapest goods and services possible. While wages have risen in supplier countries, workers still struggle for the right to organize for better wages and working conditions. This was always the fallacy of free trade and globalization: some pockets of workers have better lives, but they can only make a living making cheap goods for consumption in the west.
In a series of conversations below, I attempted to illustrate how workers and governments could use the same app technology as the venture capitalists to form a true sharing economy, through what Trebor Scholz has termed “Platform Cooperativism”(described below) in order to build a new economy and society:
Episode 1 aired on The ShakeUp November 6, 2015:
Sharing is a very human thing to do and the working class and people in poverty and/or marginalized communities have always found sharing and cooperativism crucial for meeting needs and building community. Uber is private company worth, it is said, $18 billion and backed by venture capital. It is subject to the cool factor where urban dwellers have more choice and ease in finding transportation that is supposed to be less expensive and hassle-free than a cab ride. In the crossfire are cab drivers who make a living wage and feel under direct threat of losing their livelihoods. In Windsor Uber could be a disaster for 320 cabbies recently in the news voicing their concerns over the mayor’s exuberant support of Uber. So, where is the sharing – who gets to take part in the sharing, and if these enterprises are backed by millionaire venture capitalists where does sharing come in at all? How is Uber any different from any other corporate entity? Tawanna Dillahunt is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information and co-author of “The Promise of the Sharing Economy among Disadvantaged Communities” that explored how low income and marginalized people encounter the sharing economy. She is also the principal investigator of The Social Innovation Group that seeks to “design, build and enhance innovative technologies to solve real-world problems.” The paper investigated the “perception and feasibility of finding temporary employment and sharing spare resources using sharing-economy applications in a city [like Windsor] suffering economic decline.”
Episode 2: also aired November 6, 2015
Tom Slee is a Waterloo based writer on technology and society. Recently his writing has focused on profit, openness, and sharing in the digital world. He wrote “No One Makes You Shop at Wal-Mart” and his most recent book is “What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy”…
Episode 3 aired on The ShakeUp November 13, 2015:
“Eli Feghali is the Director of Communications and Online Organizing for the New Economy Coalition. He is a Lebanese-American who has spent the majority of his professional life working as a communications specialist and community organizer. He has particular expertise in strategic communications, press relations, new media strategy, and web design.”
“Michael Toye became Executive Director of the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet) in August of 2008, bringing a deep background in community economic development (CED) to the Director’s chair. Upon earning his Master of Social Work at McGill, Michael helped set up two worker co-operatives that provide research, consulting and training services related to CED and the social economy.”
In the following segement I conversed with Toye and Feghali on the solidarity economy:
Episode 4: Platform Cooperativism. (Aired on The ShakeUp Dec, 4 2015)
“It’s a call to workers, designers, and developers. It’s up to you: the blue pill or, well, you know the Matrix story — the red.
There has been backlash against unethical labor practices in the “collaborative sharing economy” because of an utter lack of concern for the workers. Take, for example, Uber’s app, with all its geo-location and ride ordering capabilities. Corporate owners and shareholders do not have to be the main benefactors of such platform-based labor brokerage. How to dodge Uber and put a worker-owned cooperative or unionized labor pool in their place?
Imagine, just for one moment, that the algorithmic heart of the citadels of anti-unionism could be cloned and brought back to life under a different ownership model, with fair working conditions, as a humane alternative to the free market model.”
Trebor Scholz is Associate Professor of Culture & Media Studies at the New School New York City and a convenor of the recent conference on Platform Cooperativism. I spoke with him on the concept of Platform Cooperativism:
On November 13-14 in New York City a “coming out part for the Internet: was held in the form of a conference on Platform Cooperativism:
Briefly: “RIPESS-NA (Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy-N. America) initiated the process of organizing this forum. RIPESS-NA members include these national networks: the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network (SEN), the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNET) and the Chantier de l’économie Sociale in Quebec.”
Trebor Scholz, “Platform Cooperativism vs. the Sharing Economy”
• Nathan Schneider, “Owning Is the New Sharing,” Shareable (December 21, 2014)
• Janelle Orsi, Frank Pasquale, Nathan Schneider, Pia Mancini, Trebor Scholz, “5 Ways to Take Back Tech,” The Nation (May 27, 2015)
• Nathan Schneider, “Owning What We Share,” Pacific Standard (September 1, 2015)