#rp18 Speaker Trebor Scholz on platform cooperativism and digital labor
Scientist and activist Trebor Scholz; photo credit: Michael Nagle

Scientist and activist Trebor Scholz; photo credit: Michael Nagle

In the conference’s “We Can Work It Out” topic, scientist, activist, and re:publica veteran Trebor Scholz will discuss opportunities for making work environments agreeable again, now and in the future. 

“Let people be the focus of the digital job market and turn profits into societal benefits!” writes Trebor Scholz in his essay (German) on platform cooperativism. In 2009, Scholz founded the “Digital Labour” Conference at the New School in New York. In his book “Uber-Worked and Underpaid” (2016), he synthesized his approach into an analysis of the challenges of digital labor and coined the term “platform cooperativism.” Approximately seven percent of the world’s working population are self-employed members of the gig economy. As these numbers rise, they largely depend on the equilibrium between networks and other variables, as well as the success of collective wage agreements. 

Scholz champions the rights of employees who work beyond the limits of traditional career parameters. While incorporating ideas by leftist theorists Hannah Arendt and Rosa Luxemburg, solidarity and democratic codetermination are at the core of his vision for the future of labor. Open source and blockchain, as well as collective and communal property, are possible solutions to self-exploitation and isolation within the sharing economy. Within this framework, Scholz envisions digital collectives and trade unions. 
Trebor Scholz tackles issues that go beyond regional borders. With worldwide internet coverage, it’s irrelevant where freelance or gig-workers are located, or rather, where employers source their work. Sharing economy concepts are transferable to the global stage, and the risk of this system establishing itself as the only model is a problem with wide-reaching consequences. If state regulations continue to decrease, Uber can offer rides in New York just as easily as in Bangkok or Berlin. And whether or not Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk”-hired click workers are located in Bangladesh or Bulgaria is usually of no interest to employers. It’s the same everywhere: Services traditionally performed by employers themselves are now outsourced to (bogus) self-employed click and crowd workers. 
Payed leave, sick days, a steady income? Think again! That’s why employee rights are of global interest. To combat international dog-eat-dog competition, Trebor proposes a system of empathetic cooperation for all employers. Along with other platform cooperativism representatives, he believes we are operating within a narrow timeframe: there is still time to mobilize and build a global economic system that appreciates the value of labor. 
We don’t want to be under-payed click farmers! But will we succeed in facing these global players with solidarity and dedication to create self-determined work environments? Who other than Trebor Scholz could know the answer?

Twitter: @TreborS

Website: platform.coop
New School: newschool.edu/lang/faculty/Trebor-Scholz