#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. His keynote "Equitable Pioneers for the Digital Economy" will focus on the worker cooperative as a promising economic alternative for the digital economy.

“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

Science Year 2018 – “Working Worlds of the Future”

The Science Year 2018 focuses on the “Working World of the Future”. Digitalization, alternative ways of working, artificial intelligence research and similar fields present new challenges and opportunities to scientific and civil societies. How will people work in future? And how do you prepare for these scenarios? What role can science and research play in designing the terms of labor? The Science Year 2018 highlights the impact technological and social innovations have on the economy of tomorrow, and discusses the new standards of socio-political dialogue and work experience that we face today. “Learn, experience, create” is the motto of the Science Year 2018, and all interested participants are called upon to join in, ask questions and find solutions. The Science Year is an initiative of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, BMBF, organized in collaboration with Wissenschaft im Dialog (WiD). As a central instrument of federal science communication, the Science Year conveys current research to the public and fosters the dialogue between science and society. 

Wissenschaftsjahr 2018 - BMBF