Brishen Rogers is Associate Professor of Law at Temple University Beasley School of Law, where he teaches torts, employment discrimination, and global labor law. His current research focuses on the influence of new technologies on work, social mobilization, and democracy. His recent essay The Social Costs of Uber considered the distributive issues raised by the explosive growth of the “car-sharing” service Uber. Another forthcoming article entitled Employment as a Legal Concept develops the legal case for treating Uber and Lyft drivers as employees.
Prior to law school Professor Rogers spent five years as an organizer, including a stint with SEIU’s “Justice for Janitors” campaign. He has founded and edited two online journals, one at the University of Virginia and another at Harvard Law School. He has also taught international labor law as part of Harvard Law School’s Institute for Global Law & Policy, and informally advises various workers’ rights organizations on various matters.
Organizing for Platform Cooperativism
Apps and algorithms that exploit network effects have enabled the rise of the so-called “sharing economy.” But they can also enable the rise of new social movements to check corporate power and undergird robust platform cooperativism. The reason is that such apps and algorithms could make organizing far, far easier. Traditional organizing is time-consuming and expensive, and involves five phases. Organizers must contact workers, consumers, or citizens (the “targeting” phase); figure out their desires (the “assessing” phase); show them that others share those desires (the “assuring” phase); move them into action (the “motivating” phase); and consolidate those individuals’ collective power into a lasting organization (the “institutionalizing” phase).
Citizens linked together by the right platform running the right set of algorithms could pass through these phases at dramatically lower cost. Such a platform might gather data on consumer purchases and web browsing, not to enable sales, but to determine which consumers have strong preferences for ethical consumption, to put them in contact with one another, and to help them organize boycotts. Such a platform might link together all restaurant workers, or all health care workers, or all security guards within a particular city—or nationally, or globally—both providing them job-related information and enabling workers to organize walkouts or consumer boycotts.
Think of this as Organizing 3.0—a platform that enables fast and effective concerted action through smart use of network effects, that moves online networks into the streets, and that is radically democratic, designed to enable thousands of new experimental forms of user-driven mobilization. Developing such an organizing platform should not be that difficult if skilled organizers, programmers and analysts work together. Just as labor, consumer, and agrarian movements have long supported classic cooperative production models, such organizations could help provide the social basis for platform cooperativism.