How do we keep one Worker Co-op from exploiting another Worker Co-op?

I keep thinking of a "Gig Economy" as a way to undermine Worker Co-operatives. You are now an independent worker-owner contractor not an employee.

Official response from submitted

I suspect this is a matter of how one understands terms like "Independent worker-owner" or "Worker Coop." If the latter is just a gathering of the former (more than 1 of them) then there is little difference. The individual self-employed person who produces a good or service under contract to its purchaser is, in effect, both the producer of a surplus (more total value produced than is kept by the producer for his own consumption) and the appropriator of that surplus and thus the person who decides how that surplus will be distributed and used to reproduce this economic system/structure. A worker coop is simply a collection of individuals who organize work collectively among themselves (rather than individually) the produce an output that they divide into (1) the part they sell and use the revenue for their own consumption, and (2) the surplus part that, as a worker coop, they collectively appropriate from themselves and then decide how to use, distribute etc. Whats gone in both the individual and collective versions here is the basic opposition of employer and employee as different persons with correspondingly opposed interests. These two version need not exist or function as competitors, enemies, mutual "underminers." They could simply co-exist as options for each individual to consider and decide for himself/herself as to their own workplace choice.

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  • Pancho Villa
    commented 2017-04-28 23:34:44 -0400
    I would also like to some clarification on this idea. @Chris Villalobos I would like to echo JeremyH3’s comment that comparing the capitalist gig economy to economic democracy (worker co-ops) is like comparing chronic obesity to a healthy diet. The gig economy is an evolution of capitalist exploitation while economic democracy is a recipe for a healthy system.

    The primary confusion I believe comes from you misperceiving participating in the gig economy as the same as being a worker-owner. While you are correct, this is the position of a contractor, it is not at all the same as being a worker-owner. Yes it is true that, in say the case of Uber, you own your car, you own the insurance contract established with your insurance agent, and you do all the production work, THIS DOES NOT MAKE YOU AN OWNER. You do not keep the entire fare in the way that you would if you OWNED&OPERATED your own independent cab service. You are effectively paid a wage and are once again a wage-earning member of the proletariat.

    Because Uber’s algorithm has nullified a human dispatch service and no longer has to pay for the means of production (overhead + vehicle + insurance costs) which they have shifted to the worker/contractor, they are able to keep the “surplus” you create for doing next to nothing as a computer runs the business. They are charging their “employees” rent and skirting existing labor laws while they claim to “democratize” the workplace but in reality take exploitation to a whole sick new level.
  • Pancho Villa
    tagged this with Important 2017-04-28 23:34:43 -0400
  • Pancho Villa
    tagged this with good 2017-04-28 23:34:42 -0400
  • Chris Villalobos
    commented 2017-02-22 12:14:23 -0500
    Thanks for the great responses. I’ll try to refine my question. Just for a thought experiment let’s say America made Rented Labor illegal just like we made Slavery illegal so that every business must be formed as a worker co-op or sole proprietorship. I could see a Capitalist minded person using their ingenuity to recreate a de facto exploitative system. I guess there would just have to be laws set up but the Capitalist would work to corrupt those laws. We would also need a cultural shift so that we saw Capitalism as disgusting as Slavery. I may have answered my own question.
  • Chris Villalobos
    tagged this with good 2017-02-22 12:14:22 -0500
  • Richard Wolff
    responded with submitted 2017-02-14 23:54:31 -0500
  • Bobbi Wings
    commented 2017-02-14 19:26:14 -0500
    I am not Richard Wolff but I do have some thoughts on this. As I understand it the “gig economy” is a natural evolution of capitalisms pervasive theme to screw the employee. I believe worker coops are just about the opposite of the gig economy in both intent and effect. In the gig economy you have a worker that is fairly isolated and alone with their work and are very conscious of being in conflict with the other employees as they fight each other for fares, etc. In this environment I could definitely see one worker exploiting another for personal gain.

    Now enter the worker coop where workers support and rely on each other for their mutual success. That is a much different arrangement than having 100 poor immigrants fighting each other to be first to serve their Uber masters. Uber who takes I believe 20% right off the top could care less about each employee and their lives. In that highly competitive environment we could very well see employees undercutting and sabotaging each other. In a worker cooperative environment this does not happen. There is no need for it as there is no competition against each other so when each of us succeeds we all succeed. Where Uber pulls 20% no questions asked a worker coop would focus more on employee feedback and health benefits and working hours and other issues that would affect employee morale and productivity.

    Put another way the typical gig economy company is profit driven. Profit driven (Capitalist) enterprises by definition must focus on the bottom line. Where worker coops main focus tends to be on worker conditions and job sustainability over the bottom line. In that environment it is counter productive to undercut anyone at your work place because their success is so tightly bound up with your own.

    The whole idea of workers undercutting each is a race to the bottom which the Capitalist applauds at every stage because when workers undercut each other the only winner is the Capitalist overlord. Its just another variation of the divide and conqueror strategy that has kept the top 1% comfortable all of our lives while we workers struggle against each other for the scraps they allow us.

    Taking a symptom of one system (the gig economy) and trying to export it to an environment that it is incompatible with that sort of chicanery (workers coops) and youll find there is simply no place for such things in a worker coop. I would imagine that any worker when faced with the choice of a gig economy position which puts one at constant odds with ones employers and co-workers or a worker coop position where both workers and management work together for mutual gain would choose the worker – owner role for themselves instead of the faceless, powerless cog in a wheel employee position.

    Ill close by saying that comparing the gig economy to worker coops is kind of like comparing chronic obesity to eating organic vegetables. One is a symptom of Capitalism (gig economy) and the other (worker coops) is a remedy, or alternative, to Capitalism. They dont really go together just as you dont tend to see rampant obesity when one eats their veggies. This is of course just my opinion and I am also interested in hearing Richard Wolffs thoughts on the matter.
  • Corey Butler
    commented 2017-02-14 13:06:03 -0500
    Interested in hearing his thoughts on this.
  • Corey Butler
    tagged this with good 2017-02-14 13:06:02 -0500
  • Chris Villalobos
    published this page in Ask Prof. Wolff 2017-02-14 12:46:56 -0500