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In the digital economy, co-ops provide meaning to workers

7 February 2018

Giuseppe Guerini, President of CECOP - CICOPA Europe, addressed the European Parliament on Wednesday 31 January 2018 in the framework of a round table on the future of work entitled "The role of the Social Economy in shaping the Future of Work".

Organized by MEPs Jens Nilsson and Elena Gentile (S&D Group) and Social Economy Europe, the round table brought together high-level actors including the Luxembourg Minister Nicolas Schmit, the President of the European Economic and Social Committee Georges Dassis, the Slovenian State Secretary Tadej Slapnik, Baudouin Baudru as the representative of the European Commissioner Marianne Thyssen and Vic Van Vuuren for the International Labor Organization.

Mr. Guerini’s presentation focused on the role that cooperatives, as an entrepreneurial model, play in an economy that is too often indifferently called "digital" or "collaborative": "The digital economy and the increase in productivity are characterized by the enormous speed with which economic values accumulate, but also by the concentration levels of wealth, the economic value produced and the power in very few hands."

However, while the digital economy has the characteristic of "fostering the growth of inequalities, it is necessary to recognize that the potential for horizontal openness and interconnection provided by new technologies has enormous potential for developing democracy and economic participation."

It’s no coincidence that the collaborative economy is growing thanks to the accessibility and potential of digital technologies, says Guerini. Growth that is accompanied by "a lot of confusion, if only from a terminological point of view. In fact there is the risk of defining everything that develops through a computer platform, as a collaborative economy." And to specify:

"In many cases, especially the most efficient ones on the market, "collaboration" or sharing involves the means of production, the risk of a business, the distribution chain of the product-service, without affecting the added value or the produced wealth "optimized" and extracted from the platform manager, with the paradoxical and ironic effect of calling sharing economy a digital reissue of the old "extractive economy" where there is very little sharing and collaboration."

"One of the big problems we will have to face is the accessibility of these new technologies, and the governance and regulatory mechanisms that must be put in place to prevent the enormous potential of these technologies to be concentrated in a few hands. And this is already happening now."

In this context, the vision of companies in the social economy and in particular the cooperative model represents an opportunity to ensure the possibility of maintaining democracy in the evolution of the communication and artificial intelligence society. In other words, cooperatives, even when using new technology platforms for connections and collaboration, can be much more than a virtual collaboration space, but a real and substantial place to share."

If giving people social capital and instruments of participation and economic leadership does not increase their material wealth, this at least helps to contain and reduce inequalities and increase the "sharing" of goods and services through real and equal platforms.

For Mr. Guerini, "relational processes and the production of symbolic and relational goods (service to people, cultural heritage management, participation processes, service management) are areas in which cooperatives have a natural vocation and can express them.

After reviewing different trends and scenarios concerning the future of work, Mr. Guerini ended his intervention with a call to cooperatives "to give answers that are much more articulated than the optimal organization of work, or contractual coverage, and to put a dimension of meaning in the organization of the labor economy ".

To do this, he concluded, "we must learn to govern and integrate new technologies into our organizations, in order to better develop their function of pooling the needs for work and sharing the value produced. Mutualizing identity and solidarity to contribute building a community of belonging and protection, and to give dignity, legitimacy and citizenship to various forms of work.”