Is there a decline in tech cooperative movement activity?

Hi everyone! I’m an experienced developer who is questioning traditional extractive corporations and start-ups.

In my search for alternatives, I’ve discovered the topic of tech cooperatives and platform cooperativism. I’m currently actively researching info about the field and have an impression that the peak of activity was in 2018-2020. Can someone more experienced in the field tell the story of those times and why it calmed down later?

I guess COVID has hit, which was hard for those vulnerable grassroots organizations and movements. But also just knocked out cooperatives from the media scope.

Is there anything that I’m missing? A directed campaign against it? Another theory: in those times, someone with more media and capital resources was involved, and now they’ve moved on. I’m very interested in what has happened and what is happening now. And ultimately, what is the best way to get involved?

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Heyyy!

I’d love to hear about how activity is being measured or evaluated here. Are you looking at number of tech coops? Perhaps size/revenue of coops? Or traffic on forums? I’d love to look at some data.

I know there’s a more academic circle around platform coops that might be in a more quiet phase, as is a pattern in academia.

A few coops have had to dissolve and maybe were a bit more quiet here. A number of people are putting energy into this community and the relatively new workers.coop

Without divulging full financial info both the coops I’m part of (fractals co-op, Cetis llp) are sustainable, and growing at the right pace for us. Both operate in a sort of consultant model, so we respond to market/client needs, which translates to some quiet periods, some busy periods.

From my experience when you’re new as a coop or new to coops, you’re busy networking, trying to get funding, members or whatever. Then you turn to a phase of running the business. It’s a lot of work if you’re a small coop. So you end up a bit more quiet.

I’m certain lots of folk here will have a variety of experiences and perspectives :slight_smile:

Cheers,
Oliver

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I think what happened was that the platform co-op buzz / hype / bubble burst, in much the same way as happened with crypto currencies, but without such a huge waste of resources…

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Thank you for your replies!

@bates_oliver Thanks for correcting alignment of my question. My impression is based mostly on online media activity and traffic. And I may be totally wrong.
If there are any good sources of numbers I would love to see them too. I couldn’t find much though.

Also I definitely don’t expect individual cooperatives to aggressively grow and dominate, that’s the whole point. However I was expecting to see a number of relatively small cooperatives trying to solve different problems. Also to be vocal and open to the public and new members. It seems important to me to grow the field and the movement as a whole.

This brings me to the @chris’s argument about the Buzz. Could you please elaborate on where do you see the line between the bubble and genuine thing happening in the filed?

Again, I’m just entering the field and might be full of idealism. I would love some guidance. For example, I would appreciate any resources for communication and collaboration. I would love to talk to people and organizations offline and online. Maybe I will become a member of one as a developer. Or start one if there is a niche for my skills and ideas.

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So from what you guys saying it seems that there was a period of buzz/discussions, some cooperatives formed and moved to the working phase.

Then the field just calmed down. So the question does it need to be active again? How do we get more cooperatives to form? And do we need to?

By “we” I mean the movement of solidarity economy. And in general people who does not fully agree with the stats quo of corporate dominance.

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I’ve been involved with CoTech as a co-op development adviser and also on the international scene so can offer a couple of observations.
Although CoTech itself isn’t an exact proxy for the state of the worker tech milieu, the UK network has been impacted by a certain loss of mojo and campaigning focus since Outlandish entered a phase of re-forming. They helped bankroll and energise CoTech and the ‘tech for good’ movement more widely in pre-covid times. So for instance it has been difficult to keep momentum around proposals such as hiring a network coordinator, formalising CoTech as an industrial circle of workers.coop, and so on. I helped a number of groups formalise as co-ops in the earlier phase, and yes the number of new tech co-op registrations is down. I advised on about 10 new tech co-op formations in 2017-20, none since covid (although I’ve worked with a few existing co-ops hitting development issues, and also plenty of co-ops where tech is an important part of their strategy, such as freelancer and worker-social multi stakeholder co-ops).
Secondly I think the milieu has been impacted by the globalisation and proletarianisation of the coding and dev trades over the last few years, although there is still a tendency towards ‘aristocracy of labour’ attitudes such as pride in the job and valuing independence as a worker, based in relatively decent wages and a easy hiring market for workers with tech skills. Those factors give people the confidence and financial buffer to form worker co-ops. The idealism of the ‘tech for good’ scene has taken a battering. In all of this, I see parallels with the growth and subsequent decline of the printing and design collectives and worker co-op scene in the 80s/90s.
On the other hand, there is no sign of a decline in interest or in the formation of worker tech and social tech co-ops in other parts of the world, particularly lower labour cost countries like Argentina, India, eastern Europe. For instance the FACTTIC network in Argentina is still innovating, the ICA’s Patio network is in reasonable shape, and we (workers.coop) are in dialogue with Russia’s first formal tech worker co-op, RadCoop, who hosted a conference on co-ops and IT in Moscow in November. There was a good meetup of tech worker cooperators in Bologna last autumn, hosted by CECOP-CICOPA, with reps from co-ops in Bulgaria, France, Turkey, Argentina, UK, Italy, Sweden, etc. There was optimism and enthusiasm, tempered by an experience common in small co-ops of struggling to balance working ‘on and outside’ the co-op while working ‘in’ it, of delivering projects while trying to find new ones, strengthen networks, and so on.

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A post was split to a new topic: Rebooting CoTech in 2024

Google trends shows some interesting results. The .coop domain had a huge spike in line with your hunches, from 2016 to 2021, and the “topic” platform cooperative had spikes in 2016 and 2021. “coop” as a search term though seems to be on a steady upward trend. Not quite as concrete of data as we might be looking for, but still interesting to dig around.

The question of “how do we end up in a society with more cooperatives” when other structures are inherently more aggressively expansive is an interesting one. How does competition play out between different org structures? What levers can we pull to tip those scales? These are all things I’m very curious about!

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@Sion, thank you for sharing your experience. I was really interested in the links and references you provided. I didn’t know there was a tech cooperative in Russia. It was hard to find info about the event; the only resource I’ve seen on their website (and it’s in Russian).

Could you elaborate on what the process of formalization as a coop was? How hard is it to form a coop right now? Is it more complicated than opening a regular company? There are guidelines and info about it, but I don’t know how it works. One area I was thinking about is a way to help with this process. Maybe some kind of service or a database specifically about that. So, making a new project as a coop would be as easy or even more straightforward than a company.

I also considered your sentiment about the ‘aristocracy of labor.’ But what are your conclusions here?

I see it as people in tech not being interested in changes because of higher wages and independence; they were good enough in the regular corporate system. But with many layoffs in the last couple of years, this security and independence took a hit. And out of this despair, people might turn in the direction of a solidarity economy and tech cooperatives. I don’t see much evidence, but that might be an upcoming wave. For this reason, it might make sense to work on the infrastructure for newcomers.

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@bates_oliver Yeah, those are the metrics I also found as partial evidence. I was trying to see more statistics like “the number of new cooperatives” or “total number by country.” But nothing really comes up. ilostat seems like a good resource, but I couldn’t find a good overview.

The question of “how do we end up in a society with more cooperatives” when other structures are inherently more aggressively expansive is an interesting one. How does competition play out between different org structures? What levers can we pull to tip those scales? These are all things I’m very curious about!

Do you have any thoughts on those questions? I think it’s important to raise awareness and to make the field more accessible. After the series of strikes in the US, I saw a noticeable rise in the content on the topic of the labor movement. However, not much about tech. I understand that tech is still a much more privileged area. Yet tech corporations control a significant portion of our lives. It might be essential to talk about how you can choose to start using a cooperative/ independent alternative to day-to-day services like Notion or almost any other tool. Then, join the community and support those tools and projects. Or, if there isn’t one yet, you can even decide to develop an alternative on the same solidarity principles. By making this choice, you help shape a better future.

I am thinking of starting some kind of media channel on this topic; a Blog, a YouTube channel, or a podcast. Would love to hear an opinion on that as well.

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Regarding the conference Siôn mentioned, here is a Youtube playlist of presentations. All have English and Spanish subtitles.

I can give you some more information if you want, because I attended the conference.

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@Yuliy That’s great, thank you! I’ll definitely take a look.

I would love to hear your impression of the event.
Were there other cooperatives from Russia? I would love to see if there are more names. How big is the movement there?

I see parallels with the growth and subsequent decline of the printing and design collectives and worker co-op scene in the 80s/90s.

BTW do you have a recommendation for a good reading on this topic?