The deep sense of solidarity and collaborative nature of worker cooperatives creates conditions for a bold and active vanguard of working people able to generate demands for automation and redistribution. Traditional unions are still critical, but we also need to think more expansively about organizing in the age of automation. Many of the companies that are growing exponentially in the digital age are well suited to these kinds of structures. Companies that rely on the sharing economy offer a glimpse of how the future might look, but not for the reasons that their CEOs like to think.
The gig economy has often used digital technology to scale up specific social values, including the value of self-directed work, the efficient use of limited resources via sharing, the importance of trust and an interest in building a community. If we imagine the possibility of re-socializing these models of work, through giving control back to workers, we glimpse a promising vision of the future of work.
We have the capacity to create communal luxury, but we will have to work collaboratively to make it happen.
Technology alone will never solve our problems. But political activism, informed by theory and history, can push for technological development to serve people rather than profit. Digital activists cannot carry out this work alone. They need to work collaboratively with those struggling for justice in other fields. We need them in social movements and organizations, working with fellow activists to design technologies and laws based on radical and democratic principles.
Wikipedia is a space in which the work of contributors is self-governed, and the outcomes of this are reached through transparent means (to the extent that many readers are interested enough to consult the archives).
If we take a step back, then, and think about designing society in a way that makes optimal use of the resources and methods at our disposal, one such test may be: if the marginal copy of a good is zero, it belongs in the digital commons. Setting aside the issue of how we produce the first copy for now, there are good reasons to claim that locating such goods in the commons facilitates superior distribution.
In terms of the productive potential of the commons, another test complementary to the one articulated above may be: if information has more value as a common resource than a privately held one, it should be held in the information commons.
Boyle talks about how the increasing spread of intellectual property rights, over everything from software to human cells, is a kind of redistribution in the modern age that is similar to the project of privatizing land centuries ago.
Put into practice, this is what happened during the “enclosures” of the eighteenth century, a process the historian James Boyle summarizes as the “conversion into private property of something that had formerly been common property.” The commons was privatized in response to its overuse. The tragedy of the commons is therefore often used as a justification for private property rights.
Like the natural environment, it is a place of knowledge, enjoyment and self-exploration rather than just a resource for exploitation