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Co-op: Let’s make the tech industry fairer

Creators of new-look New Journal and Tribune website say the digital giants need to treat workers more fairly

19 May, 2017 — By Richard Osley

Members of the Outlandish team

TO the uninformed it may seem like an old idea in the most modern of occupations, but a worker-led co-operative says it is looking to change the technology industry for the better by ensuring everybody benefits fairly from the digital revolution.

Members of Outlandish, a co-op based in Finsbury Park and the brains behind the Camden New Journal and Islington Tribune’s smart new websites, warn that the money flowing through the tech world heads to the few at the top of multinational companies – rather than the developers toiling on significant and sometimes life-changing projects down the chain.

They are now joining like-minded outfits to form the Co-Tech network, a group of co-ops who subscribe to a work manifesto which comes with a warning to their profit-chasing rivals: “Technology is the lifeblood of all our futures, not just a gravy train for the fortunate few. We hereby give notice to technology companies that do not treat their employees fairly, do not give their workers control of their businesses and do not seek to create a fairer world that your days are numbered. We are more creative, more committed and more resilient.”

Harry Robbins, from Outlandish, said: “The idea is that at the moment we have very vertical big organisations who create a pyramid where as much money as possible flows up to a small number of people at the top. Co-ops, instead, would redistribute to people who made the money through their hard work.” He said the network could “offer a full service on some big digital overheads” by bringing co-ops together to share the work between developers with different specialisms.

He added: “You can pay £10,000 for a six- or eight-week course and be told you will get a job as a developer, but we want a co-op version of that, where the training can be free and a certain number of those who are trained should be women to address the inequality in the tech industry. ” Outlandish helped revamp the Tribune’s website after learning of the newspaper’s similar structure and ethos, and with the belief that independent journalism can be a force for good.

Mr Robbins said: “There is a hypocrisy in the tech industry, where companies present themselves as offering nice technology and nice solutions but actually they see it as a meal ticket rather than changing the world, and in doing so can exploit the workers working for them.”

Silicon Roundabout, he said, was “all about making as much money as possible” and that Outlandish wanted to help create an alternative – Silicon Park – around their current premises.

“We are looking at converting a floor of our building to create an events space and a co-working place for people who are into technology and co-ops.”

Co-Tech has already completed work for a number of major organisations including the BBC and the British Museum – and is now looking to bring in more work from consumers looking for an alternative to the multinational stronghold.

“We are not setting up and saying right target number one Google, target number two Apple. I think we might end quickly if we did that,” Mr Robbins said.

“Our immediate targets with people who trade for tech. There are companies who say they are doing good technology without being good. At the moment, people think they are getting digital services off the good guys but actually it might be a brand who exploit their worker, rip off their customers and are going to retire on a 20 million pension package – and all the time saying we are doing it to save the world.”

l For more info see www.coops.tech

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