• Christina J. Colclough

Worker Data Collectives

- Between commodification and empowerment

In this 8-minute impulse for FES #DigiCap I introduce my thoughts on worker data collectives. Listen up for why I think that data collectives have their merit on the medium term - but not unconditionally so.



The impulse is part of a panel featuring Professor Trebor Scholz and Senior Fellow Sigurt Vitols. We discuss how democratic participation is changing in the European economy, and to what extent digitalisation is putting pressure on it. Which innovative ideas, such as data collectives or platform cooperatives, can we use to strengthen co-determination and democratic participation in the economy?


Worker Data Collectives Demands

In my introductory impulse I argue that I am torn between two opposites. Whether workers collecting data will add to the commodificaiton of workers, or will it empower them? Worker data collectives have their merit, but not unconditionally so. Here I lay out some of the basic requirements for the responsible collection of worker data:

  • We need to learn from the finest principle in the GDPR: data minimisation. Workers should only collect the necessary data for a particular purpose. Hoarding data is not the solution.

  • Redlines must be set for what the data can be used for, by whom and why.

  • Workers data collectives should avoid the temptation to sell access to the data: Selling means we accept that data is a commodity and therefore we are.

I continue by arguing that data collectives can be necessary to push back on the industrial monopolisation of the narrative that we are currently subject to. When businesses are those who are hoarding the data and turning this into uncontested "truths", workers (indeed all citizens) are being manipulated exclusively for the good of capital.


But regulation is needed, here is what we need:


Regulation Needed

To prevent the uncontested commodification of work and workers I call for the following global policies:

  • Workers need the right to know what data generated inferences they are subject to. No regulation in the world allows for this, even the GDPR fails us here. Yet these inferences can significantly impact who gets a job, who is penalised, who is offered which opportunities and so forth.

  • We need to ban the markets that trade in human futures. I. e. the trading of datasets and inferences that include people's data. This market, which nobody really knows who occupies, is leading to the commodification of us all.

  • And I call for the co-governance of algorithmic systems in workplaces. No audit, impact assessment or governance can take place without the voices of those subject to these systems.

See the full FES event website here: https://www.fes.de/en/digitalcapitalism for all of the amazing speeches and interviews.