European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Panel 21: Back to the future: is the sharing economy an opportunity for trade unions?

Wednesday 29 June, 11:00-12:30

Today Internet companies and (crowd-funded) start-ups in sectors like transport, tourism or informal labour are expanding the possibilities for cooperation and sharing via technological platforms like websites and smartphone apps, making for much lower transaction costs. Much of this sharing economy, driven by technological determinism, is profit-based and non-egalitarian; above all, it undermines, to a very major extent, individual and collective labour standards while also endangering the financing of the welfare state. What kind of strategies can or should trade unions develop to cope with the threats of this so-called ‘post capitalism’?

At the same time, within the context of a retreating welfare state, it appears that there may well be room also for a more grass-roots and non-profit type of sharing economy, particularly at the local level. In the nineteenth century trade unions were the forerunners of such forms of social innovation and experimentation when they offered various forms of insurance and became involved in the co-operative movement. Should trade unions in Europe once again engage more in coalition-building with community-based and social reform organisations at the local level? Should trade unions return to their roots in seeking to organise under-represented groups of workers like the ‘precariat’? Finally, is this particular form of the sharing economy enabling trade unions to broaden their agenda, for instance, by including ecological issues?
With a view to confirming the importance of labour struggles for social improvement, this panel will take stock of the position and role of labour within the sharing economy.


  • Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation
  • Fredrik Söderqvist, Unionen
  • Florentin Iancu, Sindicatul IT Timisoara (SITT)


  • Koen Frenken, Utrecht University


  • Viktória Nagy, ETUC Youth Committee

Read the short summary of this panel debate.

Next: Panel 22: Dealing with Change: New Roles and Capabilities for Trade Unions

Previous: Panel 20: How government tackle the digitalisation challenge

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