Sun 6 Apr 2014 4:20AM

Democratizing the workplace

DS Danyl Strype Public Seen by 6

I've been convinced for years that extending democracy into the places that people spend most of their waking hours is essential, and I've thought a lot about strategies for how to achieve it. Small cooperative companies like Loomio can set themselves up as democracies from the get-go, and we could focus on supporting this, and hope that democratic companies will eventually replace "Smithist-Stalinist" corporations (by which I mean organisations that embody the worst aspects of both capitalism and socialism). But this would take at least a generation, and because it doesn't address the reasons why most companies start out as small and democratic mammals, but eventually devolve into hierarchical dinosaurs as they grow, there's no guarantee it would work.

I recently read a book called 'Maverick!' by Ricardo Semler, the CEO of Semco, who took over the Brazilian manufacturing company his father founded, and eventually launched a series of radical experiments in workplace democracy. But at first, not trusting his radical instincts, he followed the typical Harvard Business School approach, and turned the company into even more of a daytime police state. Even when he did start trying to give more decision-making power to workers, this was resisted at first, not only by those in management layers, but by shop floor workers and their unions who were suspicious of his motives.

This may be the answer to the question above - companies devolve into totalitarian dictatorships because too many of us - at all levels from shop floors to university business schools - are in the habit of thinking that dictatorship is the "right way" to run a business, the most "efficient" way to make decisions etc. What can we do to start changing these habits of thought? What other examples like Semco can be study for ideas about how to democratize existing workplaces?

Examples of large, well-established democratic workplaces:
* Semco: manufacting company in Brazil (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gG3HPX0D2mU, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxeosFrLFH8)
* Morningstar: tomato processor in California (http://self-managementinstitute.org/about-us/)
* Mondragon: federation of workers co-operation in Spain (http://www.mondragon-corporation.com/eng/about-us/)
* FaSinPat: ceramics factory in Argentina (http://www.argentinaindependent.com/currentaffairs/newsroundups/fasinpat-worker-run-factory-officially-expropriated/), one of thousands of factories occupied and taken over by their workers, see Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis doco 'The Take'

Examples of relatively new democratic workplaces:
* Loomio Cooperative!

Incubators and crowdfunding projects which help new democratic workplaces start up:
* Enspiral: a social enterprise incubator based in Welly, which Loomio works out of
* IOBY: a US crowdfunding site which aims to help people fund their neighbours new cooperative businesses (http://www.ioby.org/about)
* The Working Wolrd: a a US crowdfunding site which funds cooperatives (http://www.theworkingworld.org/us/what-we-do/)

Writers and academics who advocate for and research workplace democracy:
* Richard Wolff (Democracy at Work): http://tinyurl.com/kxhccwv
* David Graeber (author of Debt and the The Democracy Project): http://www.strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/
* Michael Albert (International Organisation for a Participatory Society): http://tinyurl.com/lmjchq7
* Chetan Druve (author of Why Your Boss is Programmed to be a Dictator): http://dhruve.blogspot.co.nz/2012/08/why-do-jerks-succeed.html


Richard D. Bartlett Sun 6 Apr 2014 5:44AM

Yes! For me, democracy at work is the key!

Morning Star is a great example of a massive and successful democratic company. I've attached a really indepth HBR article that's super interesting.

There is a trend towards horizontalism in some big successful US companies. Here's some stories: Valve, Zappos, Github.

Definitely worth investigating - I'm interested in how these concepts can become commonplace without losing their potency.

Richard Wolff speaks really well to the revolutionary potential of democratic workplaces. Check this article for a quick taster. Then dig up some of his talks, they are awesome.


Danyl Strype Mon 7 Apr 2014 4:19AM

BTW I didn't mean to suggest that we shouldn't start and support democratic cooperatives like Loomio, we definitely should! Thanks @richarddbartlett for the resources you shared. The title of Richard Wolff's book 'Democracy At Work: A Cure For Capitalism' sums it up nicely. The DAW website has a good explanation of why workplace democracy is more than just making an organisation a 'cooperative' - Fonterra and Ballance (who make "fertilizer" from fossil fuel waste) are cooperatives but they are neither democratic nor sustainable:



Danyl Strype Fri 11 Apr 2014 2:40AM

I'm convinced that this is a strategic place to put energy for three reasons:
* the pragmatic reason: it helps people make a living in the here and now without being either an enslaved worker or evil capitalist/ owner
* the reformist reason: democratic companies aren't going to put energy into corrupting governments and other public organisations, hijacking political parties and non-profits, and pushing manipulative PR into the media.
* the revolutionary reason: reforming or replacing Smithist-Stalinist corporations throughout the economy, is a way to have a non-violent democratic revolution against both corporate capitalism and the authoritarian socialism which uses corporatism as an excuse for increasing the power of the state.