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Democracy in the Workplace

Organizing to Establish Democratic Rule of the Working Class in the Sphere of Industry

By Punkerslut

Image: From PeaceLibertad Blog

Start Date: September 4, 2011
Finish Date: September 4, 2011

The Impulse Toward Freedom is Everywhere

"Come labor, get ready to dance for your bread.
My son, I was once where you stand.
There's a beast with insatiable hunger.
It's minions need crafters and skilled working hands."

          --Erik Peterson, 2005
          "The Lowly Carpenter"

     Everyone wants to be able to control the environment in which they live and exist. This is the principle behind democracy wherever it has been praised. From the way governments operate to the way small, private charities run, the word "Democracy" is used as a justification for just about anything. Why? Because people have a natural sensitivity to their liberties, and they will react to defend what they possess, or at least, what they think they possess.

     There is no inkling of "Democracy" in the workplace, though. No worker has a right to anything in their environment, except what rights that they claim through militant action and striking with the union. If the boss, supervisor, manager, or owner ever mentions "Democracy," it's in regards to government and politics. There is no room for the idea that the individual ought to own and control the terms of their living. This must be excluded, because it would mean threatening the power and liberty of the class of business owners.

     The individual must want to possess some right over how they live when they are at their place of work. If we want to be self-ruled in society, then we must naturally want to be self-ruled in our own homes and at our jobs. There is no way to extinguish the desire to make our environments fit our own individual and unique characteristics. It is the highest expression of life.

Why has Democracy Been Excluded from Your Place of Work?

"Dante saw written over the door of hell: 'All hope abandon, ye who enter here.' On the threshold of the Board of Trade, the Produce Exchange, and the Stock Exchange, is inscribed: 'Your rights resign within these walls.'"
          --Henry Demarest Lloyd, 1910
          "Lords of Industry," Chapter 3

     If people everywhere want to rule their own lives, then why is this not an acceptable idea in terms of economy and industry? It is acceptable in terms of politics, in terms of society, and in terms of culture. In all areas where humans being interact with each other, self-rule and liberty have been promoted as the ideas that best guarantee human happiness. But this ideal is kept out of the factories, the mines, the farms, and the shops. Democracy is fit for the town and the nation, the social group and the economic collaboration, but it is unfit for the place where you work. Why?

     Like in society or politics, the idea of self-rule is repressed because it would threaten the power of a few who benefited from the current system. To expand the rights of the citizen means to shrink the rights of the king. And it took centuries of blood and massacres before the world was convinced that the citizen's right to self-rule is essential to a healthy world. Today, it is the Capitalists and possessors of productive wealth who threaten the spirit of Democracy from spreading to our conditions of labor. The bosses and managers of industry are the new tyrants who want to fight the idea of self-rule in order to keep their few privileges.

     The expanding rights of the workers, like the expanding rights of the citizen, must necessarily threaten the privileges of tyrants, whether they call themselves bosses or kings. The idea of democracy within the workplace is unacceptable for these reasons -- the capitalist-owned media, the wealth-dominated universities, the state-funded schools, everywhere, the idea of workplace democracy is unacceptable or unheard-of. If the worker were to have the right to control their environment, to be their own master, then that would mean the boss wouldn't be a boss anymore, but just another co-worker. It is like the spread of Democracy to politics, where the king is no longer a king, but just another fellow citizen.

How Can Democratic Self-Rule Be Introduced into Our Conditions of Work?

"The relation between workers and capitalists is not a thing which imposed itself on society at some point in the past, once and for all. At no time did men sign a contract, or even make a verbal agreement, in which they gave up the power over their living activity, and in which they gave up the power over the living activity of all future generations on all parts of the globe."
          --Fredy Perlman, 1969
          "The Reproduction of Daily Life"

     Capitalism, the system of private ownership of productive property, must give way to Socialism, or where society's productive wealth is managed by each and all democratically. The greatest boulder in the path toward Socialism is the antagonism of the entrenched, Capitalist class toward progress and change. One cannot abolish the king's rule without removing the king from power. One cannot introduce self-rule into the factory and the farm without removing the rule of supervisors, bosses, and other petty tyrants. If we are going to have a Democracy in the industries of society, then we are going to have remove the powers of the economic Aristocracy, the Capitalist class.

     The arguments against Socialism and worker-ownership of productive wealth are the same as the arguments against any type of Democracy. "If there is no king, who is going to restrain the criminals and attempts to institute a new king?" This argument has transformed into, "But if there is no boss, who is going to punish the lazy and stop those from becoming the new boss?" Rulers have always pointed to the wealth they "created," whether in the form of colonies or the Gross Domestic Product, but these measure the wealth of a very few -- and they translate into the physical poverty of the many, who were the true laborers that created that wealth.

     The overthrow of Capitalism is the only possibility of creating Democracy in the Workplace. It will mean an economy that is managed collectively and democratically, where each person has a voice to shape the world in which they work. But the biggest obstacle to this is an ancient system of property and exclusion. It is encouraged and protected by the most established forces of society, from the state to the church to the school. Workplace Democracy, then, must become its own mass movement, organized for the elimination of private ownership of the means of production. It must overthrow the bosses of the old world as well as educate the people on taking control of the new world.

"Individual property and the principle of authority, in the new disguises of capitalism and parliamentarism, were in that programme and had to lead, as has always been the case, to oppression, misery and the dehumanization of the masses."
          --Errico Malatesta, Early 1900's
          "Mutual Aid -- An Essay"


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