Over the years I’ve done a lot of talking with people, friends and workmates in various workplaces, about the idea of the workers ‘taking over’ and running things for ourselves. It’s an idea that holds great appeal to me, so I advocate it. Most times, people respond by rolling their eyes – they generally think the system can be fixed so that it functions more fairly. I then try to point out that the system ain’t broke – unemployment, alienation and periodic crises is precisely capitalism functioning. Fortunately, people are skeptical and therefore willing to listen to new ideas. Some ask what the ‘workers taking over’ would actually mean, how would it be different/better, what would it look like?
I then point out that, in most situations, the workers ‘run’ things anyway – this happens on a day-to-day basis. Who in a workplace ever sees the boss – I mean, the real boss, the owner of the industry or service-provider? Sure, we see our foremen and managers, who – like us – need their weekly wage to survive. But the big boss, the owner? So, things day-to-day are pretty much done by the workers on the ‘floor’. While most people I’ve talked with reckon we need the foremen and managers, no-one has ever stated that we need the owners. No-one has declared: “Oh no! Without the owner of our industry, everything would collapse!”. Under the current economic crisis, the reality is that, with the current owners of industry, etc. in charge, everything is collapsing.
Another point that ‘rings a bell’ with people I talk with is that the best ideas come from the ‘floor’. Innovation and detailed knowledge and understanding of workplaces usually comes from the bottom up – and good managers/foremen know this. Yet we also know that good ideas from the floor are sometimes overlooked or altered beyond recognition as they climb the hierarchy of authority within the workplace. Without the people at the ‘floor’ level, nothing can happen – yet they/we are also the least powerful within the structures. When we are listened to, it is only because they choose to listen.
A big part of the problem is that we ”only work there”. The best places to work are organisations in which genuine effort is made to overcome this feeling of alienation and the rank-and-file are involved in some decision-making. I’ve worked in both kinds of places. And yet, even in the very best, no-one I know has ever indicated a desire to work for nothing. We all come in for our 37 hour week because we are paid for our ability to work, and we need the money to survive (which includes the little luxuries we all rightly want). No-one would go to work for the boss on a voluntary basis for 37 hours a week.
So far so good. But skepticism comes to the fore when an alternative, better, system of organising production is raised. Previous experience of socialism certainly dampens enthusiasm rather than inspires it, with the people I have discussed all this with.
By the way, I’m all for skepticism. It’s entirely reasonable and people at this site need to be able to convincingly answer the questions raised. The times call for it!