Wednesday, August 24, 2005

True Democracy in the Workplace Becoming Reality

Imagine actually having some say in how your workplace is run. Not just as it pertain to your tasks, but the entire company - from personnel policies to production goals? This idea is not new, but capitalist countries have long resisted meaningful worker input into corporate decision-making because often the decisions come at the expense of the workforce, instead of working together to come up with better solutions based on the actual day-to-day experience of workers.

But today in Venezuela and Argentina, shuttered factories are being re-opened with the help of ex-workers and the State, this time under a new democratic paradigm that puts everyday workers at the helm of corporate decision making.

Perhaps the most well known of these initiatives was the recuperation of bankrupt factories and businesses that shuttered during the 2001 economic crash in Argentina. There are roughly two hundred worker-run factories and businesses, which were occupied by workers and are being run cooperatively . 15,000 people work in these cooperatives and the businesses range from car part producers to rubber balloon factories.

In Venezuela, experiments with breathing life into bankrupt businesses and worker control are just beginning to pick up steam. There have been a few expieriments that have suceeded and last week President Chavez proposed a Bill to provide tax breaks to companies that elect to allow workers some measure of democratic co-mangement.

"It's us, the workers who decide on questions of production and technology, and it's us who elect who will be our managers," says Alcides Rivero, who works as maintenance electrician at an aluminum factory experimenting with co-management.

It is important to understand that these models of co-management or self-management have nothing in common with the top-down versions often promoted by bosses in the U.S. attempting to break unions by circumventing contracts, said Joaquin Osorio, representing the Bolivarian Workers Force. It even goes beyond the co-management of European social democracy, which is limited to giving the workers shares and a seat on the board.

Democratic planning is such a powerful lever that even with rather outdated technology the Venezuelan aluminum plant has managed to increase production by 11%.

"This is about workers controlling the factory and that is why it is a step towards socialism of the twenty-first century."


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