The way capitalism works right now is that workers are told what to produce, how to produce it, what role to play in production, how long they will work, etc. Then there is a decision maker, or in larger companies, a decision making body, made up of share-holders who are not workers and do not have workers’ interests in mind and don’t care if the environment gets ruined or if shipping jobs overseas is disruptive to the livelihoods of the people they employ, etc. Democracy doesn’t exist in this sector which we’ve called the “private sector”. Democracy@Work is a movement focused on changing that.
With Worker Self Directed Enterprises (which are a little different from co-ops), workers make the decisions collectively. They share skills, trade jobs and everyone decides collectively on how to divide the labor and of what to do with the surplus that’s created. Imagine working 4 hour days Monday-Thursday and coming into work on Friday and spending all days in meetings with your coworkers deciding what to tackle the next weak, how to tackle it and dividing the labor appropriately. Everyone’s the worker. Everyone’s the boss.
Imagine the impact that that could have in society and imagine the threat it could create for capitalism – a more viable, more human alternative to capitalism that doesn’t take on the baggage from the years of propaganda and misinformation against the words “socialism” and “communism” and that provides a type of stability and safety for society that has never been provided with capitalism. We could have consciously-anticapitalist workers self directed enterprises that set out both to succeed in order to sustain themselves and to change or overthrow the system that allows for wage-slavery under the guise of a “private sector” (meaning the private space where the rulers of the world get to continue to be the unchecked rulers of the world, the owners, the exclusive decision makers, etc without the nagging influence of democracy).
I love this movement because it frames capitalism where it belongs, as the opposite to democracy. And again, by taking the ideas of Karl Marx and applying them to the society we actually live in today in 2012, Richard Wolff does a service to the left, giving us one way to talk about capitalism that can be effective without all the propaganda-nonsense associated with words like “socialism” and “communism”. Additionally if you think of these ideas as a first step, as a way to build infrastructure to channel the growing left into, to get groups of people practicing collective action and gaining confidence in their ability to achieve great things through working together, then the implications of building this go beyond systemic reform, they could provide the material circumstances for a revolutionary situation, without having to take on the baggage of publicly aiming to do so. There’s also something about this concept that seems to me could be uniting on the left between anarchists, socialists and progressives. It’s consciously anti-capitalist, but not overtly revolutionary. It’s workers-focused, but not so centralized as some fear socialism would be. And it’s an idea that now has a growing organization working on spreading it, which gives it a fighting shot of entering the realm of discussed ideas in our society.
Richard Wolff goes line by line to address obvious criticisms to these ideas in his new book by the same title “Democracy@Work” and answers questions like: “How could this work on a large scale?” (here’s a hint: Google Mondragon), and “Could this work in America?”, “Could workers really make the decisions themselves?” etc.
I’d like to work on building a WSDE in the near future and would love to see this idea get spread across tumblr, becoming a blip on the radar of many of the socially-aware young in our society, as it continues to be something that I think we should be thinking about and channeling ourselves into.
We face unprecedented circumstances in society today, the likes of which many who are older than us have yet to even begin to acknowledge; unemployment paired with austerity measures and rapidly inflating tuition & student debt have created monumental challenges for this generation. Unfortunately, it will be up to us to find creative solutions out of this mess and I think this is one worth considering.