Bas Reus' quest on self-organization and online collaborative spaces

Workers’ control and self-organization

Posted in self-organization by Bas Reus on July 23, 2009

Red_Flag_wavingSelf-organization can be an important organizational form in the near future. At least, that’s what I’m trying to find out. Questions I have for example are how self-organization could manifest itself in real organizations. Are the bosses out of the picture? And do we always have to decide on consensus? Does everybody have to agree? Most of us can hardly imagine this working. It sounds like a Marxist society. The following excerpt from an article in a flyer of the Irish Socialist Network (Colm Breathnach, Resistance No. 9) that I got in my hands last week tries to explain self-management:

Though the way in which worker self-management operates has varied it usually works like this: there are no bosses and all major workplace decisions are made collectively, usually through a meeting involving all employees. Local decisions are made by the workers in each unit. There are no managers; the job of implementing decisions is in the hands of delegates that are regularly rotated so that every worker gets experience in management. Rather than doing just one job all the time, every worker has a number of different responsibilities and no one ends up doing just boring, unpleasant, repetitive tasks.

Wait a minute, this sounds to good to be true I hear you think, and maybe a bit simplistic, why isn’t everybody working like this? Of course, these are some advantages, and there are some problems as well. The author continues:

This is not to deny that there are problems with workers self-management: How would different workplaces cooperate together? Would consumers have a say in what is being produced? How can the encroachment of the state, whether capitalist or authoritarian ‘socialist’, be resistant? For years a system of worker self-management existed in the former Yugoslavia but it failed largely because it was subordinated to the control of a one-party state. Yet such challenges can and been overcome.

In this excerpt, the author point out some interesting points that could be a problem. For example, would consumers have a say in what is being produced? If workers could completely self-organize themselves by making products, you cannot overlook the consumers. As a consumer you have preferences in how to use the product, and sometimes consumers even make innovations to the product that are later copied by producers, also known as user-innovation on which Eric Von Hippel has written some great books. But what is missing here is a clear understanding and definition of the term self-organization.

So as my quest continues, I have to define self-organization very well in the context of this quest. I don’t believe marxism or communism are the right directions, but I do think that employees could be better used in tasks that the are really good at and passionate about. People all have a unique set of skills, and are not replacable by others. In organizations, the replacement of employees is sometimes wanted, to make no one irreplacable. But that’s not the way to go I believe. Expect a blogpost on a definition of self-organization soon, and please inspire me with your thoughts on this definition.

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