The Case For Workplace Democracy 10/29/21 by Joe Kyle
It’s no secret that the modern United States is gripped with widespread socioeconomic inequality. The wealth gap has risen to a point where the upper class now owns 79% of aggregate national wealth, a nineteen percent increase from 1983, whereas the aggregate wealth of both the middle and lower classes continues to steadily decline. While there are a plethora of proposed solutions to this increasingly unsustainable economic hierarchy, one that I don’t see discussed very often is workplace democracy, which is surprising, given the massive benefits the widespread implementation of this policy could bring about. So what is workplace democracy, why is it a good idea, and what can we do to promote it?
Workplace democracy is a very broad term that has been implemented in various ways throughout history, but very basically, it can be defined as workplaces being democratically managed by their workers as opposed to by a manager or executive board. What exactly this looks like varies from system to system, but a general way to think about workplace democracy is that affairs typically run by a business’s management, such as wages, work hours, conditions, and what is produced, will either be run by elected representatives of workers or, at least in the case of smaller workplaces, directly by workers themselves. If you’re familiar with what a worker cooperative is, that’s a textbook example of workplace democracy. Without looking at any material benefits, there’s a strong ethical argument to be made for workplace democracy from the simple standpoint that people deserve to have a democratic say in how institutions they participate in, contribute to, or are governed by are run. After all, this is the logic that we apply to national and local governments. In the words of Yale University Professor of Political Sciences Robert Dahl, “if democracy is justified in governing the state, it must also be justified in governing economic enterprises”.