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A Program Seeking Self Management


Michael Albert

Agreeing

that self-management, or decision making input in proportion as one is

affected, is a core goal for a participatory economic movement, what demands

can we fight for today that will help move

us toward self-management tomorrow?

1. We can create workers and consumers

councils

For each

worker in some workplace or industry or each consumer in a neighborhood or

county to have a private opinion isolated from her workmates or neighbors will

accomplish little. Instead, to make joint decisions and seek new relations,

workers and consumers need to meet together to hash out their views, arrive at collective desires, and advocate

preferred options. 

Democratic

councils are local institutions workers and consumers use to pursue

collective agendas. As

a first step to creating worker and consumer councils, meeting

to discuss the council idea is a good place to start. Moving on to formalize council

rules and agree on a local program lays a foundation for workers and consumers

to seek changes regarding everything from wages and conditions to budgets and

investments, refining their agendas in accord with their on-going experiences.

2. We can democratize information

access

You

can’t make good decisions without access to

the information that informed decision-making depends on. If you have a right

to vote, but you lack information bearing on the options you face, the vote

becomes a charade. To participate intelligently, people need information about

the decisions that affect them. Efforts

to “open the books” in workplaces and regarding city, county, state, and

national budgets promote self-management. More, demanding that the information

be packaged in readily available and comprehensible ways, and the right to access

it during paid work-time rather than at leisure, also furthers self

management.

3. We can democratize workplace

decision-making

Having

councils with informed members creates the possibility to struggle for gains around wages, conditions, prices, investments,

and all of economic life. But why should workers and consumers struggle anew

for their desires each time around? What about winning the right to impact decisions directly,

rather than only by virtue of a long, debilitating struggle? 

It is

good for

workers councils (or unions) to mount a campaign to coerce decision-makers to raise wages

and improve conditions. And it is similarly good for consumers councils or

movements to coerce government to alter

its budget allotments and enact pollution controls. But it would also be good for either workers’ or consumers’ councils to meet as part of

their members’ normal daily responsibilities and calmly raise wages, improve conditions, or

alter budgets by virtue of their authorized power in decision-making, without

having to fight about it. 

In

other words, in addition to winning gains via

council and union struggles, democratizing economic decision-making requires winning sanctioned power for councils in the actual

decision-making process itself. This can range from the modest gain of having

a council representative or two at industry or government meetings for

reporting purposes, to winning some voting rights at such meetings, to

winning full empowerment over and above any other sectors of the workplace or

government regarding economic decisions.

 

In

short, we fight

over conditions and other reforms, of course, but we also fight over the

nature of the contest itself, over the rules of conflict.

4. We can increase consumers’ power over

production

What a

workplace produces and whether it uses one or another technology should not be

entirely decided by folks only inside that workplace, even if they are

organized into workers councils. Rather, such decisions also affect the

workplace’s consumers and its neighbors and those consumers and neighbors

should therefore have a say as well. 

To incorporate all

actors proportionately in decision-making requires demands that increase

the power of those who are under-represented. For example, demands

for neighborhood oversight committees regarding the ecological and other local

impacts of a workplace are desirable, as are demands for consumer movements to

have a say over workplace decisions about products and prices.

These demands can lead to gains that benefit those in need and can

also expand consciousness, strengthen commitment, and develop new organization

for winning still more in the future.

5. We can democratize social budgets

Think of a

city deciding on its budget for education, sanitation, new housing, a new

health clinic, snow removal, or whatever else. Who is affected? All citizens,

of course. Who makes the decision? Elite elected officials pressured by local and national corporations

trying to maximize profit, of course. 

To move

toward more participation, progressive demands over the size or purpose of

particular budget

items such as national military expenditures, state welfare programs, or local

county payments toward a new hospital are certainly good. But demands that make budgets

public and that incorporate workers and consumers

councils into budget decisions are excellent, too. 

Indeed, as with

every component of participatory economic program, the overarching idea is simple. Demands that make conditions better for

oppressed constituencies are of course good. Then, if the rhetoric and

process of campaigns to win such demands also increases participatory economic

solidarity, understanding, and organization, that’s an important improvement. And

finally, if the campaigns can win not only better conditions, but a new playing field on which

it is easier to win still more gains, that’s ideal.

6. We can institute self management in our own projects and movements

Imagine

we have a movement that argues forcefully and uncompromisingly that actors should impact

economic decisions throughout the whole economy in proportion as they are affected by those decisions.

Now imagine that in its own operations this same movement elevates a fund

raiser, a big donor, or someone with a lot of training to a position of power over a large staff or

even over a vast rank and file, removing most participants from proportionate

influence or even from any influence at all over the movement’s agenda.

This

is not a pretty picture. This

movement wouldn’t learn from and become educated by its own self-managing

experience, because it wouldn’t have a self-managing experience. It wouldn’t

serve as a model legitimating the efficacy of its demands, because it would

function instead like the institutions it opposed. It wouldn’t have a new practice

embodying what it preaches, but would instead have an old-fashioned practice

undermining its credibility to those it addressed. It wouldn’t be congenial

and empowering for all its members nor welcome their fullest talents and

participation, but would instead breed internal strife and bad morale. 

For

these reasons, a very critical programmatic component of a

participatory economic movement should be structuring itself

to incorporate steadily more self management in its own operations. Movement

projects headed by a few but staffed by many that do nothing to democratize

themselves are poor vehicles for seeking self management in the broader

society they inhabit.

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