6. Seeking Self Management 

Once upon a time there was a magnet, and in its close neighborhood lived some steel filings. One day two or three filings felt a sudden desire to go and visit the magnet, and they began to talk of what a pleasant thing it would be to do. Other filings nearby overheard their conversation, and they, too, became infected with the same desire. Still others joined them, till at last all the filings began to discuss the matter, and more and more their vague desire grew into an impulse. “Why not go today?” said some of them; but others were of the opinion that it would be better to wait until tomorrow. Meanwhile, without their having noticed it, they had been involuntarily moving nearer to the magnet, which lay there quite still, apparently taking no heed of them. And so they went on discussing, all the time insensibly drawing nearer to their neighbor; and the more they talked, the more they felt the impulse growing stronger, till the more impatient ones declared that they would go that day, whatever the rest did. Some were heard to say that it was their duty to visit the magnet, and that they ought to have gone long ago. And, while they talked, they moved always nearer and nearer, without realizing they had moved. Then, at last, the impatient ones prevailed, and, with one irresistible impulse, the whole body cried out, “There is no use waiting. We will go today. We will go now. We will go at once.” And then in one unanimous mass they swept along, and in another moment were clinging fast to the magnet on every side. Then the magnet smiled—for the steel filings had no doubt at all
but that they were paying that visit on their own free will.
-Oscar  Wilde  


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? 

Create workers’ and consumers’ councils 

If the workers took a notion they could stop all
speeding trains; every ship upon the ocean they can
tie with mighty chains. Every wheel in the creation
every mine and every mill; fleets and armies of
the nation, will at their command stand still.
-Joe  Hill 

I do my work because I cannot look on and see
wrong without a protest. I could no more help
crying out than I could if I were drowning.
-Emma  Goldman 

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 relatively 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 together advocate preferred options.  

Democratic councils are local institutions that 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 from there to formalize council rules and agree on a local program for council members to pursue lays a foundation for workers and consumers to seek changes regarding everything from wages and conditions to budgets and investments. From here they can refine their agendas in accord with their on-going experiences and their growth in size and strength. 


Democratize information access 

Good sense is of all things in the world most equally distributed, for everybody thinks he is so well supplied with it, that even those most difficult to please in all other
matters never desire more of it than they already possess.
-Rene Descartes 

It is not enough that the forms of government should have the passive or “implied” consent of the governed, but that the Society will be in health only if it is in the full sense democratic and self-governing, which implies not only that all the citizen should have a `right’ to influence its policy if they so desire, but that the greatest possible opportunity should be afforded for every citizen actually to exercise this right.
- G.D.H  Cole  

No one can make good decisions without accurate and comprehensive information. If you have a right to vote, but you lack information bearing on your options, 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 by making information available, a condition central to 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. 


Democratize workplace decision-making 

When the workers are society they will regulate their
labor, so that the supply and demand shall be genuine,
not gambling; the two will then be commensurate,
for it is the same society which demands that
also supplies; there will be no more artificial
famines, no more poverty amidst over production,
amidst too great a stock of the very things which
should supply poverty and turn it into well being.
In short there will be no waste and therefore no tyranny.  
-William Morris 

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 a new issue arises? 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, of course. And it is similarly good for consumers’ councils or movements to coerce government to alter its budget allotments and enact pollution controls, for example. 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 that press for desired results, democratizing economic decision-making also requires winning sanctioned power for councils in the actual decision-making process itself. This power 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 use councils and other means at our disposal to fight over conditions and other reforms, of course, but we also fight over the nature of the contest itself, over the rules of conflict and future decision making.  

Increase consumers’ power over production 

People’s lives are in turmoil. There is a sense of crisis for
men as well as for women, and for children too. Do we
have an idea or even a glimmering about how people
can and should live, not as victims as in the past for
women, nor as atoms just whirling around on their own trajectories, but as moral agents in a human community?
-Barbara Ehrenreich 

What a workplace produces and whether it uses one or another technology should not be entirely decided by folks inside that workplace, even workers’ councils. Such decisions also affect the workplace’s consumers and neighbors, and the consumers and neighbors should have a say as well.  

To incorporate all actors proportionately in decision- making requires increasing the power of those under-represented. Demands for neighborhood oversight committees regarding the ecological and other local impacts of a workplace are desirable, as are demands for consumer say over workplace decisions about products and prices. Such demands can benefit those in need and also expand consciousness, strengthen commitment, and develop new organization for winning still more gains in the future. 


Democratize social budgets 

Suppose humans happen to be so constructed that
they desire the opportunity for freely undertaken
productive work. Suppose they want to be free
from the meddling of technocrats and commissars, bankers and tycoons, mad bombers who engage in psychological
tests of will with peasants defending their homes,
behavioral scientists who can’t tell a pigeon from a
poet, or anyone else who tries to wish freedom
and dignity out of existence or beat them into oblivion.
—Noam  Chomsky 

Think of a city deciding on its budget for education, sanitation, new housing, a new health clinic, snow removal, or anything else. Who is affected? Most often, all citizens, of course. Who makes the decision? Most often, 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 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 decision-making as a natural part of the process are excellent, too.  

Indeed, as with every component of a participatory economic program, the overarching idea is that demands that improve conditions for oppressed constituencies are good. But beyond that, if the rhetoric and process of campaigns to win such demands also increases participatory economic solidarity, understanding, and organization, that’s an additional 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 in the future, that’s ideal. 


Institute self-management in our own projects and movements 

…the only one capable of playing the part of director
is the collective ego of the working class which has
sovereign right to make mistakes and to learn
the dialectics of history by itself. Let us put it
quite bluntly: the errors committed by a truly revolutionary workers’ movement are historically far more fruitful
than the correct decisions of the finest Central Committee.
-Rosa Luxembourg 

 You have to be the change you want to see in the world.

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 of one sort or another to a position of power over a large staff or even over a vast rank and file membership, 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 actually have a self-managing experience. This movement wouldn’t serve as a model legitimating the efficacy of its demands, because it would function instead like the institutions it opposed. This movement 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. This movement 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, structuring itself to incorporate steadily more self-management in its own operations should be a very critical programmatic component of a participatory economic movement. 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.