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Yanis Varoufakis’ third response:
6. Five conditions for a democratic workplace
Yanis Varoufakis, 24 January 2022
Michael: To my question “Who decides if Harriet is allowed to choose her projects?”, you responded: “the workers’ council, of course”. To the question “Who decides what product or activity is socially useful?”, you replied: “the whole population together decides”. My gut reaction to your answers is a gut fear stemming from a natural dread I have of, as liberals and anarchists put it, the tyranny of the majority. Then again, democracy is only possible if the demos decides. The question is: Can democracy-at-work be made compatible with a degree of personal autonomy from what the majority thinks?
At this point in our discussion we need to set out concrete rules for the governance of enterprises. Here are five that I would like to propose:
i. Democratic planning
Competing enterprise plans are put forward by members, each accompanied by a full rationale. They include how many resources to commit to R&D, which product or technology to invest in, the level of remuneration etc. Members are given a long period to read up on each proposal, to debate them and to form preferences. They are then invited to rank the proposals in order of preference on an electronic ballot form. If no plan wins an absolute majority of first preferences, a process of successive elimination takes place (based on Australia’s ranked preference electoral system) to determine the winning Plan.
Teams are formed (as per the Plan) by a democratic process that matches slots with applicants. No one is compelled to take a slot they do not want. Each retains the right to work, alone or in spontaneously formed teams, on any project she or he deems compatible with the Plan – without anyone’s permission.
A basic salary is paid to all, whose level is decided democratically as part of (i) above. Additionally, the collective can set aside a sum for two types of bonuses: (A) Job-specific; i.e., the collective decides that an X% bonus is right, reflecting the job’s unpleasantness or high skills necessary. (B) Person-Specific; i.e., a reward for extraordinary services to the enterprise’s overall performance, atmosphere etc. For example, each member is given 100 brownie points to distribute amongst her colleagues across the enterprise. Then, the total Personal-Bonus kitty is divided in proportion to how many points a member has received from everyone else.
iv. The right to quit – and the right to a basic income
To be genuinely free and an authentic participant, a worker must have the right to walk away from a company if she feels the majority is stifling her. To render this right real, as opposed to theoretical, the worker must have an ‘outside option’. This is why an unconditional basic income (guaranteeing a life with dignity) for all is not an optional extra for the good society – but a fundamental obligation to its citizens
v. The right to fire – and the right to a basic income
At the same time, for the majority to be free from toxic individuals, the collective must have the right to fire (by democratic vote) a member abusing her autonomy – a right that the collective can only exercise if it knows that everyone has the right to a basic income guaranteeing a life with dignity.
This is an ongoing debate between Michael Albert and Yanis Varoufakis: more entries will be added here soon.