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Week 4 (May 25-29, 2020) - Democratizing Work


Week 4 Lecture PPT

“But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labour
over the political economy of property. We speak of the co-operative movement,
especially the co-operative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few
bold ‘hands’. The value of these great social experiments cannot be over-rated.
By deed, instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large
scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on
without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands…”

~Karl Marx, “Inaugural Address of the Working Men’s International
Association” (1864)

Work, as Jim Stanford reminds us, is the cornerstone of all economic activity.
This is now clearly plain to all of us in our COVID-19 times (crises always make
visible things once hidden). Two work-related realities are in plain view right
now: (1) Those that are continuing to work outside of their homes (and risking
their lives) in what we are now calling “essential services” (as if they were not
always essential!) so that the rest of us can stay healthy and self-isolate, are keeping the system on life-support (pun intended). Surprise: service and care work has always been essential. (2) If you force employer businesses to close and essentially unemploy between 20-30% of Canada’s workforce (almost 85% of Canadian jobs are in small and medium firms of less than 500 employees, most work in firms with under 10 workers), and if workers get sick and die (as is happening every day right now), the capitalist economy enters crisis because it cannot create goods and capital to accumulate. Surprise: Workers have always been the key creative and productive component of the capitalist system (indeed, of any economic system), not shiny machines or “risk taking” entrepreneurs or savvy billionaire capitalists (sorry Mark, Jeff, and Elon!).

Week 4 puts economic democracy “to work” by exploring ways of democratizing work itself, a crucial consideration for any model of economic democracy worth its salt. In the process, we look at workplace participation/democracy along a spectrum that runs from nominal worker participation schemes on one end to full workers’ ownership and control of productive firms on the other. Throughout, we consider both the point-of-view of management and workers, but focus primarily on the side of working people.

Module 7 starts with employee participation schemes that begin to reform how work is done and managed within contemporary capitalist organizations. Here, we will look at human resource management’s strategies of worker empowerment, work teams, and participation. We especially take up workplace participation within capitalism from the point-of-view of workers, grounding our analysis in the notions of the “dignity of work,” “autonomy,” and “cooperation.” We will primarily consider how a new labour movement and worker-managed organizations such as worker cooperatives could facilitate ways to reorganize our economic life now and post-COVID.

Module 8 then explores forms of comprehensive workplace democracy and workers’ participation in decision-making highlighted by worker-owned and -controlled firms such as worker cooperatives. It does so by looking at formerly private/capitalist firms that were occupied and converted to worker cooperatives by employees through the research of Prof. Marcelo Vieta in Argentina, Italy and now Canada. Via the case of Argentina that we will read about in excerpts from Prof. Vieta’s new book, Workers' Self-Management in Argentina, we will learn about openings for new forms of cooperative and self-managed work during a previous crisis, and how work and workplaces are for us workers to take back. After all, the creativity of our work is ours in the first place, not our bosses’. Here we also look at ways that worker coops are being promoted and supported around the world today and how they respond to the COVID-19 crisis as organizational sites for the coming economic rebuilding.

Module 7 - Democratizing Work, Act I: Employee Participation and Working with Dignity: Democracy at Work via Worker Cooperatives, Unions, and Beyond

Required Reading

Webb, Tom & George Cheney. (2014). Ch. 5, Worker-Owned-and-Governed Co-operatives and the Wider Co-operative Movement: Challenges and Opportunities Within and Beyond the Global Economic Crisis. In M. Parker, G. Cheney, V. Fournier, & C. Land (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization. London: Routledge (pp. 64-88).

Required COVID-19 Reading

Cohen, Josh. (2020). Coronavirus has exposed the reality of a world without work. The Guardian. (Mar. 29).

Glasbeek, Harry. (2020). The Anti-Union Virus Inside the Emergency Powers: Lessons for Workers. The Bullet. (Apr. 26).

Levine, Steve. (2020). America Is About to Witness the Biggest Labor Movement It’s Seen in Decades. Marker. (Apr. 15).

Supplemental Reading

Malleson, Tom. (2014). Ch. 2, Should Workplaces be Democratized? In After Occupy: Economic Democracy for the 21st Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press (pp. 27-53).

Rothschild, Joyce. (2016). The Logic of a Co-operative Economy and Democracy 2.0: Recovering the Possibilities for Autonomy, Creativity, Solidarity, and Common Purpose. The Sociological Quarterly, 57 (pp. 7–35).

Pateman, Carole. (1970). Ch. III, The Sense of Participation and Political Efficacy in the Workplace. In Participation and Democratic Theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press (pp. 45-66).

Cheney, G., Christensen, L.T., Zorn, T.E., & Ganesh, S. (2011). Ch. 8, Participation, Teams, and Democracy at Work. In Organizational Communication in an Age of Globalization: Issues, Reflections, Practices. Long Grove, IL: Waveland (pp. 215-252).

Graeber, David. (2013). On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs: A work rant. Strike. 3(Summer). (see also Graeber’s 2018 book by the same name).

Complementary essay: Keynes, John Meynard (1930). Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren [an essay of economic possibility for desperate times]. See also Supplemental Readings in Module 12.

Ravenelle, Alexandrea. (2019). Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Gig Economy. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

De Peuter, Greig. (2014). Beyond the Model Worker: Surveying a Creative Precariat. Culture Unbound, 6, 263-284.

Hodson, Randy. (2001). Ch. 1, Four Faces of Working with Dignity. In Dignity at Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (pp. 3-21).

Black, E. & Silver, J. (2008). Ch. 2, Workplace Citizenship: Union Roles and Structures. In Building a Better World: An Introduction to Trade Unionism in Canada. Winnipeg: Fernwood (pp. 14-54).

Carter, S. & Martin, D’Arcy. (2013). Equip, Engage, Expand, and Energize: Labour Movement Education. In T. Nesbit, S.M. Brigham, N. Taber, & T. Gibb (Eds.), Building on Critical Traditions: Adult Education and Learning in Canada. Toronto: Thompson (pp. 270-280).

Roelants, Bruno, Hyungsik Eum, Simel Esim, Sonja Novkovic, Waltteri Katajamäki (Eds.). (2020). Cooperatives and the World of Work London: Routledge.

Novkovic, Sonja. & Tom Webb (Eds.). (2014). Co-operatives in a Post-Growth Era: Creating Co-operative Economics. London: Zed.

Schneider, Nathan. (2018). Everything for Everyone: The Radical Tradition that is Shaping the Next Economy. New York: Nation Books.

Vieta, Marcelo (ed.), (2010). The New Cooperativism [special issue]. Affinities: Theory, Culture, Action, 4(1).


Watch the documentary Together: How Cooperatives Show Resilience to the Crisis (CECOP-CICIPA Europe, 2012).

Listen to Deena Ladd, ED of the Worker’s Action Centre, on The Sunday Edition (CBC Radio 1, Apr. 3, 2020).

Watch Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work (2014) or A Silent Transformation (2018).

Listen to Co-ops in the time of COVID – Check-ins with John Kay, Thom Armstrong & Ross Gentleman (“Each for All,” Vancouver Co-op Radio, FM 100.1)

Module 8 - Democratizing Work, Act II: Taking Control: Workers Taking Over Workplaces and Converting them to Cooperatives

Required Reading

Vieta, Marcelo. (2020). Introduction (pp. 1-7); The Recuperation of the Medical Clinic “Cooperativa de Trabajo de la Salud Junín” (pp. 77-98); Why in Argentina? (pp. 99-108); ERT Types and Experiences of Workplace Conversions Around the World (pp. 132-165). In Workers’ Self-Management in Argentina: Contesting Neo-liberalism by Occupying Companies, Creating Cooperatives, and Recuperating Autogestión. Leiden: Brill.


Required COVID-19 Reading

Vieta, Marcelo, Fiona Duguid, & Ontario Co-operative Association. (2020). Rescuing Main Street: Action Research Supporting Ontario’s Small and Medium Enterprises through Conversion to Co-operatives. Ontario Together “Ideas” proposal.

Olive, David. (2020). Canada’s COVID-19 economic rescue model puts workers first, and by doing so, rescues their employers. The Toronto Star. (Apr. 4).

Horowitz, Jason. (2020). In Italy, Going Back to Work May Depend on Having the Right Antibodies. The New York Times. (Apr. 4).

Supplemental Reading

Vieta, Marcelo. (2020). Saving Jobs and Businesses in Times of Crisis: The Italian Road to Creating Worker Cooperatives from Workers’ Buyouts. In B. Roelants, H. Eum, S. Esim, S. Novkovic, & W. Katajamäki (Eds.)., Cooperatives and the World of Work. Geneva: International Labour Organization (pp. 162-187).

Vieta, Marcelo. (2014). Learning in Struggle: Argentina’s New Worker Cooperatives as Transformative Learning Organizations. Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations, 69(1) (pp. 186-218).

Ranis, Peter. (2016). Ch. 7, Eminent Domain: Confronting the Loss of Jobs in the United States; Ch. 8, Building Towards Worker Cooperatives by the Use of Eminent Domain in the United States. Cooperatives Confront Capitalism: Challenging the Neoliberal Economy. London: Zed (pp. 94-117).

Sauser, William. (2009). Sustaining Employee Owned Companies: Seven Recommendations. Journal of Business Ethics, 84(2) (pp. 151-164).

McDonell, D., Macknight, E., & Donnelly, H. (2012). Section 5, Democracy in the Workplace II: Employee Ownership. In Democratic Enterprise: Ethical Business for the 21st Century. Edinburgh: Government of Scotland (pp. 99-117).

Bartlett, W., Cable, J., Estrin, S., Jones, D., & Smith, S. (1992). Labor-Managed Cooperatives and Private Firms in North Central Italy: An Empirical Comparison. Industrial and Labor Relations Review, 46(1) (pp. 103-118).


Attend Prof. Vieta’s webinar, Lessons from Argentina’s Worker-Recuperated Enterprises: Co-operatives in Times of Crisis. Wed., May 27, 12:00-1:00 pm Eastern (Toronto) time. Sponsored by the International Centre for Co-operative Management at the Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University.

Watch Taking Over Companies and Converting them to Cooperative in Argentina: Lessons for Economic Democracy and the Social and Solidarity Economy. (June 4, 2020): Marcelo Vieta, Jessica Gordon Nembhard, and Marina Sitrin.

Watch documentary The Take: Occupy, Resist, Produce (Avi Lewis & Naomi Klein, 2003). On the crisis of 2001 in Argentina and its worker-recuperated firms.   

Additional Resources

Canada’s COVID-19 response efforts to the economic crisis (comprehensive and updated list).

Government of Canada’s COVID-19 response efforts to the economic crisis.

Government of Ontario’s COVID-19 response efforts to the economic crisis.

Courtesy tricontinental

Li-Zhong - Mercury textile workers (2020)

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