AskProfWolff: Work Relationships in Worker Co-opsOn March 8, 2020 by Raul Dinwiddie
This is Richard Wolff, responding to an AskProfWolff question sent in from our Patreon community. And this time in particular, from Jim Quinn. Jim asks a frequently posed question and a good one. It has to do with how decisions would get made in a worker co-op that does not have the typical capitalist top-down hierarchy, where one or a few people at the top make all the key decisions. The rest of us, as employees, have to live with them but have no control over them. Which, by the way, is the definition of no democracy. And Jim further asks that a capitalist friend of his keeps saying that you could not have a worker co-op, because that would mean that the janitor, or the custodian, would have somehow say over decisions they are not trained to be experts in. Let me respond as best I can. First of all, the basic decisions in most corporations that are made by the board of directors. Let us remember who those people are. They are bankers. They are rich people who own big chunks of stock. They are all kinds of people who have exactly no expertise in many of the basic decisions that a corporation makes. They are considered to be a reliable, independent source of decisions. Their job is to consult with experts, both inside and outside the company, in order to reach the best decision. That is exactly what a worker co-op would do. But the difference is, it is everybody, including the janitor. That is right. You would have to bring in the experts from inside or outside the worker co-op to advise everybody to explain what is involved, not in the high technical level of the expert. That is why you need an expert; worker co-ops will need them too. But that does not mean that a tiny group of people have to make the decision. It never did. We have a congress in our political system, composed of people who mostly have little or no technical expertise, but make some of the most important decisions. You know how? They get experts to come and to explain it. And if it is difficult to understand, you get some more experts who are good at translating the technical information into the basic parameters of what a decision requires. It has always been the traditionalist conservative argument that somehow the people who now make the decision are some supermen and women who have some special capacity to do the right thing. They are not. Long ago, the people who run big corporations stopped having any technical expertise in them, basically at all. And if you hear to the contrary, you are listening to that old traditional conservative idea. And by the way, you know, the custodian has his or her particular understanding of aspects of the business that the clerk does not have, that the technician does not have, that the person on the assembly line does not have. Those people have other perspectives. And that is why a collective decision democratically arrived at in the long run is the better way to go. Do not exclude anyone. We all have things to contribute if only the opportunity is provided. In the long run, the decisions will actually be better.