Organising the enterprise as a common: an alternative to participatory management in worker cooperatives

Organising the enterprise as a common: an alternative to participatory management in worker cooperatives

ESCP-8EMES-4 | Maasen 2021


Managerial discourses, methods and tools are used in many worker cooperatives to increase the economic and societal impact of their activities. However, as critical management studies have highlighted, management methods are imbedded in particular representations about organising that reduce the participation of workers. This paper looks at a number of worker cooperatives in Belgium that don’t apply a managerial rationale for organising. The paper argues that it is possible – and desirable in terms of agency – for workers to share organisational power instead of delegating it to management. First is described, on the basis of interviews, how worker-members coordinate and regulate their daily work. This is followed by a presentation of the guiding principles that worker-members use for organising and running their enterprise. Viewing their enterprise as a common, worker-members in the selected enterprises correspondingly organise their work in common. The following principles were deducted: 1) a vision of workers as legitimate and capable producers, organisers and governors, 2) a conception of the enterprise as an association between workers for the purpose of the realisation of a joint project, 3) a shared responsibility for the relational network that makes an effective collective performance possible, and 4) a principle that consists in the creation and maintenance of commitment through interest and communication. It is further argued that the rationale of the enterprise as a common allows workers to find answers to the challenges of organising and thus constitutes a viable alternative to the managerial rationale.

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