“I may not make it to work tomorrow”

As a rule, people do not enjoy work; in fact, much of the progress of human civilisation has been induced by people seeking to work less and play more. Given that, it is a little odd that I find the idea of workers owning and operating the businesses at which they work so appealing.

I like the idea that controlling the firm at which you work, not because it will alleviate the tedium of work, but because it will remove an imposition of arbitrary authority into my life, thus giving me more freedom,  and improve productivity – through improved monitoring and by bringing people who understand the firm closer to the process of shaping the firm – thus getting me more stuff and time.

However, a little thought reveals that workers cooperatives will not necessarily succeed in those terms, in reality cooperatives may just be replacing one authority with another invisible authority. [1] As discussed here before, improved monitoring will not necessarily make your life better, it can be intrusive and its consequences dire. In fact, in many ways it would decrease the freedom which you once enjoyed. The above tweet illustrates this nicely. Why did I nearly not make it into work you ask? Because of this…

Yes, for it is my friends and I who are those obnoxious drunks about which you read so much. Splitting a bottle of Jägermeister when you have work in the morning is not a good idea if you want to be productive the next day, but it is rather fun. So split it I did.

Were I to part own and manage the firm at which I work, and were my colleagues to be in the same position, I could not act in this way without a pervasive secrecy; a secrecy which would itself raise questions. At the moment, my reasonably well paid, easy, flexible job imposes no direct demands on my out of work behaviour, and I like it that way. Were workers cooperatives or partnerships to be ubiquitous this would not be an option and my return to University would be a far more sedentary affair.

In a related vein, DK reports that when his colleagues were offered equity in the firm at which they worked “some people would rather take the higher wages than take the equity in the firm: again, many of us were offered shares (aside from the options that we have been granted) and interest-free loans to buy them; again, very few were willing to take lower wages in return for equity.” [2]

This raises a very important point. Although capitalism necessarily creates a precarious working class, with nothing to sell but their labour power, many of the working class do quite nicely out of this arrangement. The atomisation and mechanisation of work means that many people can sacrifice freedom at work for freedom outside work. Perhaps cooperatives force you to be free, but under many circumstances the visible imposition of authority will simply be replaced with an invisible, informal, and perhaps equally unaccountable, imposition of self-sensorship and self-control.


[1] Bonus Socialist Thought points if you thought of this guy.

[2] Although DK should consider how much the Welfare State and labour regulations he despises has to do with his colleague’s reluctance to become capitalists.