Workers' self-management

Workers' self-management


Self-management or workers' self-management (also referred to as labor management, autogestión, socialism, with proposals for self-management having appeared many times throughout the history of the socialist movement, advocated variously by market socialists, communists, and anarchists.[1]

There are many variations of self-management. In some variations, all the worker-members manage the enterprise directly through assemblies; in other forms, workers manage indirectly through the appointment of managers through election. Self-management may include worker supervision and oversight of an organization by elected bodies, election of specialized managers, or management without any specialized managers as such.[2] The goals of self-management are to improve performance by granting workers greater autonomy in their day-to-day operations (self-directed activity), while reducing alienation and eliminating exploitation.[3]

Self-management of an organization may coincide with public ownership, and to a limited extent within private companies in the form of co-determination and worker representation on the board of directors.


  • Economic theory 1
    • Classical economics 1.1
  • Management science 2
  • Political movements 3
    • Europe 3.1
    • North America 3.2
    • South America 3.3
      • The fábricas recuperadas movement 3.3.1
  • See also 4
    • Examples and organizations 4.1
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • Documentary-film 8
  • External links 9

Economic theory

An economic system consisting of self-managed enterprises is sometimes referred to as a participatory economy, self-managed economy or cooperative economy. This economic model is a major version of market socialism, stemming from the notion that people should be able to participate in making the decisions that affect their well-being. The major proponents of self-management and self-managed market socialism in the 20th century include the economists Benjamin Ward, Jaroslav Vanek and Branko Horvat.[4] The Ward-Vanek model of self-management involves the diffusion of entrepreneurial roles amongst all the partners of the enterprise.

The economist Branko Horvat notes that participation is not simply more desirable but also more economically viable than traditional hierarchical and authoritarian management as demonstrated by econometric measurements, which indicate an increase in efficiency with greater participation in decision-making. According to Horvat, these developments are moving the world toward a self-governing socialistic mode of organization.[5]

In the economic theory of self-management, workers are no longer employees but partners in the administration of their enterprise. Management theories in favor of greater self-management and self-directed activity cite the importance of autonomy for productivity in the firm, and economists in favor of self-management argue that cooperatives are more efficient than centrally-managed firms because every worker receives a portion of the profit, thereby directly tying their productivity to their level of compensation.

Historical economic figures who supported cooperatives and self-management of some kind include the anarchist Pierre Joseph Proudhon, classical economist John Stuart Mill, and the neoclassical economist Alfred Marshall. Contemporary proponents of self-management include the American Marxist economist Richard D. Wolff and Anarchist Philosopher Noam Chomsky.

Classical economics

In the 19th century, the idea of a self-managed economy was first fully articulated by the anarchist philosopher and economist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.[6] This economic model was called mutualism to highlight the mutual relationship among individuals in this system (in contrast to the "parasitism" of capitalist society) and involved cooperatives operating in a free-market economy.

Karl Marx championed the idea of a "free association of producers" as a characteristic of communist society, where self-management processes replaced the traditional notion of the centralized state. This concept is related to the Marxist idea of transcending alienation.[7]

Management science

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel H. Pink argues on the basis of empirical evidence that self-management/self-directed processes, mastery, worker autonomy and purpose (defined as intrinsic rewards) are much more effective incentives than monetary gain (extrinsic rewards). According to Pink, for the vast majority of work in the 21st century, self-management and related intrinsic incentives are far more crucial than outdated notions of hierarchical management and an over-reliance on monetary compensation as reward.

Political movements


Worker self-management became a primary component of some revolutionary syndicalism which was introduced in late 19th century France, and guild socialism in early 20th century Britain, although both movements collapsed in the early 1920s. French trade-union CFDT ("Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail") included worker self-management in its 1970 program, before later abandoning it. The philosophy of workers' self-management has been promoted by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) since its founding in the United States in 1905.

Critics of workers' self-management from the left such as Gilles Dauvé and Jacques Camatte do not admonish the model as reactionary, but simply as not progressive in the context of developed capitalism. Such critics suggest that capitalism is more than a relationship of management. Rather, they suggest capitalism should be considered as a social totality which workers' self-management in and of itself only perpetuates and does not challenge - despite its seemingly radical content and activity. This theory is used to explain why self-management in Yugoslavia never advanced beyond the confines of the larger state monopoly economy, or why many modern worker-owned facilities tend to return to hiring managers and accountants after only a few years of operation. Guild socialism is a political movement advocating workers' control of industry through the medium of trade-related guilds "in an implied contractual relationship with the public".[8] It originated in the United Kingdom and was at its most influential in the first quarter of the 20th century. It was strongly associated with G. D. H. Cole and influenced by the ideas of William Morris.

One significant experiment with workers' self-management took place during the Spanish Revolution (1936–1939).[9] Rudolf Rocker said in his book Anarcho-Syndicalism (1938):

In the 1950s, at the height of the Tito and – more directly – Edvard Kardelj. Croatian scientist Branko Horvat also made a significant contribution to the theory of workers' self-management (radnicko samoupravljanje) as practiced in Yugoslavia. With the exception of a recession in the mid-1960s, the country's economy prospered under Titoist Socialism. Unemployment was low, the education level of the work force steadily increased. The life expectancy (which was about 72 years) and living standards of Yugoslav citizens was nearly equal to the life expectancy and living standards of citizens of Western capitalist countries such as Portugal. Due to Yugoslavia's neutrality and its leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement, Yugoslav companies exported to both Western and Eastern markets. Yugoslav companies carried out construction of numerous major infrastructural and industrial projects in Africa, Europe and Asia.[10][11]

After May 68 in France, LIP factory, a clockwork factory based in Besançon, became self-managed starting in 1973 after the management's decision to liquidate it. The LIP experience was an emblematic social conflict of post-68 in France. CFDT (the CCT as it was referred to in Northern Spain), trade-unionist Charles Piaget led the strike in which workers claimed the means of production. The Unified Socialist Party (PSU), which included former Radical Pierre Mendès-France, was in favour of autogestión or self-management.[12]

In the capitalist mode of production.[13]

In the 2010s, due to the economic crisis in Greece, a number of factories have been occupied and have become self-managed along the lines of autogestión.[14]

North America

During the Great Depression, worker and utility cooperatives flourished to the point that more than half of U.S. farmers belonged to a cooperative. In general worker cooperatives and cooperative banking institutions were formed across the country and became a thriving alternative for workers and customers.[15][16] Now, due to the economic downturn and stagnation in the rustbelt, worker cooperatives such as the Evergreen Cooperatives have been formed in response, inspired by Mondragon.

South America

In October 2005 the first Encuentro Latinoamericano de Empresas Recuperadas ("Latin American Encounter of Recovered Companies") took place in Caracas, Venezuela, with representatives of 263 such companies from different countries living through similar economical and social situations. The meeting had, as its main outcome, the Compromiso de Caracas (Caracas' Commitment); a vindicating text of the movement.

The Hotel Bauen in Buenos Aires, occupied and self-managed since 2003.

The fábricas recuperadas movement

Poster for the Movimiento Nacional de Empresas Recuperadas (MNER), at a worker-recovered print shop, Chilavert Artes Gráficas in Buenos Aires

English-language discussions of this phenomenon may employ several different translations of the original Spanish expression other than recovered factory. For example, worker-recuperated enterprise, recuperated factory/business,worker-recovered factory/business, reclaimed factory, and worker-run factory have been noted. The phenomenon is also known as "autogestión," which comes from the French word for self-management (applied to factories, popular education systems, and other uses). Worker self-management may coincide with employee ownership.

Argentina's fábricas recuperadas movement, which emerged in response to Argentine's 2001 economic crisis,[17] is the current most significant workers' self-management phenomenon in the world. Workers took over control of the factories in which they had worked, commonly after bankruptcy, or after a factory occupation to circumvent a lockout.

Fábricas recuperadas means "reclaimed/recovered factories." The Spanish verb recuperar means not only "to get back", "to take back" or "to reclaim" but also "to put back into good condition". Although initially referring to industrial facilities, the term may also apply to businesses other than factories (e.g. Hotel Bauen in Buenos Aires).

Throughout the 1990s in Argentina's southern province of Neuquén, drastic economic and political events occurred where the citizens ultimately rose up. Although the first shift occurred in a single factory, bosses were progressively fired throughout the province so that by 2005 the workers of the province controlled most of the factories.

The movement emerged as a response to Argentine's 2001 economic crisis,[17] and about 200 Argentine companies were "recovered" by their workers and turned into co-operatives. Prominent examples include the Brukman factory, the Hotel Bauen and FaSinPat (formerly known as Zanon). As of 2005, about 15,000 Argentine workers run recovered factories.

The phenomenon of fabricas recuperadas ("recovered factories") is not new in Argentina. Rather, such social movements were completely dismantled during the so-called "Dirty War" in the 1970s. Thus, during Héctor Cámpora's first months of government (May–July 1973), a rather moderate and left-wing Peronist, approximately 600 social conflicts, strikes and factory occupations had taken place.[18]

Many recovered factories are run co-operatively and all workers receive the same wage. Important management decisions are taken democratically by an assembly of all workers, rather than by professional managers.

The proliferation of these "recoveries" has led to the formation of a recovered factory movement, which has ties to a diverse political network including

  • Argentinian workers preparing to defend control of factory, April 26, 2005
  • Self-management and Requirements for Social Property: Lessons from Yugoslavia by Diane Flaherty
  • Worker self-management in historical perspective by James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer
  • Yugoslavia's Self-Management by Daniel Jakopovich
  • Movimiento Nacional de Fabricas Recuperadas (National Movement of Recovered Factories, Spanish only)
  • The Worker-Recovered Enterprises in Argentina: The Political and Socioeconomic Challenges of Self-Management Andrés Ruggeri, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Official site for El Cambio Silencioso, book on recovered factories by Esteban Magnani (Spanish and English mostly)
  • The Social Innovations of Autogestión in Argentina’s Worker-Recuperated Enterprises: Cooperatively Reorganizing Productive Life in Hard Times (Labor Studies Journal, 2010) by Marcelo Vieta
  • Selbsthilfe von Erwerbslosen in Krisenzeiten. Die empresas recuperadas in Argentinien, by Kristina Hille
  • Democracy at Work A social movement for a new economy founded by economist Richard D. Wolff
  • The End of Illth: In search of an economy that won’t kill us. Harper's Magazine, October 4, 2013.
  • American Solidarity Party — New 3rd party which favors workers' self-management

External links


  • For All The People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America, PM Press, by John Curl, 2009, ISBN 978-1-60486-072-6
  • An Anarchist FAQ, Vol. 2, (2012, AK Press), see section: I.3.2 What is workers' self-management? [1]
  • Anarcho-syndicalism, Rudolf Rocker (1938), AK Press Oakland/Edinburgh. ISBN 978-1-902593-92-0.

Further reading


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  8. ^ "Guild Socialism". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 31 May. 2012
  9. ^
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  11. ^
  12. ^ LIP, l'imagination au pouvoir, article by Serge Halimi in Le Monde diplomatique, 20 March 2007 (French)
  13. ^ Richard D. Wolff (June 24, 2012). "Yes, there is an alternative to capitalism: Mondragon shows the way." The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2013.
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  15. ^
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  17. ^ a b Guido Galafassi, Paula Lenguita, Robinson Salazar Perez (2004) Nuevas Practicas Politicas Insumisas En Argentina pp.222, 238
  18. ^ Hugo Moreno, Le désastre argentin. Péronisme, politique et violence sociale (1930-2001), Editions Syllepses, Paris, 2005, p.109 (French)
  19. ^ Movimiento Nacional de Fabricas Recuperadas
  20. ^ Marie Trigona, Recuperated Enterprises in Argentina - Reversing the Logic of Capitalism, Znet, March 27, 2006 (English)
  21. ^ Pagina12: Nueva Ley de Quiebras (April 2011), Fábricas recuperadas y también legales (June 2nd 2011)
  22. ^ CFK promulgó la reforma de la Ley de Quiebras in Página/12, June 29th 2011


Examples and organizations

See also

The movement led in 2011 to a new bankruptcy law that facilitates take over by the workers.[21] The legislation was signed into law by President Cristina Kirchner on June 29, 2011.[22]

One of the highest difficulties such a movement faces is its relation towards the classic economic system, as most classically managed firms refused, for various reasons (among which ideological hostility to the very principle of autogestión) to work and deal with recovered factories. Thus, isolated recovered factories find it easier to work together in building an alternative, more democratic economic system and thus manage to reach a critical size and power which enables it to negotiate with the ordinary capitalistic firms.

occupied the building and took control of it. Hotel Bauen and a range of political groups have also provided support for these take-overs. In March 2003, with the help of the MNER, former employees of the luxury worker cooperatives), traditional piqueteros, unemployed protestors (known as labor unions Some [20] on the right.[19]

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