The purpose of this guide is to introduce you to worker self-management. It will outline the methodology that governs our workplace, enabling you to participate alongside us, prior to undertaking more comprehensive training.
Ownership is not simply possession, rather it pertains more to power, control, and responsibility. It exists in the here & now, and doesn’t accompany us into some sort of afterlife.
The power and control at a business owners’s disposal actually arises from owning responsibility for the asset… from carrying the can.
A worker cooperative is perfectly in step with this reality. Once someone has been voted in as a cooperator, they share in the responsibility, and may thereby jointly exercise control over the business. Collectivist workplaces are structured in such a way as to limit the need for voting, meaning workers take most decisions autonomously. Cooperators have equality of power, and most of that power is exercised individually rather than collectively.
So… welcome to our business! This guide will help you make the most of the experience.
These pages contain a few unusual words (and a some long ones too), which you may be unfamiliar with. To help you become fluent in the terminology, there’s a concise (and often somewhat blunt) translation provided at the end of each section.
Worker cooperatives come in two forms, the reformist hierarchal kind, which function similarly to most other businesses, and the subversive anarchal (non-hierarchal) kind like this one, which aim to supplant capitalism. The latter are often referred to as worker collectives.
A worker collective consists of workers, both paid labour and unpaid volunteers. Each worker starts out as a newbie, and on completion of coop training they graduate to probie (probationary member). Probies serve a probationary period of 10-20 months, prior to facing a vote on whether to make them a cooperator (legal member). The intent is for every worker to become a cooperator, and thereby an equal participant in and co-owner of the coop. Newbie and probie are just transitional stages towards this goal, which must be completed within a set timescale, rather than ranks or positions as such.
Everyone is expected to actively participate in the operation of the cooperative, and to assume a level of responsibility commensurate to their time commitment. Newbies are able to exercise around 75% of the power available to cooperators, and for probies this rises to 95%. Ideally the workforce will mostly consist of cooperators.
The three distinct classes of worker do form a rational hierarchy, but this exists purely to transition workers into the cooperative. Those who fail probation must be released from the cooperative before they gain full employment rights, as this would impose a permanent management hierarchy from underneath… defeating the entire point of the exercise! With this in mind, it’s best to maximise the time available by completing coop training as early as possible, ideally commencing probation within 2 – 6 months of your start date.
The cooperative is collectively owned by the cooperators, each of whom sit on the board of directors. Cooperators have a say over any decision that affects them, and because those decisions are taken by consensus, a cooperator cannot be forced to go along with anything they disagree with. In order to be voted in as a cooperator, you must prove to be willing, conscientious, diligent, reasonable, constructive, and disciplined.
Translation: This isn’t a free lunch. It’s going to take a concerted effort on your part, and we won’t be giving you the benefit of any doubt. Succeed and you’ll be the equal owner of the business, and firmly in charge of your own destiny.
In a hierarchy power is derived from your position within the structure, whereas in a horizontal organisation your power is dependent on what you assume responsibility for, with the structure governing the application of said power.
If a vertical organisation is analogous to a pyramid, then a horizontal one is more like a railway. Each train is autonomous, being powered by its own engine, but its passage is in accordance with the tracks, switches, signals, stations, platforms, timetables, bridges, tunnels, sidings, and buffers etc.
The structure of this workplace is a based on a methodology known as Collectivist Ansynd, which functions a little like the railway in the above analogy, where the workers are analogous to the engines.
Translation: The underlying methodology exists to prevent train wrecks.
Ansynd is an organisational praxis: a theory, method, and practice for organising without hierarchy. It’s an abbreviation of anarcho-syndicalism, which literally means “unions without hierarchy”, where union is in the sense of being united by a common purpose.
Collectivist ansynd refers to a current within anarcho-syndicalism, which focuses on collectivism and worker self-management. This presents a significant threat to the capitalist hegemony because management is very expensive, and successfully dispensing with it thereby makes a workplace inherently more efficient.
The methodology is predicated on individual power and assertiveness. It recognises the inherent weaknesses of group-think, and mandates creativity and ambition over opinions and apathy. Participants are thus encouraged to become aware of their own strengths & weaknesses. A non-hierarchal workforce must collectively possess all the skills more usually encapsulated within a management team.
Collectivist ansynd consists of: a set of principles; a statute; elected officials; and a sophisticated take on democracy. It is deemed a militant praxis because each participant may exercise their power unilaterally.
Translation: Talk is cheap. The default position is to go ahead with ideas that are creative or ambitious, unless there’s a good reason not to do so. Everyone has the power to kick ass, and no one need ask permission to do so.
Here is a brief synopsis of the eight principles that apply to an anarchal cooperative. As a newbie you should work to familiarise yourself with these, by observing the members, and asking questions. Failure to adhere to any of them automatically constitutes a breach of cooperative ansynd praxis, inviting disciplinary action from the other workers.
Translation: Here are the basic principles that we must adhere to.
The combination of the business, its reputation, the workplace, the equipment, the workforce, and the customers, represents the common good. Self-interest is ultimately best served by safeguarding the common good. The workforce therefore shows solidarity around the common good.
Translation: Our needs are best taken care of, by taking care of business. We do what’s right by the coop first, then one another, and everything just falls into place.
A worker is empowered to take any decision that will have negligible impact on the business, the workplace, their colleagues, or the cooperative as a whole.
Translation: Take whatever course of action you see fit, so long as it doesn’t majorly affect the business or anyone else who works here.
If a worker does something that jeopardises the common good; or which substantially and negatively impacts upon the business, the workplace, or any co-worker(s)… then they should endeavour to put that right. The same principle applies to negligence. Restitution must be commensurate, and the onus to restitute lies with the offender.
Translation: You break it, you fix it, or volunteer to make up for it… somehow.
Everyone has equal privilege and must therefore be treated as equals.
Power arises from responsibility, therefore the cooperative must endeavour to allocate responsibility evenly amongst its workforce.
Any member, may unilaterally exercise the power to fairly discipline any worker who is negligent, exhibits poor performance, is guilty of misconduct, or breaches any of these principles, but only a cooperator has the power to dismiss a worker.
[There is no chain of command – each worker is empowered to deal with any disciplinary issues that they encounter.]
Translation: Everyone has access to the same set of powers. You have all the tools to fight your own battles, and should not go looking for troops (let alone nonexistent bosses).
Freedom of Association (FoA)
This takes two forms, FtA (Freedom to Associate) and FfA (Freedom from Association).
Under FtA, workers may choose to associate with any individual or group, except those who preach hate, bigotry or advocate tyranny. They can also choose to form their own exclusive groupings within the workplace, provided those adhere to the principles being outlined, and are not utilised as a means of persecution. There’s also scope to join wider industrial unions.
Under FfA workers may choose to disassociate from one another, and any such arrangement is automatically deemed to be both mutual and all encompassing. The only exception being around any necessary workplace communication, because the common good takes priority over FfA. Refusal to respect FfA is deemed to be beyond the bounds of restitution.
If you experience a serious problem with anyone at work, then simply declare FfA. Refusal to respect that (by either party) will create scope for disciplinary action.
Translation: Form teams with whomever you want, so long as those aren’t intended for some sort of power grab. People don’t have to include you in stuff that doesn’t concern you. If you don’t get along with someone then declare FfA and you are effectively dead to one another… except to say “pass the salt”. Breaching FfA automatically constitutes gross misconduct.
Members are co-owners rather than employees, and must therefore participate in cooperating the business. This means doing our fair share of all the stuff that would normally be handled by bosses and owners. Cooperating a business is arguably the most direct form of action there is, since it bypasses the rationale for capitalism altogether.
Translation: If you “just want a job” then consider applying to literally anywhere else because the rest if the world already caters exclusively for that. This is much more than wage slavery. Action speaks louder than words. Everyone is expected to carry their fair share of the load.
All recurring aspects of the business are divided into zones, which are like mini departments. Ideally whomever is most experienced, and/or knowledgeable on a particular aspect, is appointed to be its ZA (zone authority), and assumes responsiblity for that thing.
Each worker must volunteer to assume their fair share of responsibility, which usually means that everyone ends up being in charge of at least one thing. This division of labour can either be allocated via the commissioner, or enacted through an election.
The smooth functioning of zones is integral to the common good.
The zones and their assigned ZAs are presented on the labour matrix – you can refer to this document in order to find out who is responsible for what.
ZAs are subject to instant democratic recall but, beyond that, wield absolute authority over their zone(s). You may not interfere with how someone else manages their zone.
Failure to keep on top of a zone is likely to result in recall, and failure to take on a fair share of responsibility may invite disciplinary action.
Translation: If you want to call the shots over something, then offer to own it. There is no invisible fairy that goes around turning your ideas into reality. Everyone is required to assume their fair share of responsibility.
ZAs are obliged to individually report their activity to the collective. All members should monitor levels of participation, and everyone must assume responsibility for safeguarding the common good.
Translation: We’re each accountable to one another. There’s nowhere to hide. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, or is demonstrating undue care, then any one of us has the power to kick their ass. If something is jeopardising the common good, then we’ve each individually got an obligation to address that, no matter how small it may be!
The statute consists of the cooperative’s purpose, plus the outcome of each subsequent consensus process (where applicable). The statute is dynamic, and is based upon collective recollection. Aside from the mission statement it must not be compiled into a written legislature. This is mandated in order to maintain a pragmatic, flexible, and contemporary outlook, so that the cooperative is capable of adapting to ever changing circumstances.
Translation: Other than the mission statement, we deliberately don’t write stuff down in a big book, because if no one can remember what was agreed, then it probably wasn’t worth having in the first place. Circumstances change over time, and any precedent that hasn’t been enacted in a while is likely best forgotten about.
This is a statement of the cooperative’s founding purpose. The mission is set in stone, and cannot be amended. Newbies should familiarise themselves with the cooperative’s mission statement. Members may act in accordance with the mission.
Translation: The mission statement cannot be altered, so deal with it. This is in order to remain true to the intent of the cooperative’s founders, who will doubtless have contributed start-up capital. The way to escape such restrictions, is to found your own cooperative.
By default any democratic consensus process will set a precedent, which any member is then empowered to enact, provided they can somehow demonstrate its prior existence.
Translation: If we voted to do something once, then you have the power to execute similar action whenever you want. You’ll soon come to appreciate that this is a very big deal.
Precedent that is regularly enacted becomes tradition, and continues in effect even where the root of the underlying precedent has been lost in the mists of time. Any worker can compel adherence to a tradition.
Translation: If we do something a lot then that’s just the way it is, and it’s not for anyone to go unilaterally changing that. You have the power to take action against other workers who breach those traditions.
Cooperators must elect at least one of each of the following officers from within their own number. These roles exist to ensure the smooth running of the cooperative. Officers are subject to instant democratic recall. Find out who those people are, because you’ll likely want to interact with them at some point!
Translation: We elect people to make things slicker. Anyone elected can just as easily be unelected at any time. These people are there to help you get stuff done. They are the coop’s servants not its bosses.
The custodian is tasked with safeguarding the cooperative’s mission, and ensuring adherence to ansynd praxis.
The custodian must maintain strategic oversight of (but has no control over) the cooperative, and he or she also serves as the decision taker of last resort.
The custodian is subject to democratic override by members.
If you are unsure of anything then just ask the custodian for guidance.
Translation: The Custodian understands how all this stuff works. Their job is to make sure we’re all on the same page. If you’re not sure what to do then ask them, and they’ll probably respond with some riddle that encourages you to think for yourself. Anything they decide can be voted on, so they have no actual authority, so please refrain from treating this person as though they were your boss.
The commissioner is tasked with safeguarding the common good.
The commissioner is empowered to commission zones, and to appoint (but not recall) ZAs. This is encapsulated within the labour matrix, a document listing each of the zones and their assigned ZAs. This is to expedite the division of labour, and mitigate the need to hold elections.
The commissioner must endeavour to allocate responsibility commensurate to each worker’s time commitment.
The commissioner is subject to democratic override by members.
You can request that the commissioner create a new zone for any responsibility that you’d like to assume, and this will be added to the matrix.
Translation: The commissioner is there to divide the work up so that we don’t have to vote on who does what all the time. Anything they decide can be voted on, so they have no actual authority.
The role of the agitator is to safeguard and encourage engagement within the workforce. This may relate to worker involvement and responsibility within the cooperative as a whole, or to their participation in any democratic processes that is presently underway.
If you believe that someone’s participation is lacking, then feel free to bring this up with the agitator.
Translation: The agitator is there to bug you into participating. If you get involved then they’ll leave you alone. This person is a hassle merchant rather than a boss figure.
Every single aspect of a coop, aside from its mission, is subject to some form of instant democratic intervention. However meetings and votes can be stressful, time consuming, and divisive. With this in mind, collective decision making should be reserved for issues, which are of significant impact (beyond autonomy), but aren’t zoned under rational authority, and cannot be dealt with by officers under their delegated powers.
The most appropriate form of democracy should be utilised for any given purpose, and this is open to debate. Newbies are mostly excluded from the democratic process, because their involvement often proves disruptive. A cooperator may insist on all probies being excluded from a vote, provided there’s a valid reason for such an exclusion.
Translation: We decide on the best way to vote. You don’t become eligible to vote until you understand how the voting process works.
This occurs in response to a disagreement, and is usually takes the form of simple majority.
Translation: When people disagree, we get to vote on who’s right.
Workers can force an election on any vacant zones.
At a bear minimum the cooperative should hold an AGM, where workers can request an election on any zone or official post.
Elections typically adhere to the format of a rational veto of candidates, followed by either simple majority or alternative vote.
Any worker can stand for election to a zone, but only members can vote in these elections.
Translation: You can either put yourself forward for a zone when it’s vacant, or wait until the AGM. Any member can choose to veto candidates from the list prior to the vote, provided there’s a valid reason for doing so.
Any member can call a confidence motion on any ZA or officer at any time. This is always undertaken by consensus.
Translation: People can be kicked off stuff at any time, provided everyone else agrees.
Any member can initiate a consensus motion on any issue that falls outside of autonomy and rational authority. Consensus means that the motion cannot go ahead without the consent of everyone.
Consent doesn’t necessarily indicate support for something, but rather a willingness to go along with it.
The above diagram depicts a simple process that is suitable for straightforward decisions, with a high level of support, which don’t require rigorous due diligence. The process for complex decision making is far more nuanced, with the members fixing a “consensus point” early in the process, after the specific wording of the question has been decided upon, but prior to actual discourse getting underway. This consensus point typically defaults to 60%, but any member can insist on raising it as high as they like (potentially all the way to 100%), but only during that stage of the process. The consensus point remains fixed in each of the stages thereafter.
Beyond that there’s also scope for amendments, expert veto, conditional votes, concessions, and safeguards. The process is designed protect a minority right down the the individual, without impeding progress.
It’s crucial to use whichever process is most appropriate to balance the hassle factor against due diligence.
Translation: We try and handle stuff autonomously wherever possible, because voting can be a drag, but members can call a vote on any issue/aspect that someone else isn’t already in charge of. Whatever it is can only go ahead if we all consent to that. There’s a long way and a short way of doing this, and where there’s potential for disaster we choose the long way.
cooperation is a steep learning curve
A cooperator can rationally suspend a newbie or probie’s rights & powers for any breach of cooperative ansynd praxis. Suspension remains in effect for 4 weeks. This relegates the worker to the status of an employee in the traditional sense. Suspension will in effect make everyone else your boss.
Whilst under suspension the worker remains as a ZA and retains all their zonal responsibilities, but their authority becomes subject to cooperator override. They are excluded from the democratic process, and also relinquish the powers of autonomy, freedom of association and restitution. They can also be unilaterally recalled or dismissed by any cooperator, pending right of appeal. If you’re suspended from probation, then its recommended get your zones in order ASAP, else one of the cooperators may opt to dismiss you for negligence.
While suspension may seem harsh, it actually forms the basis of a two-strike yellow card system. This sort of safety net only applies to newbies and probies, but not cooperators.
Translation: Step out of line and you’ll get a second chance, but you’ll be on thin ice, and we’ll hammer the point home that ansynd is not in the least bit touchy-feely.
This workplace is governed by a methodology, which neatly dispenses with bosses, whilst limiting the need for voting. This is accomplished by distributing responsibility throughout the workforce, and imbuing workers with the power to tackle any issues that arise.
Collectivism is predicated on mutual respect and conscientiousness, its about treating the workplace as you’d like it to treat you.
Now lets put all this stuff into practice!