The purpose of this guide is to introduce workers to self-management. It will outline the methodology that governs our workplace, enabling them 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… from carrying the can.
A worker cooperative is perfectly in step with this reality. In order for someone to be voted in as a cooperator, they must first assume a commensurate share of responsibility, thereby demonstrating that they are ready to participate in running the business.
Collectivist workplaces are structured in such a way as to limit the need for voting, meaning workers take most decisions autonomously. There is an equality of power, and most of that power is exercised individually rather than collectively.
Worker cooperatives come in two forms, the reformist hierarchal kind that function similarly to most other businesses, and the subversive anarchal [definition: non-hierarchal] that aim to supplant capitalism. The latter are often referred to as worker collectives, and are the subject of this guide.
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 cooperative. Newbie and probie are not ranks per se but transitional stages towards becoming a cooperator.
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, including the power to reprimand other workers. For probies this rises to around 95%. The workforce of an established cooperative will therefore mainly consist of cooperators.
Those three distinct classifications 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 that would impose a permanent management hierarchy from underneath.
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, a probationer must prove to be willing, conscientious, diligent, reasonable, constructive, and disciplined.
In a hierarchy power is derived from position, whereas in a horizontal organisation power is dependent on assumption of responsibility, with the horizontal structure governing the application of that 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 an anarchal workplace is a based on a methodology known as Collectivist Ansynd, which functions a little like the railway in the above analogy, with the workers being analogous to the engines.
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 people being united by a common purpose.
Collectivist ansynd refers to a current within anarcho-syndicalism, which focuses on collectivism via worker self-management. This presents a significant threat to the capitalist hegemony because management is a very expensive feature of capitalism, and successfully dispensing with it dramatically increases workplace efficiency.
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 talented management team.
Collectivist ansynd consists of: a set of governing principles; a statute; elected officials; a functional apparatus, and a sophisticated take on democracy. It is deemed a militant praxis because each participant may exercise their power unilaterally.
Newbies should learn how to apply these, by observing the members, and asking questions. Failure to adhere to any of them automatically constitutes a breach of cooperative ansynd praxis, potentially inviting disciplinary action from other workers.
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 other principles being outlined below. FtA also allows scope to join labour 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. Refusal to respect FfA is deemed to be beyond the bounds of restitution.
The business, its reputation, the workplace, the equipment, the workforce, and the customers, together comprise the common good. Self-interest is ultimately best served by safeguarding the common good. The workforce should therefore exhibit solidarity around the common good rather than blind loyalty to one another.
In the absence of hierarchy, each worker becomes empowered to deal with any personnel issues that they might encounter. The power to fairly reprimand another worker who is negligent, exhibits poor performance, is guilty of misconduct or breaches any of these principles, can be exercised unilaterally.
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 can escape a reprimand by making that right. This principle applies to misconduct, negligence, poor performance and breach of praxis. Restitution must be commensurate, and the onus to restitute lies with the offender.
This is termed “yfi yfi” (You Fuck It, You Fix It).
Functionaries are obliged to report their activity to the collective. All members should monitor levels of participation, and everyone must assume responsibility for safeguarding the common good.
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.
A horizontal organisation implies an equity of privilege meaning that everyone has access to the same powers and freedoms.
Since power arises from responsibility, the cooperative must endeavour to allocate responsibility evenly amongst its workforce.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Adjudication & Arbitration
This occurs in response to a disagreement, and is usually takes the form of simple majority.
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.
Any member can call a recall motion on any ZA or officer at any time. This is always undertaken by consensus.
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.
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.
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!