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Worker Self-Management

In response to:

Power to the Workers? from the November 19, 1970 issue

To the Editors:

Dahl [NYR, November 19, 1970] furnishes a useful brief for industrial democracy and I trust thereby will open up a necessary discussion. The direct line of the argument goes back at least to Hobbes, who called the large corporations chartered by the Crown—forebears of General Motors, Shell, et al.—“chips off the block of sovereignty.” The late Scott Buchanan devoted much of Essay on Politics (now out of print) to the result of the chips theory, and later saw the great corporation as a “constituent state” of the republic. Since the Constitution guarantees to each constituent state a republican form of government, Buchanan said, “it would be important to find out whether republican forms of government are assured to and upheld by our…corporations.”

Others have offered important viewpoints on the difference between the administration and the governance of corporations, among them Profs. Earl Latham and Richard Eells, unfortunately not noticed by Dahl. And it is too bad that Dahl missed Fred Blum’s report on a most instructive experiment, the Scott Bader Commonwealth, of Wollaston, U.K. In Work and Community (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1968) Blum inquires minutely into the ten-year experience of an enterprise that was deliberately transformed from a private corporation into a self-governing commonwealth of workers. The Scott Bader record on the central issues of extent of worker participation and efficiency of management is confused and hopeful, which is the verdict passed by Dahl on most such efforts.

Industrial democracy of the kind described by Dahl, not the synthetic varieties dreamed up by benign managers, has never seemed to have much chance in the US. But perhaps, aided by Dahl and by strong gusts of self-determination from ghetto and campus, we may yet see a few trial runs.

W.H. Ferry

Santa Barbara, California

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