industrial democracy

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industrial democracy An ideal in which citizenship rights in employment are held to include partial or complete participation by the workforce in the running of an industrial or commercial organization. The term, and others associated with it, is often laden with ideological overtones. At one extreme, industrial democracy implies workers' control over industry, perhaps linked with worker ownership of the means of production, as exemplified by producer co-operatives. Another approach is the appointment of worker or trade-union representatives to company boards or governing bodies. For others, industrial democracy takes the form of ‘worker participation’, such as collective bargaining in which trade unions operate as a kind of permanent opposition to managements. In this model managements are seen to propose, employees and their unions offer reactions and if necessary opposition, and negotiation subsequently leads to collective agreements more or less satisfactory to both sides. A fourth approach places less stress on power-sharing and more on consultation and communication: managers are seen as retaining all responsibility for decisions but make arrangements to consult worker representatives before changes are introduced. These and other approaches to industrial democracy which involve representative structures on the workers' side are often described as examples of indirect democracy. Where individual workers represent themselves without such intermediaries direct democracy is said to exist. An example would be an autonomous work group in a factory or office, charged with making its decisions about work organization and planning independently of higher management, but which is sufficiently small for all its members to take a personal direct part in influencing the group's decisions.

Industrial democracy challenges not only the characteristically authoritarian and bureaucratic structures of the capitalist enterprise but also centralizing tendencies in the planned economies of socialist regimes. Without participation, it is argued, worker alienation will persist. Critics claim, however, that participation may be used as a manipulative device to control workers' efforts or to weaken trade-union organization and unity. Actual examples testify that the degree of power achieved by or delegated to the workforce is a crucial consideration. Sceptics argue that, even in the extensive worker self-management of the decentralized state socialism of Yugoslavia, underlying party control is retained. The alternative of worker co-operatives, notably the Mondragon experiment in Spain, has attracted much interest. In Germany, a system of codetermination has been introduced as a result of labour-movement pressure to find a middle way between capitalism and socialism, and has influenced the labour policies of most countries in the European Community. Profit-sharing and share-ownership schemes may be regarded as examples of management-initiated systems of participation, which also include self-managed work-groups and teams, participatory leadership styles reflecting the ideas of the Human Relations Movement, and the quality circles based on Japanese practice.

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democracy, industrial See INDUSTRIAL DEMOCRACY.