Workplace Democracy: The Political Effects of Participation  - CLEO Skip to main content


The concept of workplace democracy has long been vitally important to theorists and activists of the democratic Left. The author here tests some of the claims made for this system, asking: Do such alternative forms of work organization really decrease workers’ sense of alienation? Does participation in a democratic, cooperatively run business encourage political participation? Does such a workplace foster class consciousness as a strategy for superseding capitalism? He looks first at the plywood cooperatives of the Pacific Northwest, providing a rich description of working life in these mills. He then compares the results-which in general do not support the claims made for workplace democracy-with analyses of notably successful experiments: The Israeli kibbutzim, cooperatives in Mondragon, Spain, and worker self-management in Yugoslavia. He concludes that the effect of democratic institutions in the workplace will differ greatly depending on the political, economic, and ideological contexts, and he addresses the question of when the workplace is likely to encourage social change and when it will tend simply to affirm the status quo.