Towards a Model of
Workplace Democratization

Ever since the advent of the factory system in the 18th century, people have been attempting experimental forms for managing production in ways alternative to the strictly hierarchical, sometimes even autocratic, conventional forms. Nineteenth-century communes (Holloway. 1966; Nordhoff, 1972), socialist and anarchist movements (Lichtheim, 1969), and several employer-initiated reforms (Lauck, 1926) sought more egalitarian and democratic means to manage society's unavoidable basic task of production. More recently, several initiatives were also begun in large corporations with the aim of making worklife more meaningful and satisfying to rank-and-file employees (HEW, 1973; Davis, Cherns, et al., 1975).

Only recently, however, has this vast experience begun to be analyzed together. For a long time, the particular ideology of each movement inclined it to distrust the specific forms and goals of others. Marxist writers, for instance, seldom gave attention to partial cases of democratization. They objected to the presence of the original private owner, even though his power was reduced. Working by a similar logic, some early workplace reformers in America hesitated to synthesize their own experience with that of socialist experiments in other countries, assuming all of those to be, ipso facto, false fronts for autocratic party control.

Within the academic world, traditional disciplinary boundaries of specialization between, for example, political historians and industrial psychologists tended to keep the total experience dispersed. In the business world, many individual cases remained isolated because each was regarded by those who had contact with it as a unique occurrence, so unusual that it was not considered seriously as suggesting an alternative model in general for industrial management. For example, the Bat'a system of worker self-administration and productivity sharing (described in Chapter 3 of this book) went generally unknown for over forty years, although the company itself became a worldwide conglomerate and was one of the few to expand production and sales during both the European recession of the 1920s and the worldwide Depression of the 1930s. Likewise, the nearly two dozen worker-owned plywood mills in America's Pacific Northwest (described in Chapter 2) which have been in successful operation for decades were studied at length by only two scholars (Berman, 1967; Bellas. 1972), and had not been analyzed in the context of a comparative study of workplace democratization.

Now, in the last few years, useful comparative studies have begun to appear. Each uses a different database, with some overlaps of course, and each has approached those data with different ends in view. For example, Carole Pateman in Participation and Democratic Theory (1970) criticizes prevailing theories of stable national democracy (notably those of Schumpeter and H. Eckstein) which rely on lack of participation by the masses for their stability. She argues that evidence from workplace democracy in several European companies supports a more participatory theory for stable democracy. In another recent