Would Life Be Better Without Bosses?

I would never, ever, fire my boss. To be fair, as a university professor I don’t really have a “boss” in the usual sense, but I do answer to a Dean and a VP and President. I’m super-glad that they’re there, mostly because I’d rather have bamboo slivers shoved under my fingernails than do the sorts of work they do to keep the university working.

But maybe I really am a special case. Could other organizations do without bosses?

Over at the Huffington Post, Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis have written this: The Cure for Layoffs: Fire the Boss!

In 2004, we made a documentary called The Take about Argentina’s movement of worker-run businesses. In the wake of the country’s dramatic economic collapse in 2001, thousands of workers walked into their shuttered factories and put them back into production as worker cooperatives. Abandoned by bosses and politicians, they regained unpaid wages and severance while re-claiming their jobs in the process.

Well, with the world economy now looking remarkably like Argentina’s in 2001 (and for many of the same reasons) there is a new wave of direct action among workers in rich countries. Co-ops are once again emerging as a practical alternative to more lay-offs….

Klein & Lewis then go on to describe recent cases of workers taking over, in places from Argentina to France to Poland to the U.S.

Klein & Lewis leave 2 crucial questions open:
1) Sometimes layoffs happen for bad reasons related to mismanagement; but sometimes they reflect changes in demand for a product. How does a worker takeover of a factory solve a lack of demand?
2) Bosses aren’t arbitrarily inserted into organizations. They’re hired or appointed to do the work of structuring the organization, and coordinating and motivating employees. Are the cases Klein & Lewis talk about really doing away with managers?

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that the notion of employee cooperatives is not exactly radical. From what I understand, they’re legal just about everywhere and indeed most modern economies have legislation in place specifically to foster their establishment. There’s nothing much discouraging their establishment, but they just haven’t sprung up much. Why? For an excellent analysis of various ownership options (including shareholder ownership, employee ownership, supplier ownership, and customer ownership), read: The Ownership of Enterprise by Henry Hansmann.

(p.s. Here’s my review of Klein & Lewis’s movie, The Take.)

1 comment so far

  1. Kevin Goodman on

    I’ve always appreciated co-ops and while they are an admirable business model I feel most businesses are really made by capitalists. By that I mean an individual willing to invest in order to build an enterprise and then think for it. Either way I’m just saying the capitalists has more invested so you can’t just take over businesses (ownership) – at least until there is nothing left for the capitalists (owner to salvage) to salvage which seems the case in Venezuela. Another question this raises – Does failure dismiss ownership or owners rights?


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