Worker Co-Determination in Venezuela
So far, Venezuela's co-management plans have been confined to state owned companies like Alcasa, and to two small private companies that had already gone bankrupt....
But last Mayday President Hugo Chavez said he wanted to go further.
He suggested that many more private companies might qualify for government assistance if they too involved their workers in the management.
I'm setting aside the state's role in implementing the program. I will note in passing, however, that Murray Rothbard at one point suggested that nationalization might be acceptable as an intermediate step in worker homesteading of state capitalist industry. As for the use of state funds to bail out failing companies, I'm unequivocally against.
Leaving that issue aside, however, what's interesting is the practical effect of worker control on the efficiency of an enterprise. Here's what the BBC has to say about the Alcasa aluminum plant:
During a session at Rodding Shed No. 3, one elected representative from each area team work amid reams of statistics, charts sketched on the white board and scale models.
The representatives are discussing possible solutions to their department's biggest technical problem; how to reorganise maintenance and procurement in order to get a longer working life out of the graphite anodes, the components used to separate the pure aluminium.
According to the man steering this whole process, one of the aims of co-management is to break down the barriers between intellectual and physical labour; between those who do the thinking and those who do the work.
Carlos Lanz, recently appointed president of Alcasa, and himself a former guerrilla leader, says the results are already visible.
"Democratic planning is such a powerful lever that even with rather outdated technology we have managed to increase production by 11%," he says.
Mr Lanz points out that this is not the co-management of European social democracy, which in his view has been limited to giving the workers shares and a seat on the board.
"This is about workers controlling the factory and that is why it is a step towards socialism of the twenty-first century."
The increased productivity at Alcasa reflects a fairly common pattern in experiments with worker control. The various contributors to Sam Dolgoff's magnificent collection, The Anarchist Collectives, described similar experiences by worker-controlled enterprises in anarchist Spain. As to why this might be, I recently devoted an extended post to examining the question: On the Superior Efficency of Small-Scale Organization.