ParEcon Questions & Answers

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Workers Councils?

cParecon is like other economic visions in having workers councils for decisions inside workplaces – is that right?

Yes. Every participatory economic workplace is governed by a workers’ council in which each worker has the same overall decision making rights and responsibilities as every other. When necessary, smaller councils are organized for work teams, units, and small divisions. Larger councils are organized for divisions, whole workplaces, and industries. 

Given a workplace’s overall agenda, how the people in a work group organize themselves affects almost exclusively themselves — so they function as a unit vis-à-vis that decision. And the same happens at diverse levels, from teams and projects though units and divisions up to larger councils for whole workplaces, industries, and even for workers as a whole. Different-sized councils address different issues in accord with the norm that decision-making input should be proportionate to the impact of decisions on those who make them. 

Council decisions are sometimes one-worker-one-vote majority rule, but in cases where that system would yield equal input for all council members in making decisions that actually have very unequal impact on each of them, councils employ different procedures with different degrees of consensus required for resolution, different actors participating, and so on. By leaving decisions that overwhelmingly affect a subset of workers over-whelmingly to only those workers and their councils, by assigning most initiative in decisions to those most affected by those decisions, and by weighing or otherwise organizing voting procedures to reflect the differential impacts of voting outcomes on those who will be affected by the decisions, workers’ councils collectively fashion their own best approximations to self-management (a point we shall deal with in more detail later). 

Of course, neither conceiving nor agreeing on the most appropriate participation and voting system, much less on decisions themselves, will be free of dispute within actual workers’ councils. Nor will any single approach to arriving at conclusions be universally applicable. To understand what workers do in their councils, what incentives and motives they have, what information they use, and what decisions they undertake, requires that we have a better understanding of diverse other institutions of participatory economics, and so must wait later questions and answers, and, ideally, reader exploration of other sources, as well. But the key point here is that in a situation where each worker has an interest in self-management, and no worker has disproportionate power, it is not unreasonable to assert that workers’ councils will actuate decision-making structures and ways to delegate responsibility that accord with self-management rather than with unjust hierarchies of power. Or, we should better say, it is reasonable to think this will be so, assuming that other facets of the economy don’t impose other norms, such as those that would be imposed by a hierarchical division of labor or markets—but instead also further this desirable aim. 



Workers and Consumers Councils

Excerpt from the summary chapter in Realizing Hope


Workers and consumers need a place to express and pursue their preferences. Historically, when workers and consumers have attempted to seize control of their own lives in tumultuous times, they have invariably created as the venue of their debate and decision making, workers and consumers councils.

In a parecon, within workers and consumers councils essentially like those that have historically emerged in past struggles, there is an additional commitment to using decision making procedures and modes of communication that self consciously apportion to each actor about each decision a degree of say proportionate to the degree he or she is affected.

Votes to make decisions in councils could be majority rule, three quarters, two-thirds, consensus, or other possibilities. They are taken at different levels, with fewer or more participants, and using information dispersal and discussion procedures as well as voting norms that depend on the particular implications of the decisions in question.

Sometimes after due deliberation a team or individual makes a decision pretty much on its own. Sometimes a whole workplace or even an industry, or a neighborhood, county, or country would be the decision body and special mechanisms for getting relevant information to all members and deliberating possibilities are employed. Different voting and tallying methods would also be enacted as needed for different decisions.

Consider, as an example, a publishing house. It could have teams addressing different functions like promotion, book production, editing, etc. Each of these might make its own workday decisions in context of broader policies decided by the whole workers council. Decisions to publish a book might involve teams in related areas, and might require, for example, a two thirds or three quarters positive vote, including considerable time for appraisals and re-appraisals. Many other decisions in the workplace could be one person one vote majority rule of the primarily affected workers or could require slightly different majorities or methods of accounting and challenging outcomes. Hiring might require consensus in the workgroup that the new person would be part of due to the tremendous effect a new worker can have on a group that he or she is constantly working with.

The point is, in workplaces workers decide both the broad and the narrower decisions, both the norms and the methods for decision making, and then also the day to day and more policy-oriented choices in groups of nested councils, teams, etc.

The reader may note that for full self management, however, it must also be the case that by some means the decisions of a workplace regarding what to produce are also influenced appropriately by all the people affected by its production – which turns out to be not only those who wind up consuming the workplace’s books, bicycles, band-aids, or whatever, but also those who don’t get some other product because energy, time, and assets went to the ends in question and not to some other ends, plus those affected by by-products such as pollution. But this is all a matter of allocation, not of workplace organization, and it enters our discussion just a bit later where we will also see how consumers councils fit into the picture. For now, we have self managing councils.

Next Entry: Consumers Councils

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