Workers' control

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Workers' control is participation in the management of factories and other commercial enterprises by the people who work there. It has been variously advocated by anarchists, socialists, communists, social democrats, Distributionists and Christian democrats, and has been combined with various socialist and mixed economy systems.

Participatory management is the practice of empowering members of a group, such as employees of a company or citizens of a community, to participate in organizational decision making. It is used as an alternative to traditional vertical management structures, which has shown to be less effective as participants are growing less interested in their leader's expectations due to a lack of recognition of the participant's effort or opinion.

Distributism is an economic ideology asserting that the world's productive assets should be widely owned rather than concentrated. It was developed in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries based upon the principles of Catholic social teaching, especially the teachings of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum novarum (1891) and Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno (1931). It views both capitalism and socialism as equally flawed and exploitative, and it favors economic mechanisms such as small-scale cooperatives and family businesses, and large-scale antitrust regulations.

Socialist economics comprises the economic theories, practices, and norms of hypothetical and existing socialist economic systems.


Workers' councils are a form of workers' control. Council communism, such as in the early Soviet Union, advocates workers' control through workers councils and factory committees. Syndicalism advocates workers' control through trade unions. Guild socialism advocates workers' control through a revival of the guild system. Participatory economics represents a recent variation on the idea of workers' control.

Workers council

A workers' council is a form of political and economic organization in which a single local administrative division, such as a municipality or a county, is governed by a council made up of temporary and instantly revocable delegates elected in the region's workplaces.
A variation is a soldiers' council, when the delegates are chosen amongst (mutinous) soldiers. A mix of workers and soldiers also existed.

Council communism Political Ideology

Council communism is a current of socialist thought that emerged in the 1920s. Inspired by the November Revolution, councilism was characterized by its opposition to state capitalism/state socialism and its advocacy of workers' councils and soviet democracy as the basis for dismantling the class state. Strong in Germany and the Netherlands during the 1920s, council communism continues to exist today within the greater socialist and communist movements.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Workers' control can be contrasted to control of the economy via the state, such as nationalization and central planning (see state socialism) versus control of the means of production by owners, which workers can achieve through employer provided stock purchases, direct stock purchases, etc., as found in capitalism.

State socialism is a classification for any socialist political and economic perspective advocating state ownership of the means of production either as a temporary measure in the transition from capitalism to socialism, or as characteristic of socialism itself. It is often used interchangeably with state capitalism in reference to the economic systems of Marxist–Leninist states such as the Soviet Union to highlight the role of state planning in these economies, with the critics of said system referring to it more commonly as "state capitalism". Libertarian and democratic socialists claim that these states had only a limited number of socialist characteristics. However, Marxist–Leninists maintain that workers in the Soviet Union and other Marxist–Leninist states had genuine control over the means of production through institutions such as trade unions.

In economics and sociology, the means of production are physical and non-financial inputs used in the production of economic value. These include raw materials, facilities, machinery and tools used in the production of goods and services. In the terminology of classical economics, the means of production are the "factors of production" minus financial and human capital.

Historical examples by country


During the Algerian Revolution, peasants and workers took control of factories, farms and offices that were abandoned, with the help of UGTA militants. Around 1,000 enterprises were placed under workers' control in 1962, with that number climbing to 23,000+ in the following years. The FLN passed laws in the newly independent Algeria which partially institutionalized workers' control, creating a bureaucracy around workers' councils that centralized them. This caused massive corruption among new managers as well productivity and enthusiasm in the project to fall, leading to numerous strikes by workers inn protest. Following a military coup in 1965, workers' control efforts were sabotaged by the government which began to centralize the economy in the hands of the state, denying workers control. [1] Following the Black Spring in 2001, limited degrees of workers' control have been practiced in the area of Barbacha. [2]

General Union of Algerian Workers

The General Union of Algerian Workers is the main Algerian trade union, established February 24, 1956 with the objective of mobilizing Algerian labour against French colonial and capitalist interests. It was banned shortly afterwards, in May 1956.

National Liberation Front (Algeria) political party in Algeria

The National Liberation Front is a nationalist political party in Algeria. It was the principal nationalist movement during the Algerian War and the sole legal and the ruling political party of the Algerian state until other parties were legalised in 1989. The FLN was established in 1954 from a split in the Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties from members of the Special Organisation paramilitary; its armed wing, the National Liberation Army, participated in the Algerian War from 1954 to 1962. After the Évian Accords of 1962, the party purged internal dissent and ruled Algeria as a one-party state. After the 1988 October Riots and the Algerian Civil War (1991-2002) against Islamist groups, the FLN was reelected to power in the 2002 Algerian legislative election, and has generally remained in power ever since, although sometimes needing to form coalitions with other parties.

Algeria country in North Africa

Algeria, officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. The capital and most populous city is Algiers, located in the far north of the country on the Mediterranean coast. With an area of 2,381,741 square kilometres (919,595 sq mi), Algeria is the tenth-largest country in the world, the world's largest Arab country, and the largest in Africa. Algeria is bordered to the northeast by Tunisia, to the east by Libya, to the west by Morocco, to the southwest by the Western Saharan territory, Mauritania, and Mali, to the southeast by Niger, and to the north by the Mediterranean Sea. The country is a semi-presidential republic consisting of 48 provinces and 1,541 communes (counties). It has the highest human development index of all non-island African countries.


In 1973, with the end of the Argentine Revolution, there was a wave of strikes and workplace occupations that rocked the country as the first elections were held, mainly in state-owned industry. 500 occupations of workplaces were taken out overall, with 350 occurring between the 11th and 15th of June, mostly of media outlets, health centres and public transport and government administration. These occupations were predominantly done in support of Peronism, and failed to achieve any long lasting results on the eve of the Dirty War. [3] During the Argentine Great Depression, hundreds of workplaces were occupied and ran according to the principles of workers' control by angered unemployed people. In 2014, around 311 of these were still around, being run as worker cooperatives. [4]

Argentine Revolution Chupamela

Argentine Revolution was the name given by its leaders to a military coup d'état which overthrew the government of Argentina in June 1966 and began a period of military dictatorship by a junta from then until 1973.

Peronism Argentine political movement

Peronism or Justicialism (justicialismo) is an Argentine political movement based on the political ideology and legacy of former President Juan Domingo Perón and his second wife Eva Perón.

The Dirty War is the name used by the military junta or civic-military dictatorship of Argentina for the period of United States-backed state terrorism in Argentina from 1974 to 1983 as a part of Operation Condor, during which military and security forces and right-wing death squads in the form of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance hunted down any political dissidents and anyone believed to be associated with socialism, left-wing Peronism or the Montoneros movement.


Aboriginal Australians arguably practiced degrees of workers' control before contact with Europeans for thousands of years around farming, construction of villages, irrigation, dams and fish traps. [5] In Northern Queensland from 1908 to 1920, the IWW and the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union organized a degree of workers' control among meat industry workers. [6] From 1971 to 1990, Australia saw a massive wave of workers' control corresponding with strikes all over the country. Including:

Aboriginal Australians term used to refer to some groups of Indigenous Australians

Aboriginal Australians are the various indigenous peoples of the Australian mainland, Tasmania, and often the Tiwi people. This group contains many distinct peoples that have developed across Australia for over 50,000 years. These peoples have a broadly shared, though complex, genetic history, but it is only in the last two hundred years that they have been defined and started to self identify as a single group. The definition of the term "Aboriginal" has changed over time and place, with the importance of family lineage, self identification and community acceptance all being of varying importance. In the past, Aboriginal Australians lived over large sections of the continental shelf and were isolated on many of the smaller offshore islands when the land was inundated at the start of the inter-glacial. However, they are considered distinct from the Torres Strait Islander people, despite extensive cultural exchange.

Queensland North-east state of Australia

Queensland is the second-largest and third-most populous state in the Commonwealth of Australia. Situated in the north-east of the country, it is bordered by the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales to the west, south-west and south respectively. To the east, Queensland is bordered by the Coral Sea and Pacific Ocean. To its north is the Torres Strait, with Papua New Guinea located less than 200 km across it from the mainland. The state is the world's sixth-largest sub-national entity, with an area of 1,852,642 square kilometres (715,309 sq mi).

Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union

The Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union, better known as the Meatworkers Union, is an Australian trade union, registered with the AIRC and affiliated to the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The AMIEU was formed in 1906 as the Federated Butchers Union, and changed its name to the AMIEU in 1912. Its registered industrial coverage is "Butchering Meat Refrigerating and kindred industries." The AMIEU elects all officials from the rank and file for four year terms, excepting the Federal President and Secretary who are elected by a collegiate system.


The Austro-Hungarian Strike of 1918 saw between 390,000 and 740,000 people go on strike. Worker councils formed within factories to coordinate the movement.


Workers' control is practice in several businesses in El Alto's informal economy with the help of Fejuve. [9]

Bosnia and Herzegovina

In 2015, workers took over a detergent factory that was on the verge of bankruptcy, running it as a co-operative. [10]


Around bankrupted 70 enterprises have been taken over by about 12,000 workers since 1990 as part of the recovered factories movement, mainly in the industries of metallurgy, textiles, shoemaking, glasswork, ceramics and mining. This has been concentrated in the South and Southeast of Brazil. [11]


In 1981, workers took over BC Telephones' phone exchanges for five days in protest of layoffs and increased deskilling of work. [12]


During the presidency of Salvador Allende (1970 - 1973) 31 factories were placed under workers' control in a system called Cordón industriales before being destroyed by Augusto Pinochet.


Workers' control was practiced in Guangzhou in the 1920s [13] and the Shinmin Autonomous Region from 1929 to 1931. [14]


Workers' control occurred during the Prague Spring, by January 1969 there were councils in about 120 enterprises, representing more than 800,000 employees, or about one-sixth of the country’s workers. They were banned in May 1970 and subsequently declined. [15]


In 1871, the Paris Commune placed 43 enterprises under workers' control as one of the first experiments in modern socialism. [16]


Since 2016, several bankrupt factories have been re-occupied and controlled by their former workers who blocked the auctions. [17]


The Austro-Hungarian Strike of 1918 saw between 390,000 and 740,000 people go on strike. Worker councils forming in factories to coordinate the movement. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 many industries went under workers' control.


During the Indonesian National Revolution, railway, plantation and factory workers across Java implemented workers' control from 1945 to 1946, until it was crushed by the new Indonesian Nationalist Government. [18] In 2007, over a thousand workers in Jakarta inspired by workers' control in Argentina and Venezuela took over a textile factory in response to wage cuts, repression of a recently organized union and efforts to fire and intimidate union organizers. [19]


Workers' control had been practiced in Poland during the Revolution of 1905, as workers protested a lack of political freedoms and poor working conditions. Workers' control also occurred in around 100 industries in the aftermath of World War I with around 500,000 participants. [20] Notably in the short-lived Republic of Tarnobrzeg. As World War II was ending, workers took over abandoned and damaged factories and began running them between 1944 and 1947. In the aftermath of the 1956 Poznan Protests, workers' control was partially applied in 3,300 workplaces, but the top-down nature made people lose faith in them.

Russia & Soviet Union

Between the Revolutions in 1917, several instruments of worker representation rose up, called Factory committees. Each committee had varying degrees of workers' representation; with some acting as organs of worker control and management (or at least supervising the managers), while others acted as rudimentary forms of trade unions, participating in collective bargaining agreements. However after the October revolution, the factory committees became under the control of the trade unions, while following a continuing trend of centralization within the soviets. [21] [22]

On the 27 November 1917, the Council of People's Commissars (SNK) implemented a decree on workers' control. [23]

The USSR experimented with workers' control with the Kuzbass Autonomous Industrial Colony thanks to the influence from IWW from 1922 to 1926 before being destroyed by the government. [24]

During May 1988, Under Gorbachev - along with his reforms of perestroika and glasnost - the Supreme Soviet implemented the Law on Cooperatives. This legislation enabled and regulated the creation of worker owned and control of enterprises, while imposing high taxes and employment restrictions (which deterred the creation of them). [25]


Within the squatting movement in Barcelona workers' control is practiced, Peter Gelderloos explains:

They occupy abandoned buildings left to rot by speculators, as a protest against gentrification and as anti-capitalist direct action to provide themselves with housing. Teaching themselves the skills they need along the way, they fix up their new houses, cleaning, patching roofs, installing windows, toilets, showers, light, kitchens, and anything else they need. They often pirate electricity, water, and internet, and much of their food comes from dumpster-diving, stealing, and squatted gardens. In the total absence of wages or managers, they carry on a great deal of work, but at their own pace and logic. The logic is one of mutual aid. Besides fixing up their own houses, they also direct their energies towards working for their neighborhoods and enriching their communities. They provide for many of their collective needs besides housing. Some social centers host bicycle repair workshops, enabling people to repair or build their own bicycles, using old parts. Others offer carpentry workshops, self-defense and yoga workshops, natural healing workshops, libraries, gardens, communal meals, art and theater groups, language classes, alternative media and counterinformation, music shows, movies, computer labs where people can use the internet and learn email security or host their own websites. [26]

Sri Lanka

Workers' control was practiced in the Ceylon Transport Board from 1958 to 1978 with about 7,000 buses.


Workers' control has been practiced in several cities and towns during the Syrian Civil War since 2012 as they maintain agriculture, run hospitals and maintain basic social services in the lack of a state. [27] [28] Workers' control is also practiced in Rojava, with around a third of all industry being placed under workers' control as of 2015. [29]


Workers' control was practiced in the Free Territory of Ukraine in both factories and farms from 1918 to 1921, where it was crushed by the Red Army. [30]

United Kingdom

Workers' control was first practiced by the Diggers, who took over abandoned farm land and formed autonomous collectives during the English Civil War. In the 1970s, around 260 episodes of workers' control were witnessed across the UK [31] , including:

United States of America

Workers' control was practiced in Seattle in 1919, as workers organized milk deliveries, cafeterias, firefighting and laundry. [32]


In Yugoslavia, there was a limited degree of workers' control of industry which was encoded into law in 1950. This occurred due to the Tito-Stalin Split and inspiration from the Paris Commune. However, the poorly designed, top-down nature of the workers' councils led to corruption, cynicism and inefficiencies until they were destroyed in the Yugoslav Wars. [33]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Syndicalism proposed type of economic system, considered a replacement for capitalism

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Anarcho-syndicalism branch of anarchism

Anarcho-syndicalism is a theory of anarchism that views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and thus control influence in broader society. Syndicalists consider their economic theories a strategy for facilitating worker self-activity and as an alternative co-operative economic system with democratic values and production centered on meeting human needs.

CrimethInc., also known as CWC, which stands for either "CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective" or "CrimethInc Ex-Workers Ex-Collective", is a decentralized anarchist collective of autonomous cells. CrimethInc. emerged in the mid-1990s, initially as the hardcore zine Inside Front, and began operating as a collective in 1996. It has since published widely read articles and zines for the anarchist movement and distributed posters and books of its own publication.

Seattle General Strike

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Workers self-management form of organizational management based on self-directed work processes on the part of an organizations workforce

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Further reading