HAVANA TIMES — Democracy in the Workplace is the title of a profoundly interesting documentary. Shot by Robert Purdy and Margot Smith in 1999, it follows the day-to-day operations of three California businesses managed by their employees:
- A printing house (InkWorks)
- A food store (Rainbow)
- A bakery specializing in cheese products (The Cheese Board)
The 27-minute film won the National Educational Media’s Bronze Apple award for excellence.
In these businesses, employees arrive at management decisions on the basis of consensus and/or votes. They can rotate in their positions whenever they want, such that no one is condemned to do a single repetitive task for hours on end or long periods of time. They also hold meetings to decide price polices, what to invest in and how to distribute profits.
Those who regard equality as a source of discouragement and apathy will be surprised to learn that all employees at these businesses receive the same salary, no matter how long they have been working there.
All employees have the same benefits package, which includes medical and dental insure, four-week vacations and legal services (all paid for by the cooperative).
Those who look exclusively to economic growth to gauge a business’ performance should look at these cooperatives, which have been functioning in this fashion since the beginning of the seventies and haven’t only managed to stay afloat but also to generate more jobs and to diversify.
One of the noteworthy characteristics of these projects is the fact they help other, similar businesses get started. Some are inspired by the cooperatives of Mondragon, Spain, others by revolutionary trade union and community movements and others even by vegetarian and vegan traditions.
Far from idealizing cooperatives, the documentary offers a realistic portrait of these businesses, showing us the bad times they go through, as well as the responsibilities and pressures that the privilege of working under such conditions entails.
With practical examples, it demonstrates how well private property can be managed by workers, in contrast to the “property of the workers” administered by State officials.
It also shows us how the right to elect a president every so often pales in comparison to the possibility of working at a truly democratic workplace every day.
Many Left currents in the past century called for the complete abolition of alienated labor and boredom. Initiatives like the ones explored by the documentary may well be a step in that direction.
There is still a long way to go in Cuba before initiatives of this nature can come into being. Small family businesses may constitute a first step in that direction.
I recommend this documentary to all those looking for alternatives to wage slavery.