OPEN TO DISCUSSION: LOS ANGELES, CALIF. S hould work be democratic? Should employees share decision-making power with management? What is work for? Only to make money? A better educated, more aware American labor force is currently raising such fundamental issues. . "The question of workplace democracy is rapidly becoming one of the major public issues .of our times," says Jim OToole, a professor at the University of Southern California's Graduate School of Business. O'Tbole, 29, a former track star and Rhodes Scholar, headed the Department of Health, Education and Welfare's task force which last year. produced the prestigious Work In America report. It showed job dissatisfaction developing ominously throughout America. Other observers agree with OToole's assessment. For example, Chicago author and radio announcer Studs Terkel interviewed hundreds of average Americans for his best-selling book Working. He discovered an ocean of discontent among workers and found that most jobs were "too small," meaningless, and unfulfilling to afford them needed satisfaction and sense of achievement Many new programs In response to mounting worker unrest, hundreds of businesses around the country are introducing new job enrichment and enlargement programs to provide workers with more freedom and additional responsibility. Business Â·expert-Peter Drucker, in his latest book, Management, advises businessmen to build organizations "in which every man sees himself a manager and accepts for himself the full burden of wharis basically management responsibility." Politicians have also gotten into the act. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.) chaired hearings on worker discontent in 1972 and introduced in Congress the Workers Alienation Research and De- veloprrient Act. In Ohio, Gov. John J. Gilligan,_actrng through his Business and Employment Council, established a state-financed Ohio Quality of Work Institute to -foster labor-management experiments fir democratic work arrangements. In Massachusetts, the legislature's Joint Committee on Commerce and Labor is planning a comprehensive study on the quality of work. Wave of the future On the union front, Paul Schrade,former Western director of the United Auto Workers, who himself labors in a Rockwell Internationa! plant in Los Angeles, predicts, "Worker jderpooacy and participation could well become WMMnEiin by Derek Norcross Teamworfc and shared responsibilities--plus access to company-financed continuing education--keep workers happy at thisTopeka, Kan., pet food plant. bargaining issues for unions in the years to come, especially if-union leaders properly respond to the needs of rank- and-file workers." What is workers' democracy anyway? At the very least it embraces the managerial view of employees as human .beings not robots. When management accords workers more responsibility, their morale improves, arid their productivity often skyrockets. Last year, a Kaiser steel mill in Fontana, Calif, was slated for closing because of stiff Japanese competition. The local union asked Kaiser to keep the mill open and listen to workers' suggestions on how better to organize the work. Kaiser agreed, whereupon plant productivity leaped 30 percent "It was historic/' a company spokesman reveals. "Management heeded the workers, and it paid off." A pet food factory in Topeka, Kan., owned by General Foods, has been specifically designed for worker participation. There, working hours -are flexible. There are no time clocks. Workers operate in teams, rotating in different jobs. 'The goal in that factory," reports Professor OToole, who visited there, "is for every worker to be able to do every job. When I inspected the plant I was amazed to find that workers, even those with little formal education, were able to repair the most sophisticated electronic computers in the plant. More education "The plant director, Ed Dulworth, told me that the number of workers who take advantage of the company's pledge to pay for the formal program of continuing education is three times the average for General foods as a whole. Apparently, learning on the job has whetted the workers' appetite for more education. It has overcome the sense of educational inadequacy which afflicts so many blue-collar workeh. "A second positive effect/' OToole points out, "is that the employees participate in -community and civic activities at rates unexpectedly high for blue-collar workers." Some companies have gone beyond job redesign and enrichment. In Washington, D.C., James P. Gibbons, Jr., president of International Group Plans, a prosperous insurance company, has turned over 50 percent of his company's stock to employees. Workers, many of them women and blacks, democratically elect management. They also enjoy the freedom to schedule tbÂ«ir own vacations and set their own dress codes. Successful employee-owners In the Pacific Northwest, a number of plywood companies owned and run by employees have successfully competed with more traditional firms. There are also European examples. In England, a profitable chemical firm, the Scott Sdder Company, is run democratically by its employees. In Yugoslavia, ail large and middle-size firms are run by the workers who elect a council that hires managers and sets basic policy for the company. At Renault's auto plant in Le Mans, France, and at VolvoV auto plant at Kalmar, Sweden, assembly lines have been replaced with technology adapted to human beings. Teams of workers assemble entire cars from start to finish. ^ Many union leaders, ironically enough, are even more reluctant than management to embrace job democracy. They are suspicious that job enrichment is a management trick designed to prevent unionization, that it is fundamentally postured to create "speedup"- and raise productivity and profits with no payoff for the workers. In truth, job democracy frequently threatens the power which many labor officials exercise in large, bureaucratic unions. Benefits predicted ' As it spreads, job democracy should bring many benefits to the country. The nations mental health could improve dramatically, and the crime rate may decline. People who enjoy and find fulfillment in their work also treat their children and spouses better. And most important, if work becomes democratic it is a good bet that employees will participate more frequently in public affairs. Democracy begets .more democracy. Professor OToole cautions that the Promised Land is still far away. Most workers believe that work organization is static^md not subject-to change, that it is their lot in life to learn and jive with it. They seek escape from work through shorter hours, absenteeism and alcohol. To alter that traditional philosophy, leaders in business, government, and labor, must continue to show the way by supporting more democratic work experiments.
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