For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Freedom, Democracy, and Working Life"

by Breen, K (2015)


This article explores the republican case for worker voice in economic enterprises based on the ideal of freedom as non-domination and assesses its merits relative to two influential arguments for workplace democratization grounded on freedom understood as autonomy and self-determination. Two claims are advanced. The first is that the republican case for worker voice avoids difficulties associated with these two arguments. The second, however, is that the ideal of non-domination is insufficient and that an adequate understanding and defense of workplace democracy will also have to make significant reference to freedom understood as autonomy.

Key Passage

Workplace republicanism enjoys distinct advantages over psychologicalsupport and parallel-case arguments for workplace democracy. In contrast to psychological-support claims, its success does not depend on contingent causal relationships between the experience of working life and citizen virtues or on the instrumental benefits workplace democratization might have for the quality of democracy at the political level. Although these relationships and benefits may hold true, and would bolster the case for strong protections against managerial power if they did, they are neither required by workplace republicanism nor its focus. Instead, its focus is squarely on enterprise activities themselves, on the effects they have on employees qua employees, thus offering a direct, rather than indirect, justification for worker voice. And unlike parallel-case arguments, this justification does not presume close analogies between firms and states. The rationale for employee participation in enterprise decisionmaking processes is not that managers have power analogous in scope and magnitude to state agents. Rather, it is simply that they have dominating power, and this power frequently has intolerable consequences for people and should be curtailed regardless of any resemblances it may share with governmental power. Neither does workplace republicanism hinge upon tight parallels between the bindingness of state and enterprise rules and the claim that exit from them is similarly costly or constrained. (p.477)


Workplace Democracy, Democracy, Worker Voice, Freedom, Liberty, Republicanism



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