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Workers' control

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.

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' 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.

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]


In 1973, with the end of the self-proclaimed 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]


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. Some authors have argued that the green bans constitute a form of workers' control.[7] Including:


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.[10]

Bosnia and Herzegovina

In 2015, workers took over a detergent factory that was on the verge of bankruptcy, running it as a co-operative.[11]


Around 70 bankrupted 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.[12]


In 1981, workers took over BC Telephones' phone exchanges for five days in protest of layoffs and increased deskilling of work.[13]


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[14] and the Shinmin Autonomous Region from 1929 to 1931.[15]


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.[16]


In 1871, the Paris Commune placed 43 enterprises under workers' control as one of the first experiments in modern socialism.[17]


Since 2016, several bankrupt factories have been re-occupied and controlled by their former workers who blocked the auctions.[18]


The Austro-Hungarian Strike of 1918 saw between 390,000 and 740,000 people go on strike.


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.[19] 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.[20]


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.[21] 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.

Russia & Soviet Union

Between the Revolutions in 1917, instruments of worker representation rose up, called the Soviets. On the 27 November 1917, the Council of People's Commissars (SNK) implemented a decree on workers' control.[22]

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.[23]


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.[24]

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.[25][26] Workers' control is also practiced in Rojava, with around a third of all industry being placed under workers' control as of 2015.[27]


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.[28]

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[29], including:

United States of America

Workers' control was practiced in Seattle in 1919, as workers organized milk deliveries, cafeterias, firefighting and laundry.[30] From 1968 to 1972, General Electric experimented with workers' control in River Works, Masschusetts.[31]


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.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Ness, Immanuel (2010). Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present. p. 248.
  2. ^ Collective, CrimethInc Ex-Workers. "CrimethInc. : Other Rojavas: Echoes of the Free Commune of Barbacha : Chronicling an Autonomous Uprising in North Africa". CrimethInc. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  3. ^ Ness, Immanuel (2010). Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present. p. 248.
  4. ^ Kennard, Matt; Caistor-Arendar, Ana (2016-03-10). "Occupy Buenos Aires: the workers' movement that transformed a city, and inspired the world". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  5. ^ Pascoe, Bruce. Dark Emu.
  6. ^ "The History of the Meatworkers Union | AMIEU South Australia & Western Australia". Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  7. ^ "When Sydney was under workers' control". Socialist Alternative. 2013-03-02. Retrieved 2019-10-02.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ness, Immanuel (2014). New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism.
  9. ^ "Melbourne tram dispute and lockout 1990 - anarcho-syndicalism in practice". Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  10. ^ "Community Organizing and Rebellion: Neighborhood Councils in El Alto, Bolivia". Planners Network. 2007-07-22. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  11. ^ "Solemnly in Tuzla: Dita started producing powder detergent Arix Tenzo. |". Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  12. ^ Ness, Immanuel (2010). Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present. pp. 400–419.
  13. ^ Ness, Immanuel (2010). Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present. p. 338.
  14. ^ Dirlik, Arif (2010), "Anarchism And The Question Of Place: Thoughts From The Chinese Experience", Anarchism and Syndicalism in the Colonial and Postcolonial World, 1870-1940, Brill, pp. 131–146, doi:10.1163/ej.9789004188495.i-432.45, ISBN 9789004188495
  15. ^ "Korean Anarchism History". Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  16. ^ "The Forgotten Workers' Control Movement of Prague Spring |". Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  17. ^ An Anarchist FAQ A.5.1.
  18. ^ "Police attacks Viome's "Caravan of Struggle and Solidarity" after a fruitless meeting with vice-minister |". Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  19. ^ Ness, Immanuel (2010). Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present. p. 210.
  20. ^ "Indonesia: PT Istana, a factory occupied and producing under workers' control |". Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  21. ^ "Rady Delegatów Robotniczych w Polsce - -". (in Polish). Retrieved 2019-01-19.
  22. ^ "Decree on Workers' Control". Retrieved 2019-03-08.
  23. ^ "The Autonomous Industrial Colony "Kuzbass"". Retrieved 2019-01-18.
  24. ^ Gelderloos, Peter (2010). Anarchy Works.
  25. ^ "SELF-ORGANIZATION IN THE SYRIAN REVOLUTION | CounterVortex". 2016-09-02. Retrieved 2019-01-19.
  26. ^ "THE FALL OF DARAYA | CounterVortex". 2016-08-27. Retrieved 2019-01-19.
  27. ^ A Small Key Can Open A Large Door. Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness. 2015. p. 37.
  28. ^ Guérin, Daniel (1970). Anarchism: From Theory to Practice. New York: Monthly Review Press. p. 99.
  29. ^ Ness, Immanuel (2010). Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to Present. p. 284.
  30. ^ Zinn, Howard (1980). A People's History of the United States. p. 373.
  31. ^ Noble, David (1984). Forces of Production: Social History of Industrial Automation. pp. 292–322.
  32. ^ Ness, Immanuel (2010). Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present. p. 172.

Further reading

  • Maurice Brinton, "The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control". Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1978

External links