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Worker Collectives for Generative Justice

Theme
anarchy
Timestamp
2017-02-22

Abstract

How do marginalized people self-organize? Generative Justice provides an outline of self-empowerment for marginalized members of society, which takes many forms. Consensus-based worker collectives are one such form of Generative Justice, providing unalienable coownership of an organization. However, despite being a seemingly powerful form for Generative Justice, worker collectives remain a severely under-researched topic. This article aims to provide a platform which clarifies the terminology and concepts relevant to worker collectives, but also to utilize anecdotes, as a founder of three consensus-based worker collectives for transgender women, in order to demonstrate how consensus-based worker collectives are a feasible, effective model for Generative Justice. I also include specific implementations of, and the tools for, worker collectives for Generative Justice.

Acknowledgements

I'd like to thank Brian Callahan for reviewing this document. Thank you to the Hen Coop Social Group for helping every step of the way.

To all the people who've listened to me ramble on obsessively about these topics.

Introduction

Representation is an inherently classist system, whereby a ruling class is both dissonant of the people they represent and opportunistic of their power; this is the concept of "the state," which anarchists fundamentally oppose.[^13] Anarchy historically has been utilized by marginalized peoples, as the anarcha-feminism movement has outlined that the state enforces classism, especially affecting marginalized peoples, and removes any recourse from that oppression. However, it is a bi-directional relationship, whereby the oppression of marginalized people also serves to enforce state classism.[^1] Worker collectives are a legitimate and effective business model which answer to those problems and supports those philosophies; workers directly participate in governance and management, an ideal model for Generative Justice. Unfortunately, worker collectives are a woefully under-researched topic, I hope this article encourages others to add to the field, and that the article provide a basic platform of useful and relevant concepts and terminology.

Background

Others profit off of and exploit marginalized people's content and experiences, for example, companies utilizing memes made by unattributed black people in advertisements, WPATH's (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) unattributed trans contributors, Sam Killermann plagiarizing the work of trans women (the genderbread person)[^18], any number of horrible movies made by cis people about trans women (Danish Girl, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, etc.), cis white men getting accolades for publishing harmful nonsense about trans women. Marginalized people are continuously exploited and used as a resource by more privileged people, erasing the marginalized creators in the process. As Spivak reminds us, the subaltern can't be heard; claims for things like ownership cannot be expressed to those who possess power; those outside of a studied marginalized group cannot accurately articulate their problems, for they do not experience them.[^17] Worker collectives solve these problems by empowering the marginalized worker to retain full rights over their labor, their product, their content, and by directly participating in the governance and management of the collective, to establish their labor on their terms.

"Generative Justice" can crudely be defined as a member-owned organization formed to empower its marginalized members. More strictly, Generative Justice is "The universal right to generate unalienated value and directly participate in its benefits; the rights of value generators to create their own conditions of production; and the rights of communities of value generation to nurture self-sustaining paths for its circulation."[^2] Generative Justice is orthogonal to the overarching means of production in a society. With this article I hope to impart my experiences with anarchist cooperatives structures ("worker collectives") in particular.

As a model for Generative Justice, worker collectives empower and entitle its marginalized members to equal ownership, governance, and management of the collective. One such specific method, consensus-based worker collectives, allow each member to incorporate their voice into all proposals, allowing the worker to set the conditions of their labor and maintain the propriety of their content, both of which marginalized people are often cheated out of or restricted from, and whereby both constitute "true ownership."

An organizational model which is governed by its members is an anarchy; that is, anarchy is when the members of the organization cooperate through official means to make authoritative decisions, in explicit omission of representatives.[^3] Thus, every member has equal control (governance) and property (revenue, assets, etc.), whereby the combination of both is "ownership," whereby ownership is required for Generative Justice.[^2] The membership makes decisions cooperatively, as governed by their bylaws. Said bylaws enforce compliant behavior of individuals, but it also provides checks and balances for decisions made within the organization itself.

Anarchy has a history of being utilized by marginalized peoples, as the anarcha-feminism movement has outlined: the state enforces classism, especially to marginalized peoples, and removes any real recourse from that oppression. However, it is a bi-directional relationship, whereby the oppression of marginalized people also serves to enforce state classism.[^1]

Bakunin furthers the aforementioned point of the struggle against the state:

The State is government from above downwards of an immense number of men, very different from the point of view of the degree of their culture, the nature of the countries or localities that they inhabit, the occupation they follow, the interests and the aspirations directing them--the State is the government of all these by some or other minority; this minority, even if it were a thousand times elected by universal suffrage and controlled in its acts by popular institutions, unless it were endowed with the omniscience, omnipresence and the omnipotence which the theologians attribute to God, it is impossible that it could know and foresee the needs, or satisfy with an even justice the most legitimate and pressing interests in the world. There will always be discontented people because there will always be some who are sacrificed. And, in fact, what do we find throughout history? The State has always been the patrimony of some privileged class or other; a priestly class, an aristocratic class, a bourgeois class, and finally a bureaucratic class, when, all the other classes having become exhausted, the State falls or rises, as you will, to the condition of a machine; but it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of the State that there should be some privileged class or other which is interested in its existence. Bakunin, Michail. 1950. Marxism, Freedom and the State. London: Freedom Press. Available on-line: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/michail-bakunin-marxism-freedom-and-the-state

Anarchy proposes that members, collectively as a membership, are the best authority of that membership. That is to say, representation removes political power from the group, where representatives increasingly disparage workers' interests. This is contrary to the Westernized democratic fear that the people must be protected from themselves, i.e., "mob rule," or "the tyranny of the majority."[^5] To quote Peter Kropotkin:

In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense – not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species[...] in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits[...] and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development[...] are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay. Kropotkin, Peter. 1902. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. London: William Heinemann. Available on-line: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/petr-kropotkin-mutual-aid-a-factor-of-evolution

As there is an evolutionary advantage to cooperation for a species, in the prosperity of its members, I believe that similar advantages are yielded when applied to business, which I believe consensus-based anarchy best reflects.

Consensus is a process where participants come to an agreement which is composed according to every participants' voice.[^6] In contrast, unanimity is where everyone agrees by vote, however, unlike consensus, fails to incorporate the construction of the decision by all participants.[^7] Consensus can be a ground-up approach of crowdsourcing all efforts, accompanied by maximal information diffusion, while leaving room for formal proposals to be elaborated upon by such a process. Consensus comes in many different forms, for example, the CODM (Consensus-Orientented Decision-Making) model, which was developed by psychologist Dr. Tim Hartnett, which consists of seven steps: frame the problem, open discussion, identify underlying concerns, collaborative option development, choosing a direction, synthesizing a final proposal, and finally closure.[^9]

However, consensus and anarchy are nothing new to business, "worker collectives" are an established business model which has been using both consensus and anarchy for years.[^8] "Collectives" are a subset of "cooperatives;" cooperatives have a hierarchical system with a board of directors comprised of and elected by members, has board-appointed managers; collectives abolish hierarchy, each member is equally empowered to participate directly in governance and each member are equal co-managers and co-owners.^10

Implementation

Now that you know about the basic concepts behind worker cooperatives, here are specifics on implementations and tools. These tools are all tried and tested with success, not just by me. I thought it was important to present this information since non-representation in business is generally unheard of and may seem daunting or impossible at first. Hopefully the materials provided herein will change your mind on the aforementioned.

Adopting a model alone is insufficient for effective Generative Justice; the success of your organization boils down to good goals and the people who support them! Crowdsource those supporters for delicate planning and insight, for planning protections and benefits, in establishing checks and balances.

Harnett's CODM model

Psychologist Tim Harnett's Consensus Oriented Decision Model is a method of building proposals as a group. CODM allows for the group to build out proposals together, including proposals whose criteria/interests conflict. Here's a reductive example of what I'm talking about:

  1. The topic is "Celebration Food"
  2. Someone suggests pizza
  3. Another person says "Pizza sucks, I want tacos"
  4. Yet another person suggests "I don't want pizza or tacos, we should just get donuts!"
  5. The group builds out all three proposals together: pizza, tacos, and donuts. This means they figure out where to buy the food, how much it'll cost, the options, etc. The group is encouraged to build out each proposal to be the best it can be.
  6. A direction is chosen after hearing people's sentiments on the proposals developed

Of course, the CODM model is a more complicated process, Harnett's official cribsheet for CODM provides details on its steps:

  1. Framing the topic
  2. Open discussion
  3. Identify underlying concerns
  4. Collaborative proposal development
  5. Choosing a direction
  6. Synthesizing a final proposal
  7. Closure

Member Assemblies

A meber assembly, or member meeting, is a periodical, often montly or quarterly, meeting which serves its members by:

It is useful to establish a few meeting roles so they are efficient and timely, and hopefully overall a great use of everyone's time. Here are some good roles to have during member assemblies:

Clerks of the Office

A common question I hear a lot is "What about day-to-day operations? You cannot hold a member assembly every time you need to get anything done. What about sensitive tasks like treasury?" The answer is: you can of course have workers appointed by workers to help with matters of the collective! Here are some examples:

It is important that Clerks of the Office have a practically whitelisted approach of policies and actions they're permitted to make without getting permission from member assembly first. Members must be able to routinely review Clerk's actions, reporting must be transparent and criteria well defined. Must be able to be banned from clerk role by the membership.

Legal Bylaws

"Sample Bylaws for a Worker Cooperative," which was prepared by the Green Collar Communities Clinic (GC3) of the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) and by the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) based on Bylaws created by Tim Huet of Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives and adapted by Jenny Kassan of K2 Law Group.

Challenges

I've made many mistakes with worker collectives, this section elaborates on those mistakes and the general hurdles worker collectives face. Personally, the biggest two were not engaging the community more often and also not realizing my own limitations. I killed two birds with one stone by trying to get the community to do things for me! Getting the community to "do things for me" also had the added bonuses of creating ownership for those participants, and diffusing information.

Take things slow enough within the organization so that the membership is never surprised about changes, that is, make sure all members have a chance to participate. Try to make most things a process of revision through membership collaboration. Remember that without constantly offering participation, the memberships' ownership diminishes.

The biggest consistent failure I've made has been an unpreparedness handling interpersonal conflict. The relationships between each member is the fabric of the collective. Conflict has the probable potential to destroy the cooperative in an instant. Thus, incident reporting and handling becomes crucial. There must be official, discrete channels for reporting and resolving interpersonal issues. Resolutions must be decided, documented, and signed off by at least one accountable member entrusted to do so. Filling an incident report must be an action highly accessible to all members. On the lighter side of interpersonal member relationships, there are proactive measures which can be taken, one-on-one activities like chess (chess club), or group activities like celebrations of the membership's accomplishments (as a whole).

There's an inherent power or authority in any organization, it is important to make those powers accountable and transparent.[^11] There are many ways in which I failed to actually distribute ownership and control, so I often acted as a clandestine authority. I also failed to constantly incorporate everyone's input at any and every turn, which is so essential to accomplish member ownership and control, and for them to recognize their governance and property in the cooperative, even if it can be slower at times. It always starts slow, and that's ok.

A major caveat is the pitfalls of groups, e.g., groupthink, mob rule, peer pressure, popularity contests, and other hidden power structures which may affect the participation in negative ways. Thus, it is important that anonymity is accessible and promoted throughout all decision making processes and proposal building.

A lack of goals, starting a group without a concrete mission and set of goals creates an indefinite amount of directionlessness, to call back to what I said earlier: your organization's health is its goals and the supporters who believe in them.

Onboarding is very difficult. But it is crucial, for without a powerful onboarding experience power/ownership may never leave your hands. Onboarding is the foundation of generativity, generativity the foundation of any anarchical cooperative. Without generativity an anarchy ceases to be, it is important that operation information is diffused, else disproportionate power structures will emerge. Generativity is defined by Wikipedia:

Generativity in essence describes a self-contained system from which its user draws an independent ability to create, generate, or produce new content unique to that system without additional help or input from the system's original creators. "Generativity," Wikipedia

(Find a definition from somewhere else, or cite what Wikipedia cites.)

Onboarding is both short-term, such as technology setup, and it is also long-term, such as long-term learning, in-house networking, and exploring the member's relevance in the organization; offer chances to learn in small bits over time, provide chances to be mentored for on-the-job learning over an extended period.[^12]

A lack of accountability/responsibility of actions decided as a membership was another crucial flaw. Things were decided upon, but there was no action done to execute it; it is crucial that all planning be met with equal accountability.

Try to scale your process based on the size, community itself, and the nature of the organization's work. Don't create over-involving processes for what are initially trivially tasks. You can worry about fleshing out the governance as a group later, though it is important that a resolution system for incidents is created immediately.

The most important aspects of a worker collective are perhaps its decision making process, in addition to access and awareness of that process. No approach can be cookie-cuttered for effective Generative Justice. Balancing inclusion and timeliness is a struggle in decision making processes.

There are simpler problems with an anarchist cooperative as well, there's a difficulty with sharing resources among members, especially members-only materials (manuals, meeting minutes, calendar, etc.), time management during meetings, legally distributing ownership/property/governance, etc. Often it boils down to ownership, such as, who ultimately controls the...

Finally, and why I wrote this article to begin with: there's a serious lack of research and documentation regarding anarchist cooperatives, so even if you wanted to go in prepared, much is left to your intuition.

Triumphs

Meeting minutes were always recorded, and by a variety of people, and that those documents were made accessible to all members. Now that I'm done bragging about my babies I'll move on to some more reproducible tips.

I often took an observer role in meetings to see how smoothly they'd run without me. Everyone did a wonderful job adhering to the rules and carrying out the meetings, even instructing others on the rules. People were speaking their minds and those voices were incorporated into the cooperative's decisions.

I really love the process of consensus, because it's a decision process that feels like a natural and real dialog. Concerns are more likely to be raised and addressed. Also, we're wiser as a group and a diverse set of perspectives is invaluable. Holding meetings which were mostly open discussion seemed most rewarding to everyone. It was important to have an "empath" role, a person to relay concerns of those who are unable to (for any reason) address the meeting participants directly. It's important to put extra care into a delicate system of blocking consensus.

Responsibilities are distributed by means of those who are willing to be held accountable to membership meetings. This process can be automated by allowing member meetings to enact empowered committees which are held accountable by the membership. For example, you may not want IT concerns to constantly bubble up in member meetings, thus you could create an empowered IT committee to officiate procedure and bylaws concerning that body of work, accompanied by routine reports to the membership, by which all actions may be repealed by the membership.

Comment boxes and surveys are a great way of voicing anonymous concerns, especially if said data is presented during member meetings, for example, giving everyone the link to the form responses (Google Forms is great!).

When a communities' cohesion is strong enough, aid arrives naturally; I've personally seen members buy laptops and other necessities for the less financially fortunate members. Nonetheless, I strongly believe in providing at least one great benefits program consisting of a percentage of cooperative revenue, such as an emergency HRT medication coverage.

Also, the consensus-based worker collective model has resonated with so many marginalized people in a unique way I did not initially expect. I strongly believe there's something important in this field yet to be explored and discovered, as it is so woefully under-researched.

The cooperatives all succeeded in funding their programs, cost of operation, through mutual aid of the members, Patreon, Fund Club, and some luck with publicity (Twitter was a recurring godsend), the cooperatives all had a cause that resonated with the donors. Every cooperative I've been a part of has had some form of program where emergency cash relief is provided, especially for HRT (hormone replacement therapy, for trans women) that actually worked and was used often.

Feasibility

If the basic rules of participation are simple enough, and the goals are clear, people naturally gravitate toward cooperation, and things get done. By pulling from multiple sources for members, you can form a community which will share your goals, from there anything is possible.

When the worker collective needs to be legally established (which is a good idea when handling money and to protect your members against liability) it is possible to adapt many legally recognized business models into worker collectives, for example the "Sample Bylaws for a Worker Cooperative," has traditional officers by title, but the introduction and details show the members directly participate in governance.[^14]

The costs of Generative Justice can be extremely cheap depending on what you wish to accomplish and the connections you have. Patreon, Twitter, GoFundMe, were recurring tools of cash relief for members, for funding the organization, and for furthering the cause in general.

Effectiveness

A meta-analysis of 43 published studies substantiates positive productivity correlations are stronger in organizations owned and controlled by workers, as worker participation in decision making and worker ownership are most associated with productivity.[^16]

Things the worker collectives I founded actually did (and people will attest to!):

We will attempt to quantitatively measure the value produced by the members of the worker collectives in an attempt to ensure that we are truly comprised of a diverse member body make-up, even as we all share the axis of oppression of transmisogyny. As we believe in an intersectional[^19] (Crenshaw 1989) approach, we do not want to lose sight of valuable differences of our members, such as race, ethnicity, disability, and (non-)religious identity. Scholars have begun to offer quantitative metrics to measure Generative Justice as a way to produce a more complete understanding of diversity in group dynamics, and enable us to remain honest that we are not just doing diversity right "on paper," but ensuring that all voices matter in the conversations and value generation and circulation that those voices wish to matter in [^15]. Places where we believe we can use quantitative metrics include:

Conclusions

Worker collectives are a sustainable, feasible, and effective bottom-up effort for Generative Justice, organized by the marginalized group, for the marginalized group. Consensus-based Worker collectives are also, perhaps, one of the only (or one of the few) viable approaches to organizing for Generative Justice, due to their anarchical nature preserving members interest on that axis of oppression and more, and due to a maximal system of participation, the model offers a ripe model for measuring Generative Justice.

Citations

[^1]: "Anarcha-feminism," Wikipedia, Accessed 2017-01-06. [^2]: Eglash, Ron. 2016. "An Introduction to Generative Justice." Teknokultura, 13(2): 369-404. Page 382. Accessed 2017-01-06. [^3]: "Horizontal Organization", International Institute for Organization Research, accessed 2017-01-06. ISSN 0800-0220. [^4]: Eglash, Ron. 2016. "An Introduction to Generative Justice." Teknokultura, 13(2): 369-404. Page 382. Accessed 2017-01-06. [^5]: "Against (the concept of) populism," Barry Hindess, accessed 2017-01-06. [^6]: "Consensus Decision Making," ACT UP, accessed 2017-01-06. [^7]: "Consensus is not Unanimity," Starhawk, adapted from Randy Schutt, accessed 2017-01-06. [^8]: "Worker cooperative," Wikipedia, accessed 2017-01-06. [^9]: "Consensus-Oriented Decision Making," Tim Hartnett, accessed 2017-01-07.

Cultivate.Coop](http://cultivate.coop/wiki/Differences_Between_Worker_Cooperatives_and_Collectives), accessed 2017-01-07. [^11]: "The Tyranny of Structurelessness," Jo Freeman, accessed 2017-01-07. [^12]: "Employee Onboarding Program Strategies," Chronus, accessed 2017-01-07. [^13]: Bakunin, Michail. 1950. Marxism, Freedom and the State. London: Freedom Press. Available on-line: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/michail-bakunin-marxism-freedom-and-the-state [^14]: "Sample Bylaws for a Worker Cooperative," has traditional officers by title, but further investigation shows the governence is completely that of the worker collective. based on Bylaws created by Tim Huet of Arizmendi Association of Cooperatives and adapted by Jenny Kassan of K2 Law Group. [^15]: Callahan, Brian Robert, Charles Hathaway, and Mukkai Krishnamoorthy. 2016. "Quantitative Metrics for Generative Justice: Graphing the value of diversity." Teknokultura 13(2): 567-586 [^16]: Doucouliagos, Chris. June-26-2016. "Worker Participation and Productivity in Labor-Managed and Participatory Capitalist Firms: A Meta-Analysis." Volume: 49 issue: 1, page(s): 58-77. Issue published: October 1, 1995. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/001979399504900104. Available on-line: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/001979399504900104 [^17]: Chakravorty, Gayatri. 1983. "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. [^18]: cisnormativity. 2013-09-16. "The Genderbread Plagiarist." Accessed 2017-02-22. [^19]: Crenshaw, Kimberle () "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics," University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989: Iss. 1, Article 8. Available at: http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclf/vol1989/iss1/8