Did A California Company Just Prove Marx Right?
Morning Star is a California company that is responsible for processing 40% of California’s tomato crop. They also have no management. (Via Reason.tv):
Morning Star has many of the usual positions that one would expect at an ordinary company: there are floor workers, payroll personnel, folks that handle the mail and outside communications, and so on. The difference is that, from a bird’s eye view, no single person at Morning Star is anybody else’s boss. The entire operation appears to thrive on the power of collective expectations, and by giving workers a direct stake in the success of the company. Workers at Morning Star make their own decisions about how to perform their job, what tools they need to keep the machines running, and how to structure their work day to keep production running smoothly. As one employee put it, there is no bureaucracy that he has to fight through if he needs something for his lab. He just goes out and purchases it.
To some, this may seem like a frightfully inefficient way to run a business. If employees can make instantaneous discretionary purchases of lab equipment on the company dime, then where is the cost control? Such a system seems doomed to failure without a hierarchy of some sort to check potentially unwise exercises of indiscretion.
The answer is that these checks are built into the system of collective expectations. As another Morning Star employee put it, Morning Star’s business model presumes that employees who are closest to a particular business process are the most qualified to make decisions about how to keep that process running efficiently. Thus, one would expect an unwise purchase to be met with scrutiny by one’s peers on the factory floor. Morning Star’s firm model thrives by ensuring that one individual is never and uncontested decision-maker solely responsible for decisions related to a business process at the company. Every worker has a stake in the outcome of everybody else’s labor. The threat of discipline from management is unnecessary to achieve desired outcomes.
Morning Star is not the first company to adopt this business model. Valve Corp., a wildly successful Video Game company that currently dominates the Video Game industry through it’s Steam platform, also has no formal management. Gore Inc., the makers of Gore-Tex, are an 8,500 strong company that has no company organization chart. Though Gore does retain a few corporate officer titles for various purposes within the company, those officials have little direct power over other employees in the corporation. Those same officers are also not unilaterally chosen by the Board of Directors, but rather, in a more democratic fashion:
In Gore’s self-regulating system, all the normal management rules are reversed. In this back-to-front world, leaders aren’t appointed: they emerge when they accumulate enough followers to qualify as such. So when the previous group CEO retired three years ago, there was no shortlist of preferred candidates. Alongside board discussions, a wide range of associates were invited to nominate to the post someone they would be willing to follow. ‘We weren’t given a list of names – we were free to choose anyone in the company,’ Kelly says. ‘To my surprise, it was me.’
Other firms have shown that “non-management management” approach is feasible. At IDEO Corp., a Palo Alto engineering company responsible for such ubiquitous inventions as squeezable toothpaste tubes, or the mouse you are using to point & click things on your computers, there are no bosses, and no management structure. Sun Hydraulics is a $170 million dollar manufacturing firm with no job titles, no organization chart, and even lacks job performance criteria for its employees. There is a Plant Manager, but their job is not to supervise employees: it’s to water the company’s plants.
How are so many companies, in areas as diverse as tomato farming, hydraulics production, and video game production, running successful businesses without traditional management? In a society built on Capitalism, the common wisdom is that productive firms require managers with coercive authority to motivate people to do their jobs. Most ordinary people are shocked when they learn that there are companies who stay profitable with no bosses. How can this be an efficient way to run a company?
As it turns out, there’s a lot of evidence that top-down management is an inefficient form of firm organization. Gary Hamel, writing for the Harvard Business Review, noted several reasons to abandon traditional management hierarchies, one of which is the fact that managers add both personnel costs and unnecessary complexity to a firm:
A small organization may have one manager and 10 employees; one with 100,000 employees and the same 1:10 span of control will have 11,111 managers. That’s because an additional 1,111 managers will be needed to manage the managers. In addition, there will be hundreds of employees in management-related functions, such as finance, human resources, and planning. Their job is to keep the organization from collapsing under the weight of its own complexity. Assuming that each manager earns three times the average salary of a first-level employee, direct management costs would account for 33% of the payroll.
Top-down management also centralizes risk-taking in the hands of fewer decision-makers, which increases the likelihood of a disastrous event:
… As decisions get bigger, the ranks of those able to challenge the decision maker get smaller. Hubris, myopia, and naïveté can lead to bad judgment at any level, but the danger is greatest when the decision maker’s power is, for all purposes, uncontestable. Give someone monarchlike authority, and sooner or later there will be a royal screwup. A related problem is that the most powerful managers are the ones furthest from frontline realities. All too often, decisions made on an Olympian peak prove to be unworkable on the ground.
The personal whims of managers can also kill or disincentivize ideas that are good for the company, especially when ideas have to be filtered through multiple levels of management:
…[A] multitiered management structure means more approval layers and slower responses. In their eagerness to exercise authority, managers often impede, rather than expedite, decision making. Bias is another sort of tax. In a hierarchy the power to kill or modify a new idea is often vested in a single person, whose parochial interests may skew decisions.
Then there’s “the cost of tyranny:”
The problem isn’t the occasional control freak; it’s the hierarchical structure that systematically disempowers lower-level employees. For example, as a consumer you have the freedom to spend $20,000 or more on a new car, but as an employee you probably don’t have the authority to requisition a $500 office chair. Narrow an individual’s scope of authority, and you shrink the incentive to dream, imagine, and contribute.
The success of these business models demonstrate one of the fundamental criticisms of traditional Capitalist modes of production that Marx attempted to illustrate when he was writing Das Kapital. While Marx was wrong (in my opinion) about quite a few things, the success of the companies above demonstrates that Marx was correct to point out that divorcing employees from management decisions related to their own labor is an inherently inefficient means of production. Divorcing employees from the product of their labor separates them from one of the primary motivating forces to perform that labor. This process of alienation itself is what creates the necessity for “bosses”—employees whose primary purpose is to oversee & discipline other employees in their assigned tasks.
Thus, what we really see in Marx’s Theory of Labor Alienation was, inter alia, an argument about firm management: the need for “bosses” in the workplace only arises when employees are completely divorced from the means of production. When workers have a direct stake in the final product of their labor, they no longer need the threat of coercion from superiors to do their job. An employee’s direct interest in the outcome, combined with the power of collective expectations of their peers in the workplace, replaces the threat of, and need for, discipline from above.
With all this being said: I am not attempting to argue here that the success of non-managed firms proves that stateless socialism is viable, or validates Marxism writ large. Indeed, I’m sure that the folks at Reason have a much different view on Morning Star’s success than I do—and moreover, I remain, as I have always been, a fan of mixed economies.
What I think is clear, however, is that Marxist theorists are right to point out that there is nothing inherently “natural” or “necessary” about the way the workplace is organized in most Western societies today. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that top-down hierarchies in the workplace are neither necessary for profitability, nor an extension of natural human activities. Indeed, if Gary Hamel’s observations about the inefficiency of management are true, we appear to have been doing it wrong for quite some time. Though perhaps we could have come to the same conclusion more easily by just reading Dilbert comics:
MLK vs “right to work” laws.
"The so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws — they don’t have to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money."
President Obama • During a speech in Michigan today, clearly laying out his views on a new law that will make Michigan the 24th “right to work” state in the country. Michigan’s House of Representatives is expected to review the bill on Tuesday, and Gov. Rick Snyder could sign it into law by the end of the day. Massive protests took place at the capital building, and union workers opposed to its passage say they’ll be back tomorrow. source (via shortformblog)
The term “McJob” has come to epitomize all that’s wrong with the low-wage service industry jobs that are growing part of the U.S economy. “It beats flipping burgers,” the cliché goes, because no matter what your job might be, it’s assumed to be better than working in a fast-food restaurant.
Today in New York City, though, hundreds of workers at dozens of fast-food chain stores are walking out on strike, demanding better of those jobs. At McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, and Domino’s Pizza locations, workers have been organizing, and today they launch their campaign. They want a raise, to $15-an-hour from their current near-minimum wage pay, and recognition for their independent union, the Fast Food Workers Committee.
Saavedra Jantuah, who works at a Burger King on 34th St. in Manhattan, explained that the $7.30 she makes per hour after two years on the job doesn’t pay her enough to support her son. “I’m doing it for him, I’m going on strike so I can bring my family together underneath one household,” she said. “A union can help us get to where we can make it in New York.”
Cannot even express how thrilled I am about this story. I’ll be on the picket lines with the workers in a couple of hours, with photos and more stories. Service jobs don’t have to be lousy jobs—respect and a decent wage would do a lot.
Food workers need this SO desperately.(via stfuconservatives)
"The host societies of migrant Filipina domestic workers should also be held more accountable for their welfare and for that of their families. These women’s work allows First World women to enter the paid labor force. As one Dutch employer states, “There are people who would look after children, but other things are more fun. Carers from other countries, if we can use their surplus carers, that’s a solution.”"
The Care Crisis in the Philippines: Children and Transnational Families in the New Global Economy by Rhacel Salazar Parrena
Most receiving countries have yet to recognize the contributions of their migrant care workers. They have consistently ignored these workers’ rights and limited their full incorporation into society. The wages of migrant workers are so low that they cannot afford to bring their own families to join them, or to regularly visit their children in the Philippines; relegated to the status of guest workers, they are restricted to the low-wage employment sector, and with very few exceptions, the migration of their spouses and children is also restricted.” These arrangements work to the benefit of employers, since migrant care workers can give the best possible care for their employers’ families when they are free of care-giving responsibilities to their own families. But there is a dire need to lobby for more inclusive policies,and for employers to develop a sense of accountability for their workers’ children. After all, migrant workers significantly help their employers to reduce their families’ care deficit.
I’d like to draw the attention of white feminists here. Why are immigrants’ rights, and the rights of domestics who are women of color, not an intregal part of your platform? Why isn’t Caitlin Moran, Jessica Valentine, or any other major white feminist talking about the care crisis in third world nations as impoverished women facing daunting lives move to entirely new worlds to take care of WHITE CHILDREN so that WHITE WOMEN can go to work?
Your advocacy, your movement, is built on the backs of THESE WOMEN and Black women who have had to IGNORE THEIR OWN FAMILIES, THEIR OWN CHILDREN, SO THAT YOU COULD LEAVE THE HOUSE.
If there is ever an issue that is FOUNDATIONAL to the lives of well-to-do white women or Western feminists in general, it is the appalling way domestic workers are treated. While that Caribbean nanny, Black mami, or Filipina au pair takes care of your child, did you ever stop to think about their families and the lives they’ve left behind?
How without immigrants or women of color, white women wouldn’t be able to work at their own leisure? That white men wouldn’t enjoy the knowledge that there is no such thing as a care crisis in America?(via rafsimon-murderer)
Three points about Twinkies
1. It is sick that people are focusing on the possibility that there might be a few less options in the snack food aisle rather than the fact that thousands of people are going to lose their jobs due to the Hostess liquidation.
2. Twinkies are probably not going to disappear. Some other company or companies will buy Hostess’s assets (like they tried to the last time Hostess went bankrupt due to inept management). The labeling on the box will change but the product will still be available.
3. Fuck your Twinkies.
I have 0 sympathy for people who knowingly ruin a company because they want a raise
1. You’re a smug prick.
2. You’re also an ignorant prick. Inept management tanked the company, not the strike. Hostess has been in trouble for years.
3. You value junk food over people’s jobs and lives. You’re a terrible person.
Open battle between striking teamsters armed with pipes and the police in the streets of Minneapolis, June 1934
The citywide Minneapolis Teamster’s Local 574 strike began on May 16, 1934. The fundamental issue in the strike was over the open or closed shop with regard to transportation and warehouse unionization in this Midwestern city.
After facing off against cops, bosses’ goons, business union misleaders, two-faced politicians, the Citizen’s Alliance and the National Guard, the Teamsters broke the back of the formerly open-shop citadel, Minneapolis, ushering in what became a union city.
Four workers died by cops’ and goons’ guns and/or other weapons during this strike. Illuminating features of this strike were the willingness of the strikers to independently fight on their own terms, many times physically, and also form military formations, drawing on the experience of many of the strikers who were WWI veterans.
Thus, the strike leaders, anticipating that they would be facing naked state oppression eventually, led the strikers to set up and run infirmaries, soup kitchens, flying squadrons and the like.
Furthermore, a critical aspect of this strike was the formation of the Minneapolis Organization of the Unemployed. The Minneapolis Teamster’s leadership made it a priority to include the unemployed organization as a formal part of their union. Thus the unemployed as well as sympathetic farmers were life-and-death allies of the strikers and played valuable tactical and strategic roles in the strike and thereafter.
The successful conclusion of this strike by Local 574 led to the unionization of over-the-road truckers and other workers throughout the Midwest and nationally.
Bryan G. Pfeifer, “Lessons of three strikes from 1934 needed now”
"If any man tells you he loves America, yet hates labor, he is a liar. If any man tells you he trusts America, yet fears labor, he is a fool."
Abraham Lincoln (via cognitivedissonance)
Supporters of Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Movement) revolutionary trade unions prepare for the 2012 May Day march in Manila, the Philippines.
“Genuine equality between the sexes can only be realized in the process of the socialist transformation of society as a whole.” - Mao Zedong, Introductory note to “Women Have Gone to the Labour Front”, 1955, The Socialist Upsurge in China’s Countryside, Chinese ed., Vol. I.
Our community has lost another great artist. Louis Reyes Rivera, prolific writer, poet, and activist, has passed.
For those who may not know much of Rivera, he was an influential educator and artist. Steeped in a Pan-African outlook and dedicated to teaching those around him, Louis made numerous literary contributions. Despite earning many accolades, he was always approachable. The winner of many literary awards came to be known as “The People’s Poet” through his embrace of issues of everyday folks. One of his sharpest points of focus was on the connection between African-American and Latino culture.
Rivera was born in New York City in 1945. Raised in Brooklyn, he would come to do some vital things in the world of activism. He was a key person in the struggle of Black and Puerto Rican students back in the 1960′s. Louis was a student leader in the 1969 takeover of City College, and the co-founder of The Paper, a student publication for people of color. Without the efforts of Rivera amongst others, generations of people of color would not have had the opportunity for higher education.
Always willing to reach back into the community and share his wealth of knowledge, Louis could often be found at a workshop or classroom. He would teach on the finer points of poetry, knowing your rights as a writer, and carrying forth the history of the oppressed through artistic means. He was a member of the National Writers Union and performed a piece at the 30th anniversary of the organization late last year. He held workshops at the Harlem Book Fair, and performed on Def Poetry.
Louis Reyes Rivera was a conduit of information, and inspired many artists and activists. He will definitely be missed. For paving the way for countless students of color to gain access to public higher education, I must say Rest in Power, and thank you. Rivera was 67 years old.
-Marc W. Polite
There is no such thing as a pacifist labor strike. There has never been one in history. The success of a strike comes with the bosses’ knowledge that strikers will physically keep/push out scabs.
Labor historians and union folk need to publicly speak up about this when this debate is raised.
Even strikes in which no scabs are brought in and the strike is successful without violence only happen because the boss knows that the union has and will physically force their issue. It’s kind of like Mike Tyson calmly telling you to move out of the way at a nightclub. He doesn’t have to actually lay hands on you, but you know what will happen if you don’t, and the interaction can not be classified as non-violent.
There would be no unions right now if the union movement had been a non-violent movement. We would all be working 18-hour days from the time we were 8 years old."
Boots Riley (via fuckyeahmarxismleninism)
Reuters Campaign Finance Correspondent Alina Selyukh sent in this photo from CPAC where Occupy protesters and unions are demonstrating.
Crowds of people were chanting “We got sold out” and “We are the 99 percent” in a demonstration dubbed the “War on workers.”
Another protest is planned for later this evening, Selyukh reports. [REUTERS/Alina Selyukh]
The shameful deeds of the British State in Derry on January 30th will always be remembered as Bloody Sunday, but often forgotten are its shameful deeds of January 31st 1919, or ‘Bloody Friday’.
“On Friday 31 January 1919 upwards of 60,000 demonstrators gathered in George Square in support of the 40-hours strike and to hear the Lord Provost’s reply to the workers’ request for a 40-hour week. Whilst the deputation was in the building the police mounted a vicious and unprovoked attack on the demonstrators, felling unarmed men and women with their batons. The demonstrators, with the ex-servicemen to the fore, quickly retaliated with fists, iron railings and broken bottles, and forced the police into a retreat.”
“An estimated 10000 English troops in total were sent to Glasgow in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of George Square. This was in spite of a full battalion of Scottish soldiers being stationed at Maryhill barracks in Glasgow at the time. No Scottish troops were deployed, with the government fearing that fellow Scots, soldiers or otherwise, would go over to the workers side if a revolutionary situation developed in Glasgow.
On 10 February 1919 the 40-hours strike was called off by the Joint Strike Committee. Whilst not achieving their stated aim of a 40-hour working week, the striking workers from the engineering and shipbuilding industries did return to work having at least negotiated an agreement that guaranteed them a 47-hour working week; 10 hours less than they were working prior to the strike.”