A narrative of power: Tower Colliery as an example of worker control through cooperative work organization
Scott Cato, Molly
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This essay addresses the nature and limits of democracy in a work organization through charting the history and progress of the Tower coal mine in South Wales as a worker-owned producer cooperative and as a productive mine. Methodologically, the research relies on site observations, individual and group interviews at all “levels” of the organization, published documents, the cooperative archives, and the extensive and intensive local newspaper reportage. During its 13 years as a workers' cooperative, Tower expanded production in an increasingly competitive market, increased employment, opened up new markets, made a significant social contribution to the local economy, and overcame production difficulties, which would likely have shut down a privately owned enterprise. Significantly, all these were achieved through a management process based on direct democracy. Despite government strictures governing the mine industry, management control was exercised through a network of mutually interconnecting democratic processes and procedures. These included annual shareholders meetings, monthly board meetings, weekly production meetings, and daily shift production meetings led by elected “shift captains.” These were complemented by a continual process of largely informal consultation. Such processes generated criticism and disagreement as much as consensus and even overt conflict on occasions. The essay details the establishment and development of Tower Cooperative, identifying and discussing crucial questions, including: What happened to the nature of management authority? What happened to the nature of the employment relationship? What was the complex role of the union in the cooperative? The essay also evaluates the tensions over Tower's 13-year history as a cooperative.
The Journal of Labor and Society
Smith, R. Arthur, L. Scott-Cato, M. & Keenoy, T. (2011) 'A narrative of power: Tower Colliery as an example of worker control through cooperative work organization'. The Journal of Labor and Society, Vol 14, pp 285-303
This article was published in The Journal of Labor and Society on 05 September 2011, available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-4580.2011.00342.x
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