What will keep different sectors of workers from striking or behaving uncooperatively

The People
June 13, 1992
QUESTION PERIOD

After workers take control of the economy, what will keep different sectors of workers (both within firms and between firms and industries) from striking or behaving uncooperatively in other ways? Are you counting on some kind of spirit of good will to prevail?

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Before answering the essence of the question posed, we should correct a mistaken premise contained in the question itself: There will be no "firms" -- separate and competing businesses -- in a socialist society. The means of production would be socially owned and collectively administered and operated. Of course there would still be separate industries, and separate workplaces within each industry, each administered by the corresponding socialist industrial union body and its elected representatives and managers. But these would all be subdivisions of one unified socialist industrial union government; they would not be separate "firms" or "companies" competing with each other for markets.

With respect to the main question, there is a difficulty in answering questions that raise hypothetical, "what if concerns about socialism when the questioner does not indicate what prompted the concerns. In this case, the question, "What will keep ... workers from striking or behaving uncooperatively in other ways?", simply presumes that workers would have some reason or cause to strike or behave un-cooperatively. Either that, or it presumes that striking or being un-cooperative is something that workers do naturally, unless something "keeps" them from doing it!

The real question that demands an answer is, "Why would workers want to go on strike or behave un-cooperatively in a socialist society?" In our view, there is no possible cause or reason for them to do either.

We know why workers strike or sometimes are "uncooperative" with the employing class under capitalism-they are exploited, divorced from their product and oppressed under capitalism. But such conditions would not exist in a socialist society. The workers would collectively be the owners and administrators of the industries. Who would they strike against? Themselves? One socialist industrial union striking or refusing to cooperate with the others? Why? The burden of proof, so to speak, is on the questioner to explain why this might possibly come about.

NO INCENTIVE TO STRIKE

After all, in a socialist society, the workers would be receiving the full social value of their labor. Compensation would be based on an objective social standard-labor time. There will be no state-no separate, coercive body in a commanding position over society. Every worker would have a voice and a vote in the administration of the economy, with the power to elect, instruct and recall their managers and representatives-who would have only the authority delegated to them, and no special powers or privileges. In short, workers would truly be their own rulers in the industrial democracy of socialism.

Socialism would end the conflicts that now exist between the individual and the social interest. This is not to say that there will no longer be individual interests. On the contrary, the full flowering of our individual talents and interests can only take place when our common material needs and wants can be met in a secure fashion. All human beings have certain basic material needs in common, and beyond that, we have a mutual interest in having available a variety of other material goods and human services. And the best way to attain them with the least amount of required work is to cooperate with others on a social basis to produce them, and distribute them equitably, according to one's work.

Thus, socialism would promote a general awareness of the fact that cooperation among workers and abiding by the democratic decisions of the whole -- within a workplace, within each industry, and between the industrial union subdivisions-serves both the social and the individual interest. Conversely, it would be generally recognized that to be uncooperative with other workers or other unions, over what could only be, at most, relatively minor disagreements, would be contrary to one's own self-interest.

SELF-INTEREST IN COOPERATION

Workers would develop a profound sense of responsibility toward one another, and would come to recognize the value of cooperation for mutual self-interest, in the course of the struggle for socialism -- socialism couldn't be established in the first place without it. And the everyday practice of cooperation in socialist society would reinforce it. Thus, with respect to the second question posed, there would indeed be a prevailing "spirit of goodwill"-a spirit forged by the class solidarity needed to establish socialism, and strengthened by its everyday operation.

In sum, socialism would change the material foundation of society in a way that would cause everyone to see cooperation and adherence to democracy as being in one's own self-interest. By the same token, it would eliminate every conceivable material incentive that might cause a group of workers to strike or refuse to cooperate with others. Small disagreements might emerge over how to best serve the social interest, but a democratic process provides the best way of resolving them. We cannot conceive of any such disagreement that would cause a group of workers to want to undermine the process itself and jeopardize all the material benefits of economic cooperation.