Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 3 2000, page 69-85.
Democracy at the Workplace
The article provides an overview over the theme democracy at the workplace (traditionally termed ‘industrial democracy’). The point of departure is taken in the stepwise development of political democracy as well as in the fundamental division between ownership and labour and the lack of democracy within the employment relationship. Democracy in work is defined as a rudimentary phenomenon; elements, which exist in various institutions, and which allow employees and their representatives to participate in management decisions. It is argued that the growth of participation has taken place during distinct historical periods (where the balance of power has been favourable to labour), and that initiatives within the last decades have been formulated mainly at the European Union level. The development of strategies among trade unions and employer organisations is briefly analysed: While trade unions have moved away from a sceptical or even hostile attitude towards participation, employer organisations seem preoccupied by defending the right to manage. Research findings indicate that productivity as well as human welfare can be improved through increased participation. However, at the same time in most firms this potential for improvements is not utilised. The possibilities for a democratisation of working life is further discussed in the light of some recent labour market trends: Individualisation, more emphasis on human resources, segmentation, and globalisation. It is argued that these trends represent new challenges to trade union strategies for democracy at work. Finally, the article discusses the possible agents of change within the area. The author sees the intervention of the political system – together with visionary managers, trade union leaders and grassroots – as a necessary precondition for promoting genuinely democratic institutions at the workplace.