What is self-management?

Self-management refers to the radical notion that workers are capable of collectively owning and managing a workplace, without the need for capitalist management structures. In other words it talks of industrial democracy, in which democratic rights are extended beyond solely the political and into the workplace.

One example of this is the Wobbly shop model of industrial democracy, in which workers elect managers from their own ranks, with these managers answering not to a capitalist leadership but instead to the workers on the shopfloor.

There are many large scale examples of the practice of self-management in industry and in services, largely tied to leftwing political movements throughout history. A good place to read about these examples can be found in the history section of libcom.org.

What does self-management notes entail?

Self-management notes is a political project seeking to reclaim knowledge from the academic sphere developed to intensify workplace exploitation and pay workers less, and to invert it to empower the workforce's autonomy and drive to achieve better wages and conditions.

Read the pages on this website if you find yourself wondering why your manager thinks and acts the way they do, or if you're a worker or trade union representative in need of a guide to explain how your superiors are undermining your work in persuading other workers to join you in the fight for a fairer job and a better world.

This project is a preliminary series of notes collected across a wiki that can be read by anyone. Pages are occasionally edited and new ones added, so it is recommended to link to this website rather than post its content elsewhere. Additionally, all pages are copyrighted and posting the pages elsewhere is currently prohibited. This restriction may be lifted at some point in the future when the project has been completed.

What is workers' inquiry anyway?

Workers inquiry is a leftwing sociological tool developed most prominently in the short-lived Italian journal Quaderni Rossi. It can take a more conventional approach of carrying out surveys amongst the workforce to try and uncover how they are organised, if and how they are organised against management and what their experiences and grievances are. It can also take the form of co-research in which the researcher embeds themselves in the workplace in question and assists in the development of a workforce that is antagonistic toward management.

What method of workers' inquiry informs the research?

The project adopts a defined method for dealing with the concepts and practices underlying contemporary management strategies. It talks of capital and labour, the two social forces present in the workplace. It has a coherent theory underlying it that borrows from the unique perspective offered by workers' inquiry. Self-management notes claims to be extending workers' inquiry into the academic sphere by enquiring into the theories that guide the hand of management in the workplace.

Instead of leafleting questionnaires at the factory gates or directly investigating a workplace by taking a job in a specific industry, this project operates on a different level. Many of the theories and practices that guide the hand of management have, over the course of the 20th century, been compressed into a multi-disciplinary academic field termed Organisational Behaviour. This inquiry is conducted through research into literature from this field, merging investigatory readings with deconstructions informed by the perspective of the managed themselves, the workers. In other words, inquiry into the nature of management theory inverts the perspective of capitalist conceptualisation of the workplace to instead view it ‘from below’. This is to give the notes greater explanatory power and to demystify the concepts involved.

On taking a concept and dismantling it to reveal its inner workings, a set of facts lay the basis for inquiry. These are:

  • 'The modern working class, and not simply the one of today, want above all else two things: to work less and earn a lot.'[1]
  • 'More: they want power to guarantee these two conquests from the ebb and flow to which they are subjected to by the unchallenged domination of the capitalist interest.'[1]
  • This power is expressed through varying and overlapping levels on the shop floor: informal organisation, formal organisation and union intervention.
  • Pushing to build power distributed across these levels, is the first step toward revitalising labour in the 21st century.
  • Examining and deconstructing management science allows for the construction of new tools that invert and weaponise it against capital: 'The weapons for proletarian revolts have always been taken from the bosses' arsenals’.[2]

What are self-management notes' political influences?

Self-management notes has a number of political influences. It draws on the experiences of the trade union movement, radical industrial unions and leftwing sociologists such as Serge Moscovici, Alan Fox and Raniero Panzieri. It also touches upon concepts introduced by Mario Tronti.

A major influence upon self-management notes is the recently formed Survey and Research Committee in the United States IWW (Industrial Workers of the World). They operate a policy termed 'Research Justice', which is explained below.

What is Research Justice?

Self-management notes, as a form of workers' inquiry, is also a research justice project. Research justice refers to the use of research abilities to solve problems of social worth, which in self-management notes' case is improving the organising abilities of unions and pro-worker groups by informing them of the ins-and-outs of contemporary management science.

Self-management notes believes capitalism to be a pyramid shaped political economy that benefits the few at the expense of the many. It believes that by bringing the extra-parliamentary pressure of unions and pro-worker groups to bear on management, the beginnings of a movement to institute workers' control of industry and society might be formed. This is how the project conceptualises the final long term goal of justice, but it also recognises that in the short term, justice can take the form of gaining better conditions and wages for workers.

Self-management notes carries out preliminary research toward this goal of justice.

1. Tronti, Mario. 1968. 'Extremism And Reformism'. Contropiano 1.
2. Tronti, Mario. 1966. Operai E Capitale. Turin: Einaudi.