Dispute Resolution

This seems to be the Year of Dispute Resolution in worker co-operatives. At least, I seem to be hearing that phrase a lot lately. Part of this might be the course in Human Relations that I took from the St. Mary’s MMCCU program in the Spring. The other might be that the down economy is creating climates in worker co-ops that bring out some problems that had been ignored during the good times.

The Co-operative UK just recently posted a primer for Mediation in Worker Co-ops. I also know of a couple of co-operatives undergoing some significant conflict. One of them probably won’t make it.

It is interesting to me that worker co-operatives don’t always handle conflict very well. I’ve had friends lecture me on the topic. They expect to have bad conflicts where they work because it is corporate America and workers have little rights. They really can’t believe how nasty some of the conflicts can be in a worker co-op.

I don’t think its all that bad, of course. In some cases, the ability to have an open conflict is a benefit in a worker co-operative. The conflict may not look pretty from the outside, but it is happening out in the open and not in the form of beaureaucratic back-stabbing that makes up so much of the humor of the comic strips Dilbert and Retail.

However, we should have a more pro-active way to deal with conflict. A lot of us do, or are at least working towards a progressive and positive model. The process must be formalized as much as possible. Without a formal process, an informal process will take hold. The problem with the informal process is that it naturally aligns itself with the “buddy system”. The in-crowd gets a casual system of dispute resolution and the “out-crowd” has to use whatever formal system exists–which may be the court system.

Efforts such as the one linked to above are great–especially since they are so willing to share with the rest of the co-operative world. Worker co-operatives should be leading the way in conflict transformation. As Don José often commented, worker co-operatives should be about social transformation and education. Workers come into our co-operatives with all of the baggage from their previous employers. Unless we work hard to overcome those biases and behaviors, we will fall into the same old patterns. We can do better.

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-op in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University and hopes to finish his Ph.D. in Business Administration soon. He has served on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Board of Governors for the Democracy at Work Network. He currently sits on the Co-op Circle and Mission Circle for Sociocracy for All. He teaches on worker co-operatives and democratic management in the summer at The Evergreen State College.
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One Response to Dispute Resolution

  1. I do agree that worker co-operatives are not a workers paradise and can have issues between individuals and individuals and the organisation, (like any other business). But well governed and operated worker co-operative offers a better solution to dealing with these issues properly, rather than stamping down authority from above like a traditional business might.

    The main reason this article got posted is recent changes in the UK, on guidance dealing with Grievance and Disciplinary. There is now more of a focus on, and expectation that thorough meditation takes places before any formal procedure is started.

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