Would You Hire You?

“To have faith in solidarity means to believe in others as much as we believe in ourselves and to measure others’ actions with the same yardstick we use to measure our own.” (Arizmendiaretta, p. 126, 305)

The other day, I was listening to different members crab about the work habits of other members. We have a peer review system in place that holds workers accountable to one another, but not everyone wants to use. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop them from talking.

It got me to thinking about my work habits. Would I hire me? Would I put up with my idiosyncrasies?

The quote above speaks to this dynamic, we need to approach each other in our co-operatives as adults and with the spirit of mutual self-help. This means more than simply holding each other accountable but also helping each other develop as human beings. Of course, as the quote suggests, it also means adhering to the Golden Rule as well.

We need to hold ourselves, first, to our own standards before we can expect others to meet them. More importantly, in a cooperative, we need to break away from the idea that our standards are the correct ones. The standards that we hold came to us through a social network involving our families, neighborhoods, and schools (as well as all of the work places in our lives). It shouldn’t surprise us that workers from different backgrounds might have different work ethics. I was raised with an Irish-American identity and often bristled at the idea of  “Protestant” work ethic (as opposed to the lazy Irish and Italian).

Creating an accountable membership requires that we define accountability. In doing so, we need to recognize that being an owner in a worker co-operative does not make anyone “the boss”. In fact, when we mimic the bosses in our past life while passing judgement on our co-workers, we aren’t expressing a worker co-op ethic, we are simply being jerks. The very jerks that we joined the co-operative to get away from.

Accountability in a worker co-operative is vital. However, our sense of solidarity requires us to put aside our learned assumptions of what accountability means and work with our fellow members to define it for our co-operatives. This isn’t a one-time process either, but a continual dialogue that will change with generations of members

It may seem like a lot of work, but I think it is one of the more exciting aspects of worker co-operation.

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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