Life on the Shop Floor: The Experience of Employee Involvement in Industrial Democracy – David A. Reaux
David is a Human Resources Specialist and Trainer working in the area of diversity and equal employment opportunity. He has also been an HR Generalist and Employee Involvement Specialist. He holds a Doctoral degree in Human and Organizational Systems [12/11] from Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara California. Additionally, he holds a Master of Science: Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University, a Master of Science: Organizational Leadership from Chapman University and a Bachelors of Art degree in Business and Information Systems from the University of Phoenix.
Democracy for workers has been touted as a necessity for corporate America if businesses are to compete in the current manufacturing environment of the US marketplace and, indeed, the global marketplace. Current notions of democracy for workers claim to provide a balance of power between workers and managers, allowing workers the opportunity to shape how work is organized and perhaps fostering a sense of co-ownership of the labor process between workers, managers, and the owners of capital.
This research goes beyond the typical presentation of models of leadership and management by understanding how the laborer experiences employee involvement programs, and other forms of “industrial democracy” as they are presented by organizational theorists and management experts. I am interested in complementing the view of these theorists and consultants by exploring a shop floor view of what occurs when such a radical shift is attempted in industrial relations between capital and labor by asking the question, “How does the contemporary shop floor worker experience industrial democracy?” The view these workers present, based on their experiences, is significantly different than the expectations theorized by management gurus and OD professionals, offering a glimpse into the realities of how these programs affect the contemporary shop floor worker.
The idea of industrial democracy is construed as an economic arrangement that involves workers making decisions, sharing responsibility, and having authority in the workplace. The workers, however, present a different view. Based on their words and experiences, my research indicates that the intent of contemporary democracy programs is to increase production and alleviate employee strife that leads to work stoppages. Thus, current notions of industrial democracy, deployed by management consultants and popular organizational theorists, constitute just another method of employee control.
Keywords: Critical Discourse Analysis; Employee Involvement; Empowerment; Industrial Democracy; Labor Relations