Pek: Sortition as the remedy for organizational degeneration in worker-owned firms

It is undebatable that in Western societies private firms are oligarchical institutions in which power is concentrated in the hands of the few. It is therefore not surprising that it is frequently argued that a major front in the struggle for democratization of Western society is the workplace. It is further argued that the democratic alternative to private firms are worker-owned firms. Such an argument, however, usually focuses solely on the formal issue of “ownership” and ignores the inherent oligarchizing tendencies of large organizations. A paper by Simon Pek in the Journal of Management Inquiry tackles the latter, crucial issue.

Drawing Out Democracy: The Role of Sortition in Preventing and Overcoming Organizational Degeneration in Worker-Owned Firms

Simon Pek

Abstract

Fostering sustainable worker ownership and control of their organizations has long been an aspiration for many. Yet, the growth of worker-owned firms (WOFs) is often accompanied by organizational degeneration: the tendency for a small oligarchy of unrepresentative workers to control democratic structures at the expense of the participation of everyday workers. Prior research suggests that organizational degeneration occurs naturally as WOFs become larger and more complex. Building on and departing from this work, I argue in this essay that an important cause is likely to be current practice around how worker representatives are selected—specifically, the near-universal reliance on elections. As an alternative, I argue that the application of sortition—the use of lotteries—to select worker representatives in major decision-making bodies such as boards of directors and councils could help prevent and overcome organizational degeneration, while also offering additional social and business benefits for workers and their organizations.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Yoram, thank you so much for sharing this! I hope the community finds it interesting. I had the pleasure of doing an interview on some of these ideas for a great series called The Common Share by Co-operatives First. There appears to be growing momentum to apply these ideas more broadly. You can check it out here: https://cooperativesfirst.com/blog/2022/02/07/choosing-leaders-by-lottery/

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] is a professor at the University of Victoria, Canada. He has recently published a paper called “Drawing out democracy: The role of sortition in preventing and overcoming […]

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