What is Industrial Democracy?

Felicia Dye

Industrial democracy is a system that increases the amount and the manner in which employees are involved in their work environments. Under this system, workers may be given many opportunities that employees working under other types of systems may not have. This includes participation in setting agendas, implementing policies, and electing members of the board of directors. Industrial democracy is credited as having numerous benefits, such as improving communication, resulting in more effective policies, and boosting employee morale.

Industrial democracy is a system that increases the amount and the manner in which employees are involved in their work environments.
Industrial democracy is a system that increases the amount and the manner in which employees are involved in their work environments.

There are some workplaces that employ numerous processes and structures that allow employees to have a voice and to be active participants. This is known as industrial democracy, and the manner in which it works can greatly vary from one organization to another. Employees may not always have the same amount of authority or the same opportunities in each democratic workplace.

It can be said that industrial democracy diversifies authority since all decision making is not left upon a small group. These types of workplace governing systems are often characterized by strong levels of encouragement for open discussion. In some organizations staff members may be able to propose topics for regular meeting agendas. Many organizations even allow staff members to vote on and to help formulate policies.

Industrial democracy can greatly improve workplace communication. When such a system exists in the workplace, there is generally a higher degree of interaction at all levels. Individuals become more accustomed to sharing information and considering suggested alternatives. Workers who may not take time to consider many workplace issues in other working environments often develop a habit of doing so under democratic systems.

Another of the benefits of democracy in the workplace is that it can often result in policies that are more effective than they may have been otherwise. This is because the people who are affected by the decisions help to make them. In other work environments, decisions are often made by people who have little, if any, knowledge of many of the positions that they affect. For example, a senior manager may make a regulation pertaining to the production department. It may be feasible for fabric cutters, but the regulation may be impractical for cloth dyers.

Industrial democracy is often credited for helping to reduce insubordination and other discipline issues. It is also believed that industrial democracy helps to raise staff morale. This results from the ability to be involved. Instead of workers feeling as though decisions and regulations are imposed upon them, they are more likely to feel as if they can choose what is best for themselves.

Some types of industrial democracy are representative. These involve third parties who act on behalf of workers, such as unions or committees. These third parties are not always outsiders but may sometimes consist of staff members who are appointed to act as representatives for the group. Under this type of system, instead of every worker voting on an issue, for example, the chosen group may consult with the staff then report the decision back to upper management.

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Discussion Comments


@Melonlity -- you've just described why the United States has steadily lost manufacturing jobs since the 1980s. We have heard plenty about how cheaper labor costs lead to lower prices for consumers, but how true is that? Furthermore, it has been argued that the trend of outsourcing labor has been counterproductive -- corporations save on manufacturing costs, but the resulting loss of domestic jobs has resulted in less consumer spending in the wealthiest economy in the world.

A lot of people these days argue for a middle ground -- it is possible to organize a factory around the industrial democracy model and still make products that offer both a competitive price and guarantee a healthy profit margin.

We will not see the industrial democracy model go away any time soon, it seems. Labor has been fighting for representation since the dawn of the industrial age and that theory has, in fact, given rise to a lot of federal laws that govern the relationship between workers and management (40-hour work weeks, minimum wage, safety standards, etc.)


How well is this approach holding up in the modern, global economy? One of the strongest arguments labor had in its favor was that businesses had to get along with workers because they were essential. With the trend in outsourcing, that argument has lost a lot of weight. If a corporation doesn't like the labor issues it is having, it can simply farm out manufacturing to a nation with employees that will work for less, don't tend to organize and are less inclined to challenge authority.

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