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A NARRATIVE OF POWER: TOWER COLLIERY AS AN EXAMPLE OF WORKER CONTROL THROUGH COOPERATIVE WORK ORGANIZATION

Authors


  • Russell Smith is an Economist. With other colleagues in the Management School, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC), he helped establish the Cardiff Institute for Co-operative Studies in 2000, and has since collaborated on a number of publications arising out of research being undertaken concerning cooperatives, social enterprises, and the social economy. He is involved in exploring cooperatives as social movements, human firms, and as demonstrable radical alternatives to conventional businesses through the concept of “deviant mainstreaming.”

  • Len Arthur is now a retired academic. He worked for over 30 years teaching trade union studies and industrial relations. For the last ten, he was the Director of the Cardiff Institute for Co-operative Studies (formerly WIRC), researching cooperatives. Academically, he is still involved in exploring cooperatives as social movements, how they can reconnect with the labor movement, and in developing concepts that may help this process, such as “deviant mainstreaming” and “transitional demands and actions.”

  • Molly Scott Cato works as a Green Economist, seeking to develop a sustainable and just economy. She is a Reader in Green Economics at Cardiff School of Management, UWIC and current Director of the Cardiff Institute for Co-operative Studies.

  • Tom Keenoy is Emeritus Professor at the University of Leicester and Honorary Professor at the Cardiff Business School. He has published widely and has a continuing research interest in organizational discourse analysis, the social construction of HRM, time and organization, the co-construction of management in cooperative organization, and the changing temper of sense making in academic work. Since 1996, he has been a co-organizer of the biannual Organizational Discourse Conference.

Dr. Russell Smith, Cardiff Institute for Co-operative Studies, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, Western Avenue, Llandaff, Cardiff CF5 2YB, Wales, United Kingdom. Telephone: +44(0)29-2041-6367. Fax: +44-29-2041-6930; E-mail: rsmith@uwic.ac.uk.

Abstract

This essay addresses the nature and limits of democracy in a work organization through charting the history and progress of the Tower coal mine in South Wales as a worker-owned producer cooperative and as a productive mine. Methodologically, the research relies on site observations, individual and group interviews at all “levels” of the organization, published documents, the cooperative archives, and the extensive and intensive local newspaper reportage. During its 13 years as a workers' cooperative, Tower expanded production in an increasingly competitive market, increased employment, opened up new markets, made a significant social contribution to the local economy, and overcame production difficulties, which would likely have shut down a privately owned enterprise. Significantly, all these were achieved through a management process based on direct democracy. Despite government strictures governing the mine industry, management control was exercised through a network of mutually interconnecting democratic processes and procedures. These included annual shareholders meetings, monthly board meetings, weekly production meetings, and daily shift production meetings led by elected “shift captains.” These were complemented by a continual process of largely informal consultation. Such processes generated criticism and disagreement as much as consensus and even overt conflict on occasions. The essay details the establishment and development of Tower Cooperative, identifying and discussing crucial questions, including: What happened to the nature of management authority? What happened to the nature of the employment relationship? What was the complex role of the union in the cooperative? The essay also evaluates the tensions over Tower's 13-year history as a cooperative.

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