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What is social democracy?
by Jay Gutman
2015-11-13 11:01:26
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Before the age of creative business and communication technology-driven business, most of us worked in an office, in a factory, on a farm or behind a stall selling something. We elected leaders primarily to make sure that we would get an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

The way politics worked was that in most healthy organizations you had unions, either in the form of a loose coalition or a more structured organization that was set up to negotiate with the leaders of the organization. We had different elements in that organization. We had the Communists, which most of us referred to as the company’s useful idiots. They usually came in the form of a worker who disliked change, kept counting his wages to make sure the boss did not omit a cent or two, was convinced that the boss wanted him out and his demands were non-negotiable. He was the kind of negotiator who would always stick to his original position, and that useful idiot was the guy we would send when we felt our boss was acting weirdly, such as abandoning his position for countless business trips or having delusional ideas for restructuring without bothering to consult us.

socdem01_400Then you had those of us who had healthy minds and who were in the lower management or positions, or sometimes in the upper management but had strong feelings of empathy, who thought that those who thought those who made more should be taxed more and that the company should help us better afford what we have trouble affording: decent housing, decent transportation, decent healthcare and incremental wages. We were the ones said to be “left-leaning” and in some countries we’re called socialists, social-democrats, liberals or “workers.” When we negotiated with bosses we were flexible, and our negotiations were just reminders for the boss not to go out of bounds.

Then you had those of us who were in upper management and dreamed of becoming bosses or leaders, and who tended to side with the bosses, although most of us kept in mind that we were still on a payroll. We thought that less taxes would help the boss invest some of the leftover money in projects that would help the company grow, but we still had in mind that some of that growth would go down to lower management in the form of incremental pay. Since most of us could afford decent housing, transportation and healthcare, we had the belief that it was up to workers to find ways to afford such luxuries. We were called “conservative” or “right wing” or other names.

Finally you had those of us who always sided with the boss, either because we were CEOs ourselves or because our father was a CEO, or because our minds were polluted with ideology. We thought it was a good idea to set up a wall between leaders and workers, and to call workers names like “immigrants” or “proletariat” or “communist bastards” and we never negotiated with workers, took unilateral decisions, restructured at will and treated workers as disposable objects. We hired workers to spy on other workers and encouraged them to tattle if they sensed that workers were getting organized, and fired anyone who showed any sign of inconvenience with his job or with our organization. In the past, in most organizations, the far right were groups who always sided with bosses and did not want to negotiate, and they were the useful idiots we would send to confront the Communist useful idiot, or at least to prevent the Communist from spreading his ideas too far.

This political model was the one that existed in most countries and in most companies, and at most labor unions. But since the advent of the internet, an age where workers were more concerned with posting stuff on facebook than helping the company grow, we have killed social democracy and replaced it with a political void, because we killed an essential aspect of political life: negotiation.

Negotiation works best when it’s carried out at a table. These days most leaders encourage workers to send them emails or messages on facebook rather than sit with them at a table, and workers are too busy checking their smartphones to care what the colleague sitting next to us is doing.

Whatever happens, we need to bring back workers to the negotiation table. Unfortunately, the internet has become so ubiquitous that when that happens when we bring workers to the negotiating table is that they quickly forget that they are in the middle of a labor negotiation and start discussing the muffins and pancakes they had at this new restaurant. I hope workers and leaders can work together to bring back social democracy.

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