Arguments against balancing jobs between workplaces

Originally published at: » Arguments against balancing jobs between workplaces

In a participatory economy, jobs are recommended to be balanced for empowerment and desirability. A workplace is expected to combine tasks into jobs, so that everyone in the workplace has a job which is roughly comparable in terms of empowerment and desirability as others whom they work with. Every worker council is responsible for balancing…


I think Anders makes a number of very valid arguments w.r.t. attempts to balance jobs for desirability and empowerment among different worker councils, and worker councils in different industries. In short, I agree with Anders, and believe he has done a very useful job of explaining the various issues that should be considered.


I agree, important question regarding workplace self-management and Anders has done stellar job in making the argument concise.

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Very seldom people offer a concrete solution to the problem of disempowering economic tasks and the corresponding problem of hierarchy. Anders showed that the balancing of jobs to avoid that some people got the “fine” coordinater jobs and the rest has to do the disempowering tasks faces some major problems but what now? Giving up balancing economic tasks because they are difficult to balance? Do we have to start anew, thinking about it in completely different categories to find a just solution? Could David Graebers conception of avoiding the concept of depth help? What could? “The gift” of Marel Mauss? Another way of calculating? Rotating principles for economic tasks within a workplace?

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It’s a good article and a necessary step in the ‘theory’ of balanced jobs, namely systematically analysing the balancing of jobs between enterprises, how it could be organised, and the consequences.

Let me add: I believe strongly that analysis of job balancing - in general, not just between enterprises - won’t advance much without considering concrete examples. There’s only so much we can glean by thinking in generalities. By concrete example I mean picking an enterprise and thinking through, step-by-step, how job balancing might happen. For example, a restaurant, a bank, a print factory, an electrical utility company.

There are questions which arise in the practical details. For example, the difference between balancing jobs within a workplace and within an enterprise. Consider a Shell petrol station. Very little scope for balancing jobs in that workplace. But there is more scope within Shell the enterprise (ignoring issues of franchising here).

By considering concrete examples we get a sense of how things could work in practice. Insufficiencies become much more apparent, prompting us to consider solutions in a more targeted way.

While I’m here, I’ll also add: we should be thinking about balancing jobs in two ways. Static job balancing & dynamic job balancing. Static (one point in time) is what Parecon proposes. Given a fixed stock of tasks, distribute them among workers this year. Dynamic (through time) is what Pat Devine proposes in Democracy and Economic Planning. Each person has several jobs throughout their lifetime, passing through different categories of work (p. 171: planning & running, creative, nurturing, skilled, unskilled & repetitive). Anders touches on this in his article.

In general I think we need to be carefully identify the goals of balancing jobs and keep them separate. For example, pleasantness and empowerment can overlap but they are different. Unpleasantness can be compensated with higher personal consumption, but empowerment can’t (no greater consumption will make someone a confident and competent citizen). Also ‘empowering for what?’. Someone could work on an assembly line (unskilled repetitive) but volunteer as a youth worker in their off-hours (planning & running, nurturing, skilled; leadership, meaningful, etc). Is that sort of thing an acceptable substitute? If so, what are the implications for the system? If not, why not? And so on.

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Thank you all for commenting on the article.

I want to add another (personal) comment about job balancing within workplaces that I hope is appropriate in the context of some of the issues raised by Thomas and Aftertheoligarchy.

In my view, job balancing can never be more than a (strong) recommendation. It cannot be codified into some kind of law, with punishments when not adhered to. It is thus a bit different from the institutions of self-managed councils (one person - one vote) and participatory planning with a defined planning procedure. And furthermore, there is a potential contradiction between self-management and job balancing where self-management in my view must take precedence. If a workplace does a bad job of balancing their jobs or even democratically ignores the recommendation altogether I don’t see how that can have any consequences in terms of punishment.

With this in mind, I have personally always felt content by leaving the issue of job balancing in workplaces to future workplaces and, with reference to the arguments in the article, even disregarding job balancing between workplaces. It is not that I don’t understand the importance of job balancing. I DO believe it should be a strong recommendation and it should be strongly advocated but the actual and practical implementation will by necessity be up to the workplaces to decide, with their different focuses and preferences and they should be self-managed.

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