Co-operative Workplace Dispute Resolution: review

Disputes in the workplace are common – from long working hours, to the top down approach of managers - workers can often feel helpless at the hands of...

Disputes in the workplace are common – from long working hours, to the top down approach of managers – workers can often feel helpless at the hands of the company.

However, how does this change when the workers themselves are in charge?

Co-operative Workplace Dispute Resolution by Dr Elizabeth Hoffman puts this to the test. By looking at three industries – mining, mini cabbing and organic food producers – she explores how dispute resolution differs between private and co-operative organisations.

Hoffman delves deep into the industries she explores, speaking to workers on their turf and shaking out confessions – from disgruntled managers who felt displaced at the hands of the co-op, workers who fought for decent toilet paper and women who felt they could not solve their problems informally in a male orientated business.

The three industries were very different in the ways they approached dispute resolution.

The Coal Co-operative is perhaps the most interesting example, formally a private company under British Coal. Many of the miners had experienced both hierarchical and co-operative ways of working.

Speaking to the miners, Hoffman discovered a deep loyalty to not only the job, but also each other. It is this loyalty that lead to the miners buying back their colliery, when it went for sale during the 1980s.

Despite this loyalty, prior to becoming a co-operative, dispute resolution was very different. Many distrusted their managers or did not communicate efficiently with them.

The co-operative did much to change this; informal dispute resolution went up by a huge 90%. Before, all matters were dealt with formally or not at all, as workers would often just tolerate problems – in a co-operative, everyone, including the managers, was on the same level.

The mini cab industry was very different – unlike coal mining – members work individually and there is a big gender gap – with 85% of workers being men. The two organisations – Co-op Cab and Private Taxi, had a startling contrast in ways of dealing with disputes.

Workers at Private taxi admitted to just “lumping it” when dealing with disputes. However, Co-op Cab had a better system in place for people to air their grieviances – going out their way to teach new members the system.

The most interesting revelation came from the cabbing industry and the organic food producers. Hoffman noted that despite the co-operative's attempts towards equality, often this was not adhered to when small groups formed.

Areas such as gender equality in the taxi cabbing or racial equality in the organic food stores were still contentious issues.

Hoffman has written a fascinating look into worker co-operatives and through her comparison with their private counterparts, she successfully shows how working in a co-operative environment can impact on the workers.

It was the Coal Co-operative who showed it best – as many worked in both forms of business – many preferring the co-op model. Before, workers often felt trapped or unable to speak up, choosing instead to keep quiet, even on important issues such as safety.

The book suggests that instead of creating a more stable atmosphere, hierarchy causes workers to feel undervalued and disrespect from their managers.

Incentives used to encourage workers such as bonuses or prizes can sometimes cause them to cut corners to hit their targets. In worker co-ops, people are more likely to work for the benefit of the organisation and others, rather than the individual.

Co-operative Workplace Dispute Resolution gives people a easy understandable look at the benefits of working co-operatively, while raising issues around problems in equality overall.

The book can be purchased worldwide by going here

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