Are we peasants or partners?

Peasants' RevoltPeasants of old right across Europe, and doubtless in most other parts of the inhabited world at the time, were ruled by rich and powerful lords and knights and bishops. And how did the lords and knights and bishops become rich? By taking stuff from the peasants they ruled. And when they wanted more, they took more. If the peasants objected they were thrown into prison, tortured and executed, often publicly, to encourage the others to be more obedient.

In today’s more civilised world, things are supposedly different. But are they? It is true that there are not many executions. But if you want to make a living, you have to get a job, and if you want a job, you have to subject yourself to the rule of your employer. The right of an employer to rule employees is in key respects not very different from the rights the lords had to rule the peasants. The employees’ views are irrelevant: the employer does not have to listen at all. There is no need to give the employees any information whatsoever. And when the employees create wealth, by working together, cooperating voluntarily and actively, then who gets the wealth? The employer. Just as the lords got rich by taking what they wanted from the peasants, so today’s rulers – the corporate and financial so-called ‘elite’ – get their ever more outrageous ‘rewards’ by appropriating from the people who do the work the wealth that they produce.

In one way employees are even worse off: the aim of the managers, the servants of the rulers, is to reduce the amount given to the people who create the wealth. As soon as they can be discarded, they are. At least the lords tended to want to keep the peasants around.

So if we are employees, then we are not players. We are not in the game. We are subjects to be used and discarded to pay the gambling debts of the financial institutions, and their servants, the corporate leaders and politicians who do their bidding.

Again and again the peasants resorted to armed rebellion. They were never successful, though they managed to kill quite a few lords. When the Russians and Chinese tried state control instead, they ended up in poverty and under totalitarian regimes in many ways worse than even the worst of the corporations.

Today there is a better way. Company by company we can take over the ownership of the businesses where we work. We can do all-employee buyouts, bring them under all-employee control – we can make ourselves all partners in the business. A partner is a player in the game, with full rights to be informed, to influence what goes on, and to share in the wealth we all create together.

There is overwhelming evidence from many countries that such businesses do extraordinarily well: they are more productive, they grow faster, they create more jobs, their jobs are more stable, they share the wealth out more evenly. And because they are participative and democratic, they are great places to work.

Partners even live longer than employees in exactly the same jobs in conventionally structured businesses: people who through no fault of their own are subjected to the powers and wealth-extraction of the corporations.