A shopfloor committee (sometimes called a “worker committee”) is a form of Worker self-management. It is a tool employed by some democratic workplaces in which a group of workers form a working group that is assigned a specific task to undertake or a problem to resolve (although this has also been utilized by non-democratic workplaces). However, worker committees can also be employed in consumer co-ops or even non-cooperative businesses. These committees are usually composed by a small-to-medium sized number of workers and managers (if the business has them).
The key to a shopfloor committee is that workers identify and analyze problems within the workplace, their jobs, and the business as a whole. Together, the working group proposes a solution to the problem, and if approved (by the other workers, another committee, or etc.), they put the proposal into action.
Examples of Shopfloor Committees
Harman Industries is not a worker-owned enterprise, but it is the story of one factory that employed the worker committee method with a lot of success, and it can provide some good examples. Its story is described in Workplace Democracy by Daniel Zwerdling:
The guts of the factory-wide program is a network of more than 30 shopfloor committees, called core groups. Each department has at least one core group, some larger departments have several. Each core group operates like a grassroots-level, mini-working committee: a typical group includes at least one management representative (usually the foreman), one representative from the local union (the steward), and from one to four employee representatives elected by fellow employees in the department. Most suggestions for work changes and new ideas in the factory are born in these core groups – all workers are free to attend the meetings, or to send their ideas through their representative. When a core group approves an idea, it sends it to the company Working Committee for final approval, or criticism. Sometimes the working committee and the core groups pass proposals back and forth several times, before everyone agrees on its final form.
Shopfloor committees can take on tasks as small as redecorating a room to as large as choosing, buying, and installing the equipment that will be used by the co-op. Depending on the structure of the self-managed business and the nature of the group, some committees have members that are elected and others are volunteers.
Additionally, some committees are permanent and others are responsive to certain situations. For instance, a worker committee on equipment upkeep would be a permanent task force (whose members could rotate) while a Shopfloor Committee on designing the layout of a room would be a temporary group dedicated to solving that issue.
However, in We Build the Road as We Travel, Roy Morrison warns that committees such as these should not overstep their boundaries and take away from worker-autonomy, as such techniques have been used by mainstream corporations to exploit workers into crafting more efficient ways to run a business, which in turn has eliminated these very workers’ jobs:
In fact, the new “team” job flexibility in the United States tends to mean the further deskilling of workers and the introduction of a new wave of Taylorist rationalization that minutely divides, and tightly structures, work that engineers the work of people as if they were machines. A prime goal is to have the workers, in effect, plan their own misery, with any labor-saving efficiency used to abolish jobs and increase profits.
Therefore, it is very important to make sure that shopfloor committees address concerns that come directly from the workers in all-worker-meetings, some other formal worker-structure (“working committees”), or the Board of Directors.
- Workplace Democracy, Page 47, Harper & Row Publishers, 1980, New York, NY
- Morrison, Roy. We Build the Road as We Travel. Philadelphia, PA: New Society, 1991. Print.