Labor Commons Union

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Tom Walker:

"The labor commons union is proposed here an experimental institution that would treat employment as a common pool resource. Such an undertaking has various precedents, none of them exact but all nonetheless suggestive. The traditional workers' ethic of the craft guilds viewed the work available as something akin to a common resource. Guild principles included the proposition that a given amount of work could be divided up equitably among the available hands. This is not to say that workers assumed the amount of work to be unalterably fixed for all time. They were, however, dealing with the finite demands of a given locality at a particular time. In addition there are worker co- ops, works councils, syndicalism and the movement unionism such as the eight- hour leagues and nine-hour leagues in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. in the 19th century.

Regardless of whether the idea of sharing work makes sense strictly in terms of industrial efficiency, as an ethical proposition it is simply the reciprocal gesture of co-operative working arrangements. However, John Maurice Clark's analysis of social overhead costs, discussed below, suggests that the notion also makes economic sense, given an appropriate social accounting framework. Just to be clear, social accounting does not refer to some warm fuzzy notion as opposed to the hard math of business. It is harder math than using the single firm's bottom line as Sir William Armstrong's bumbling attempt illustrates. It requires careful boundary setting and explicit accounting for the cost-shifting that results from imposed economic transactions rather than an apologetic shrug about the difficulty of quantifying externalities.

Collectively, working people would be better off if they joined in refusing to compete in a race to the bottom. By collectively conserving work effort, the workers acting co-operatively might achieve higher levels of productivity than otherwise as well as build greater social solidarity and security.

Are today's labor unions up to the challenge? The signs are not encouraging.


How would the labor commons union come into existence? How would it be organized and governed? What principles would it uphold and tactics would it employ? These important details can be left for future elaboration, not least because they differ from case to case and in many instances would involve the reorientation of and transition from established institutions that themselves may vary substantially. One particular, however, can be specified. That is the analytical model for guiding decision making within the union." (

More Information

See also:

  • Social Accounting Mentality; For a fuller outline of this “social accounting mentality” at its historical grounding see “Time on the Ledger: Social Accounting for the Good Society”, at