Critical Views on Participating in the Working World: Finding Bearings and Discussing

“Special Report”: Being Part of the Working World
By Sophie Béroud

The notion of participation in the working world hinges on various intellectual horizons as much as it is used with a wide range of significations by different actors. The notion opens a debate between its use as a tool to obtain a high involvement of the workforce by managers and, on the other hand, as a demand for a more open and democratized workplace for and by workers. The historical acknowledgment of a structural inequality in employment relations has led to the enactment of staff representative bodies (shop stewards, work councils . . .) which in turn led to the rise of specialized full-time professional unionists. Other forms of participation were to emerge, especially in times of struggle, possibly in opposition to traditional union actions, sometimes in interplay with these traditional forms of representation of employees. This article lingers on these different aspects of participation in the working world and insists on the dead-end of the strict analogy between political democracy and industrial democracy. Tools inspired by the former (referendum, polls, elections . . .) are unable to account for the ambiguity of the latter.


  • trade unionism
  • staff representative bodies
  • representativity
  • industrial democracy
  • worker’s control
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