People's Assemblies Network

Real Democracy and the Future of Work?


In the spirit of a Popular Assembly, the Right to Work Campaign have kindly offered me the opportunity to blog about the Spanish Real Democracy Movement. As part of this,  I would like to put forward a personal view on the future of work in a really democratic society.  Hopefully this will stimulate some debate!

In an advanced society liberating, enjoyable and well-rewarded work should be available to everyone. Under neo-liberalism however, workers get caught between an unstable, precarious (and often unfulfilling) job market on the one hand, and the dole queue on the other. With a third ‘option’ the capitalist sop, a coercive form of employment known in the UK as workfare.

I argued in 2009, as I do now that after the real democracy revolution there will be an enormous liberation in the world of work from the present model. The big clue as to how it will look can be found in the 15M movement’s organisational model, Popular Assemblies. In Spain these are now taking root at the neighbourhood level and I think this illustrates how, in its decision-making the 15M movement embraces the ideal of a decentralised democratic constitution. This is important because ‘real democracy’ – the inclusion of everyone in political-economic decision-making as equals, the politics of the common - can surely only come about when we recalibrate social organisation to the local, human-scale, community base.

It follows from this that work life in a really democratic society will follow a similar pattern. In a democratic society, because sovereignty, including the power of public service employment will vest, not with Parliament but with the people, it is the local level that will hold real political power – albeit in concert with all the other local levels and with clear lines of delegation and communication going ‘up’ to the regional / city-wide, national and international levels and back ‘down’ again. And from this fact, the productive capacity of democratic employment will be reflected.

In a really democratic system public money cannot be misused as is the case under the present state-welfare model. Instead, accountable, transparent sovereign communities will employ people, as they see fit via consensus decision-making to produce whatever things the individual concerned AND the community in question agree need producing. Employment will probably still be available in a (transformed) job market, but alongside this there will also be the option, via local assembly sovereignty of gainful ecological, soulful, dignified employment in a community of each worker’s choice. And because each  sovereign empowered local community will now produce  its own unique culture (rather than the homogenisation of townships we see presently) everyone will have a huge choice of work options, with different priorities in each diverse community. No longer should anyone feel forced to labour in an alienated way. I wrote in 2010:

“Unemployed people would thereby freely contribute to a new, flourishing local culture while also helping themselves; perhaps by starting setting up a new business, or helping run the neighbourhood crèche, or planting fruit trees along the local street, or putting a colourful mural on a concrete wall. This reform would spell an end to economic inactivity for ‘claimants’, building self reliance through community support, but without coercion. Communities would compete with each other for labour, by offering different opportunities and a positive cultural outlook…”
In short work will make you free, after all! And, siestas may be included!
But these are just some activists’ viewpoints – what are yours??
Addenda: ‘Real Democracy Now’ as a slogan might seem to have come out of the blue, but in reality, like the Assemblies that drive them it’s been in the ether for some time. In the Seattle anti-globalisation protests of 1998 for example, chants of “this is what democracy looks like” outside the WTO were inspiring. Preceding that, the slogan “Democracia, Tierra y Liberdad!” were central to the Zapatistan and also later Oaxacan movements which inspire so many to this day.  In the UK, following two years defending the right to protest in Parliament Square with the weekly People in Common picnic, some of us got together to consider the true democracy ideal, developing a project for a 21st Century Constitution in the UK. From this, we promoted People’s Assemblies as the means to achieve it. Later, some of us set up (uncannily same-named) ‘Campaign for Real Democracy’ UK (CRD) network – which just goes to show you can’t stop an idea. We included in our 2009 CRD discussions the impact of real democracy on the future of work. And it is from these discussions that the above ideal was born. Comments please ! [this post kindly republished on the 12th July at Right to Work]


  1. Yes, good one. You said “planting fruit trees along the local street”. spot-on! I have been thinking that if things get worse with the economic institutions collapsing further, we need to prepare for urban food production, as I have read about in Cuba. Flat roof gardens, take-over (and protection) of developers’ inactive land plots, people’s own gardens and, alongside this, series of educational meetings about how to grow your own food. I live in a block of flats but our flat roof has been made out of bounds although it could well be a community garden project.

  2. I think the rational concept of peoples assemblies is the perfect response to the problems faced by the so called precariat!

    To articulate an image of a working system whereby people can come together, voice their concerns and have actions carried out based on the points made… This of course requires rigorous maintenance of infrastructure to make it accessible and a working procedural structure to make it participatory and transparent yet efficient and productive… In consensus meetings this is possible – sometimes to great effect and at other times a devastatingly ineffective row.

    If such consensus meetings where to take on certain roles of councils or governments as well as being activists control centres in the sense that they provide for certain needs of the people then essentially they can grow into a method for democratically restructuring the workings of the society and ridding it of the burden of the state – horizontal coordination instead of vertical hierarchy – the same anarchic principle that was in use in the paris commune of late 19th cent and the bolshevik movement of the early 20th cent… This would be the revamped and updated 21st cent version of such idealist political utopianism that is required!

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