Home | About Me | Writing | Photos | Research | Scratchpad | Projects

Research: EC Report on participation & IT & industrial relations

Back to the Hacker Ethic category

Thoughts on the hacker work ethic, and industrial relations, taken from "New Information Technology and Participation in Europe - The Potential for Social Dialogue", a report issued by the EC in 1989.


"In order to operate flexible technology smoothly and to make full use of its productivity potential, a cooperative, and motivated, largely self-dependent and self-assured workforce is needed. Given the way that technology is normally introduced, and the likelihood that work processes need to be flexible, the opportunities, even the need, for participation become clear.

Alongside this is a trend towards more cooperative industrial relations in the [European] Community, the idea of developing the relationship between the social partners through social dialogue has become a central issue, as illustrated by the Val Duchesse Agreement in March 1987" (pp1, EC Report)

N.B. the Val Duchesse Agreement was an EU initiative that began proper in the 1970s and was signed in 1985. It agreed on a set of values that should be held common in workplaces throughout the EU, including ideas such as part time work conditions and parental leave. See "Social Dialogue" and "EU Social Dialogue Factsheet".


Changes in the workplace driven by technology exemplify Schumpeterís "creative destruction". "Technological innovation ... can tip our established power balances, and can threaten the vested interests of the parties involved" (pp 13, EC Report). In such conditions, involved parties are "dependent on the cooperation, the good-will and the motivation of the workforce", including managers (pp 14, EC Report).


Cooperative industrial relations are positive sum games, in which both employees and managers (i.e. all participants) gain. Even if the goals of the two parties are different, cooperation provides greater opportunities for all concerned, especially where they encourage a motivated workforce (benefits being satisfaction (spirit/reason/desire/body)). In a positive sum game, participants are mutually dependent, and so have an incentive not only to assit one another, but more significantly to work as a community towards common goals that also further personal goals. In the case of hackers, the ability to join and leave communities, to help in some work and not other work, allows for increased work flexibility at the same time as demanding cooperation, which increased satisfaction and therefore productivity.

"Growing mutual dependence necessitates cooperation between the parties involved; it calls for participation" (pp 23, EC Report).


With hackers, the traditional, antagonistic manger-worker relationship is broken down. Projects tend to have flexible management of the size and type that meets the projectís demands and the participantsí wishes (desire/reason). Where relationships arenít felt to be mutually beneficial, participants can leave the project. If sufficient numbers feel the arrangement is a poor one, they can fork the project, or start a new one of their own. Thus the productivity of individual workers is constantly high.

When cooperatively managed in a cloed environment, it can be possible to keep productivity high on projects condusive to the goals of the group/business. Satisfied employees are more likely to be loyal, and more likely to accept unpopular work in return for the overall benefits of the cooperative working environment, if they see the unpopular work as condusive to their personal goals (loyalty means companyís goals become their goals to some extent).


So because participation is central to hacker industrial relations, any increases/changes in the levels of participation, or indeed any other aspects of industrial relations, are greeted with considerably less anxiety and are resolved more productively than in traditional working environments.


A cooperative and participative approach to industrial relations allows employees to negotiate:
- what work they do
- how they do the work

New Information Technology and Participation in Europe - The Potential for Social Dialogue, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, EC, 1989

Social Dialogue, http://www.iol.ie/ictu/dialogue.htm