While a handful of workers may be experiencing the renaissance of workplace democracy that Traci Fenton describes in her Aug. 23 Opinion piece, "Democracy in the workplace," many more are experiencing an assault on one of their most fundamental democratic rights – the right to organize to demand better working conditions.
The National Labor Relations Board's pending "Kentucky River" decision threatens to strip a wide variety of workers, from nurses to many in the building trades, of their right to organize unions. When workers in the US do attempt to organize, most face harassment – from mandatory anti-union meetings with supervisors to threats of job loss and plant closings. And even when companies do treat their US workers well, they are increasingly outsourcing production to countries where workers don't have the right to organize.
Workplace democracy is a fundamental human right, not just a perk to be used to attract talented workers to companies in highly competitive fields. Workers deserve our support in fighting to defend that right.
Director, Peace through Interamerican Community Action
As a worker-owned and -governed cooperative, we at Equal Exchange appreciated Traci Fenton's Aug. 23 Opinion piece, "Democracy in the workplace." Americans need to know that they don't have to leave democracy at home when they go off to work. In fact, most workplaces today, especially in the private sector, more closely resemble feudal society and thinking, where the rights of property and rank trump all else and, at best, are tempered with a benevolent paternalism.
However, the laudable business practices described by Ms. Fenton largely fall short of "democracy," which has to represent more than just a "kinder, gentler," or humane workplace. Having managers listen to the staff does not truly democratize the workplace.
Rather, democracy has to include core principles such as leaders who are elected by and accountable to those they lead, the right of citizen-employees to run for positions of leadership, one person/one vote, and more. And by leadership, we mean in the boardroom and not just on the shop floor. We, and other worker co-ops, adhere to these ideals, and we encourage current and future entrepreneurs to explore this potentially most American of business models.
Beth Ann Caspersen
Quality Control Manager, Board Chair, Equal Exchange
West Bridgewater, Mass.
Regarding the Aug. 30 article, "Good deeds meet cross-border challenge": My daughter, Amy Kaplan, was one of the three organizers of the Aug. 28 benefit concert at Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem, to raise money for humanitarian relief in the wake of the recent hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah. Thank you for letting your readers know about this effort to bridge the divide and treat all the victims of the war as fellow human beings created in the image of God.
The article noted that concert receipts came to $1,000. Amy told us a few days after the concert that they also received significant and gratifying financial support in the form of Paypal donations from friends and family in the US and that, as of that day, they had raised more than $3,000 for this humanitarian effort. Kol ha kavod (all of the honor) to these three intrepid do-gooders. I am honored to be the parent of one of them.
Nancy F. Kaplan
West Bloomfield, Mich.
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