Why we should address democratic deficit at work

Throughout our years at school, we heard about the importance and universality of democratic principles, and that self-determination, personal autonomy, and emancipation are all fundamental. A closer inspection at the understanding of ‘democracy’, however, would inevitably happen without it being participative. Yet, workplace democracy is close to non-existent with little involvement of the workers or representatives even though political democracy and economic democracy are synonymous.

According to the European Trade Union Institute, trade union density in 2009 stood at 52.5% and decreased to 44.6% in 2019. Collective bargaining coverage was 52.4% in 2009 and dropped to 50.1% in 2019 as workplace representation remain static. This participatory and trade unionism activity is consistently declining across Europe. A Labour administration, which as its name implies, must be of service to its grassroots and the masses it should indeed belong to.

Malta provides free education for all, which gives access to education – a means to achieve ‘freedom’. This can be very much achieved through the promotion of critical thinking in our educational institutions. After all, children and students of today are the future of our society, and thus education policy should be inclined to promote critical thinking to safeguard a democratic future of our society. Critical thinking will enable students to speak up, ask questions about the reasons for decisions taken, and empower them to have a say in our societies and democracies. This would enrich students on democratic principles, including the principles of justice, rule of law and the separation of powers.

Moreover, we should ensure that these equally apply in economic institutions and at the workplace.Extending democracy to the workplace would assist in tackling inequalities, insecurities, and the lack of control on the working life. Recent research suggests that as democracy at work increases, productivity, innovation and output increase simultaneously.

As democracy at work increases, productivity, innovation and output increase simultaneously. 

Although the educational system is a powerful social tool to abolish inequality, a guard is needed to ensure that our educational institutions are free from interests which would serve certain economic, ideological and cultural dimensions. Thus, as Prof Baldacchino stated, our education is not to be shaped as an industry, but rather as an institution which empowers students and academics alike. We must also keep in mind that Universities, Polytechnics, and other educational institutions have played crucial roles in social revolutions and reformation.

Labour governments during Mintoff’s administration have democratised the Malta Drydocks in 1975, which allowed workers to vote and elect a workers’ council to administer the Maltese drydocks. These momentous events brought the administration of this key industry closer to the workers, empowering them democratically and as a result, it enhanced unity of the workers and their rights.

Currently, a democratic process is occurring in the National Book Council in which a motion for a democratic election of this council has been agreed upon. Therefore, the current Labour administration needs to ensure that democratic deficit at the workplace is addressed through the strengthening of the education policy. The aim of which is to ensure that our own education is not a lie, and that our future members of society are empowered with being critical of our societies and our democracies. This lays the framework for a participative, free, and democratic society, which would make a compelling case to alleviate and eliminate poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, and exploitation.

This complies with the writings of Labour’s critically acclaimed activist, politician, and writer Ġużè Ellul Mercer, that “this Workers’ Party will one day give everyone what they deserve because in my opinion this Party was founded to be run not by the perspectives and abilities of one or the few, but by the view and the ability of the masses”.

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