Ours to Master and to Own

Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present

From the dawning of the industrial epoch, wage earners have organized themselves into unions, fought bitter strikes, and have gone so far as to challenge the very premises of the system by creating institutions of democratic self-management aimed at controlling production without bosses. Looking at specific examples drawn from every corner of the globe and every period of modern history, this pathbreaking volume comprehensively traces this often under-appreciated historical tradition.

Ripe with lessons drawn from historical and contemporary struggles for workers’ control, Ours to Master and to Own is essential reading for those struggling to bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old.

About the author

Immanuel Ness is professor of political science at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and a founding member of the Lower East Side Community Labor Organization, an autonomous activist organization in New York City. His research and writing focuses on social and revolutionary movements, labor militancy, and migrant worker resistance to oppression. Ness has just completed Guest Workers, Corporate Despotism and Resistance,(forthcoming University of Illinois Press) a book that examines the rise of guest workers from the global South in the US and labor opposition to employer abuses. He is author of numerous books including an anthology of contemporary labor: Real World Labor, with Amy Offner and Chris Sturr (Dollars & Sense). He edits the peer-review quarterly journal, Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society, and has also edited several reference works, including the International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest: 1500 to the Present (Wiley-Blackwell 2009), and, with Aaron Brenner and Bejamin Day, the Encyclopedia of Strikes in American History (Sharpe 2009).

Dario Azzellini is a writer, documentary director and political scientist and lecturer at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria. He splits his time between Berlin and Caracas. His research and writing focuses on social and revolutionary militancy, migration and racism, people’s power and selfadministration, and workers control, with extensive case studies in Latin America. He served as Associate Editor for the The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest: 1500 to the Present, and was primary editor for Latin America, the Spanish Caribbean, and the new left in Italy. He serves as Associate Editor for WorkingUSA: The Journal of Labor and Society and for Cuadernos de Marte, an academic publication about war sociology released by the University of Buenos Aires. He has published several books, among them The Business of War (Assoziation A 2002), about the privatization of military services. His latest documentary Comuna under construction (2010) examines worker councils in Venezuela. More information on his publications and work is available at: www.azzellini.net.


"Ours to Master and to Own is the most substantive and comprehensive work on workers control and self management today. I strongly recommend this work, which provides examples drawn from throughout the world of workers struggling for justice and power."

—Gary Younge, Columnist, The Guardian and The Nation. Author, Who We Are and Should It Matter in the 21st Century (Penguin/Viking)

"The seemingly logical and just idea that workers themselves should make the decisions regarding and reap the benefits of their labor has always been a fraught concept with the potential to topple or reform whole societies … This ambitious, copiously researched and clearly written text provides a sweeping diversity of examples, analyzed with cool detachment from the specific politics but with underlying passion for the larger concept."

—Kari Lydersen, author of Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover and What it Says About the Economic Crisis (Melville House Books, 2009)

"Ours to Master and to Own is a remarkable work that reminds us that history is not dead ... it is not even past. It is an ongoing process whereby women and men choose not to accept the workplace or the world as it is. Those who teach labor studies would profit from adding this book that covers the often-forgotten history of workers' agency to their reading lists. This book is highly recommended."

—William A Pelz, Labour Studies

"With the global capitalist order entering a period of crisis, but also with the dramatic increase in worker’s struggles especially in the global South, this collection is extremely opportune. Workers will seek greater control over market forces and workers councils are bound to re-emerge. A must read for labour analysts and activists alike."

—Ronaldo Munck is theme leader for internationalization and social development at Dublin City University and visiting Professor of Sociology at the University of Liverpool

"Ness and Azzellini have made a major contribution in producing this insightful and exciting collection of essays on the question of workers control … I didn’t even have to open the book to know it is timely and offers great strategic insight."

—Bill Fletcher, Jr., Visiting Scholar, Center for Place, Culture & Politics, CUNY; editorial board, BlackCommentator.com; co-founder, Center for Labor Renewal; immediate past president, TransAfrica Forum; co-author, Solidarity Divided.

Excellent! A very complete, serious and inspiring account of the movements for workers control and their difficulties. There is no doubt that it should become a standard point of reference for future discussions, and actions.

—John Holloway is author of Crack Capitalism, (Pluto, 2010) and Change the World Without Taking Power, (Pluto, 2010)

"Ours to Master and to Own is an incredible resource. With 22 essays that cover over a century of struggle, it explores experiences ranging from soviet power in Russia, self-management in Yugoslavia and Algeria, workers' control in Portugal in 1974 and co-management in Venezuela today ... With the sheer scope of the examples, this book is a serious contribution to debates around workers' control, what is possible and how to achieve it. The chapter on 1970s British factory occupations should be mandatory reading for the period that is to come."
—Julie Sherry, Socialist Review

"The social and environmental disaster that international capitalism has caused in the past 20 years reinforces the importance of this book. The alternative popular initiatives it describes are socially and economically far more advanced than the productivist and predatory canon of industrial capitalism. They are an antidote to the suicidal tendencies of high finance."
—Antonio David Cattani, Red Pepper


Table of Contents

Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini

Part I: Workers’ Councils: Historical Overview and Theoretical Debate
1. Workers’ Control and Revolution
Victor Wallis

2. Workers’ Councils in Europe: A Century of Experience
Donny Gluckstein

3. The Red Mole: Workers’ Councils as a Means of Revolutionary Transformation
Sheila Cohen

4. The Political Form at Last Discovered: Workers’ Councils against the Capitalist State
Alberto R. Bonnet

Part II: Workers’ Councils and Self-Administration in Revolution: Early Twentieth Century

5. From Unionism to Workers’ Councils: The Revolutionary Shop Stewards in Germany, 1914–1918
Ralf Hoffrogge

6. The Factory Committee Movement in the Russian Revolution
Mark-David Mandel

7. Factory Councils in Turin, 1919–1920: “The Sole and Authentic Social Representatives of the Proletarian Class”
Pietro Di Paola

8. Workers’ Democracy in the Spanish Revolution, 1936–1937
Andy Durgan

Part III: Workers’ Control under State Socialism

9. Yugoslavia: Workers’ Self-Management as State Paradigm
Goran Musić

10. Give Us Back Our Factories! Between Resisting Exploitation and the Struggle for Workers’ Power in Poland, 1944–1981
Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski

Part IV: Anticolonial Struggle, Democratic Revolution, and Workers’ Control

11. Workers’ Control in Java, Indonesia, 1945–1946
Jafar Suryomenggolo

12. From Workers’ Self-Management to State Bureaucratic Control: Autogestion in Algeria
Sam Southgate

13. The Limits and Possibilities of Workers’ Control within the State: Mendoza, Argentina, 1973
Gabriela Scodeller

14. Workers’ Councils in Portugal, 1974–1975
Peter Robinson

Part V: Workers’ Control against Capitalist Restructuring in the Twentieth Century

15. Workers’ Control and the Politics of Factory Occupation in 1970s Britain
Alan Tuckman

16. Workers’ Direct Action and Factory Control in the United States
Immanuel Ness

17. “Hot Autumn”: Italy’s Factory Councils and Autonomous Workers’ Assemblies in the 1970s
Patrick Cuninghame

18. Recipe for Anarchy: British Columbia’s Telephone Workers’ Occupation of 1981
Elaine Bernard

Part VI: Workers’ Control, 1990s–2010

19. Workers’ Control in India’s Communist-Ruled State:
Labor Struggles and Trade Unions in West Bengal
Arup Kumar Sen

20. Argentinean Worker-Taken Factories: Trajectories of Workers’ Control under the Economic Crisis
Marina Kabat

21. Workers’ Control under Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution
Dario Azzellini

22. Brazilian Recovered Factories: The Constraints of Workers’ Control
Maurício Sardá De Faria and Henrique T. Novaes