Work autonomy and workplace democracy: the polarization of the goods of work autonomy in the two worlds of work


Political theorists have been framing the problems of unfreedom and domination at work as inconsistent with the requirements of political democracy, undermining the democratic potential of the workplace and inducing psychological and status harm. Although these are important insights, political theorists are often unwilling to frame the hierarchical workplace as an issue of distributive justice. This paper, by bringing in the empirical literature on work autonomy, offers a framework to explicate the relationship between freedom at work and the distribution of essential goods at paid work. Through such framework, the paper argues that procedural and substantive freedom at work are essential to the fair distribution of the goods of work. By examining the empirical literature, the paper further argues that there exists a polarization of the goods of work between high-skilled and low-skilled labor, and the polarization offers a pro-tanto justification of workplace democracy for the least advantaged workers.

Review of Social Economy, 78(5), 351-372
Awarded the Helen Potter Award by the Association for Social Economics for the best article published in the Review of Social Economy in 2020.
Chi Kwok
Assistant Professor