Working Together: How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy

By Cynthia Estlund | Go to book overview

Part Three
BUILDING BETTER WORKPLACE BONDS
Preliminary Thoughts on What Law Can Do

The workplace has become a uniquely important site for the building of cooperative and constructive social ties across lines of group identity and social division. Workplace cooperation, sociability, and solidarity all play a role in promoting these ties, and all of those emerge out of basic features of human psychology and basic imperatives of human labor in a modern economy. The law, too, plays a role, both in promoting equal opportunity and demographic heterogeneity in the workplace and in imposing some rudimentary “constitutional” norms of freedom of association and communication and democracy on the workplace. But this basically optimistic assessment of the value of “working together” is qualified by the law's uneven success and the enormous variety of workplaces, some of which utterly mock the vision of cooperation and sociability that animates this book. Even as we have explored the value of what often happens among co-workers, we have seen many ways in which reality falls far short of what seems possible.

The “working together” thesis thus has both a descriptive and an aspirational dimension. It is both about what happens in workplaces and about what can and should happen there. And it suggests what is possible partly by showing what already exists. The analysis has thus far straddled the dichotomy between the descriptive and the prescriptive, bringing to the foreground the good things that can already be seen in workplace relations while acknowledging the serious flaws and gaps in the picture. But if one is persuaded of the good things that workplace ties can and do bring to civic and political life, one should be led to ask what can be done to better fulfill the only partially realized civic potential of those ties.

Before launching into even a preview of any particular aspects of workplace law reform, it is worth asking whether law and policy have any role left to play. Perhaps the forces that are already in motion—the demographic trends that are diversifying workplaces, the incentives of firms to promote collegiality and productivity, the human needs and proclivities that fuel sociability and solidar

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