Dandelion's Labor System - 1988

Tags: Dandelion, Values, Labor

Dandelion's Labor System

Dandelion's Labor System DN-C2
Approved July '88

In our Visitor Orientation, we run through how our labor system works, introducing it by saying that this is one of the important ways we practice our principles of equality and co-operation. We don't claim that our particular system is the only way to organize work, of course, but it has evolved here over the past dozen years or so, land has served us well. Here are some of its benefits and advantages:

1. It distributes the necessary work equally; every member gets equal quota (with allowances made for age or illness), and all work has equal value (with the exception of meetings, and "political action").

2. It is flexible, taking into account people's preferences, likes and dislikes. It lets people pick their own times for most tasks, respecting our differing "body clocks" and energy flows. It allows for easy substitutions or exchange of tasks as needs arise, and for a wide range of personal styles.

3. It ensures that no one is stuck with an unfair share of boring or unpopular work, and that work is not divided along gender lines. The danger of having women end up with most of the housework, for example, is specifically structured against in labor assigning, and if such a tendency does creep in, it can be easily checked into and dealt with, since there is documentation, available to all, of what is actually happening and who is doing what. We are able to deliberately structure "affirmative action" and skill-sharing into our work each week.

4. It serves as a tool for channelling available labor into priority areas defined by the community as a whole through requisitions and meetings, and helps managers of each area to plan appropriately. This way there is less last-minute crisis management and fewer laments of "If only I'd thought to plan that while so-and-so was here…" etc. It allows realistic planning of work crews to include those interested and avoid time conflicts with scheduled tasks like cooking or child care. It provides easy and public reference points for finding out who is doing what where, and a handy way to remind ourselves of things we need (or want) to do, whether work related or not, using our labor sheets.

5. It gives us a way of earning and of taking vacation time - a way that is equitable and does not produce feelings of guilt, resentment, or confusion. If a member doesn't make quota, they take the difference that week as vacation. If we want or need extra vacation time, we can work over quota and earn it. No one, including yourself, is going to feel you are taking time you haven't earned, in other words, more than your share of time off, because it is clear you have earned it.

6. It provides a basis for extra little "perks" like SOI (Special Over-time Incentive) which add to your small spending capacity in rather ingenious communal ways: everyone benefits from anyone's overtime work.

7. It gives us a data base for a variety of kinds of decision-making: hours worked per hammock as a basis for computing the labor component of prices; time worked in dairy as compared with the price of bought milk; hours worked in the woodlot before and after insulating the house (cost-benefit analysis); return per hour of work in hammocks as compared with the return from outside work, for example.

There are some common misunderstandings about our labor system which come up again and again, and they come up for very understandable reasons. All of us have been hurt or alienated (not to mention exploited) in the outside world by systems in our workplaces and homes which did not respect our integrity, our individuality, our preferences, our humanness. Lack of trust, regimentation, rigidity, lack of control over the conditions of our work and the products and services we produce, are all problems in patriarchal capitalist society. Dandelion's labor system is designed to prevent these problems from arising, and it does the job pretty well. But for people who have been hurt by "The System" on the outside, it can be hard to believe that fact. Our ability to trust any system can be eroded by those earlier outside experiences. They make it hard to understand that a truly alternative, participatory, egalitarian system can be created and actually work for our individual and collective good.

So, some of us may assume at first that we would prefer "the tyranny of structurelessness" to any systematic organizing of work, because the very concept of systems and structures has been so disastrously monopolized by the patriarchal "powers that be" in the outside world. But let's not fall into that trap. We need to get beyond reacting to what we left behind, and get on with using all our faculties in the ways we want to use them, for everyone's benefit and at no one's expense. To do that , we need to look carefully at the things that have been said about our labor system and check them out against reality.

First, there is the idea that we have a labor credit system because we feel we can't trust one another. Actually, the system we have could not function at all without a basic level of trust among us. To use the old traditional term (Ugh!) it is an "honor system": everyone keeps track of their own work. But trust is not some kind of magic that can be conjured or assumed. The simple fact that someone is interested in community, doesn't automatically mean that they are trustworthy, and it is foolish to pretend that it does. Trust has to grow. Dandelion continues to welcome a flow of visitors, to seek new members and sometimes to say goodbye to old ones. Our labor system is designed in part, to help us build trust in changing group of people. It is also designed to provide a common experience and reference point for knowing exactly what constitutes an equal share of our community's work. Different people have different perceptions of "a full day's work", given our varied backgrounds and experience. Defining in terms accessible to everyone what a full day's work means at Dandelion is an essential function of the labour system which has nothing at all to do with trust.

Secondly, there is the claim that our labor system is more or less the same thing as "punching a clock". That is simply not the case. There is nothing in common beyond the fact that some record is kept of time worked on community tasks. For one thing, here, it is up to the individual to decide when they are going to do most of their work, and they can change their mind whenever they wish, except in the case of work crews, kitchen and barn chores, meetings and child care, which for obvious reasons have to be done at certain times. It is also up to the individual how she or he records the work they do, whether by estimating times on various tasks as they look back over their day, for example, or by noting starting and ending times as they go along. Can anyone imagine a factory, office, hospital, or transport company working that way on the outside? At Dandelion, we keep track of our work for ourselves, for our own individual and collective purposes, not for some "boss", a foreman or even a board of directors. What does that have to do with "punching a clock"?

Third, there is the theory that "as long as the work gets done, everything will be fine". Well actually, no, it won't be. For one thing, as communitarians and as feminists, we are concerned with process, not just with product. The work is important, yes, but we also care deeply about how the work gets done. The issues of equal sharing, gender roles, and recognition are all important ones that our system has evolved to address. It deliberately provides ways both to reduce the likelihood of inequality, and to furnish reality checks if feelings of unfairness arise. Moreover, there seems to be some evidence from other communities that the necessary work sometimes does not get done unless it is organized in some recognizable way. Why ask for such problems at Dandelion?

Finally, there is the myth that "counting" is somehow inherently uncommunitarian and reactionary, one of the fundamental evils of patriarchy, capitalism, and the State. Counting is seen as indicvative of rigidity, distrust and bureacracy as well, and is thought to interfere with the positive sense of "family" that we are trying to build. But if we free our thinking for a moment from the shackles of our past hurts, we can see that counting things is not, in itself, any of the above. Rather, it is a useful tool, like language, or sketching, or music. Like other tools, it is, of course, more useful for some purposes than for others, and, like other tools, it can be misused. But the preceding pages should be evidence enough that for purposes of organizing our labor in the community, counting has its place.

Many communities which have shunned "counting" in favor of just "letting things flow", have experienced tremendous divisions and resentments around work issues. One or more members may come to feel they are "carrying" the community, doing a larger share of the work while others enjoy more leisure time. Or someone may be perceived as taking too much vacation time away, or getting all the interesting jobs to do, or shirking specific responsibilities. Unless some way of keeping clear track of work is built into the labor system (whatever it may be) then there is no decent or dependable way of checking out what the reality of the situation is. If counting is taboo, then raising these questions is likely to be seen as selfish, mistrustful, and uncommunitarian, and even if this doesn't happen, the problem remains an extremely difficult and emotional one to solve. The basic issues of equality and responsibility are apt to get lost in the "pea soup" of feelings, and divisiveness and burnout take their toll. At Dandelion, thanks not to Divine Providence but to our labor system, this scenario is practically unknown; and if such problems were to arise, there would be easy, factual means, accessible to everyone, to answer the questions raised.

The feeling of "family" in community - the sense of shared trust, fun, mutual support and loving commitment - is something we value deeply at Dandelion and are building daily. None of us want to emulate that other kind of "family" - the traditional patriarchal family group where the enormous work and effort contributed by women was never counted - and never "counted" either. That lack of recognition was part of what kept women's work invisible, and kept women oppressed. Here in our community, on the other hand, everyone's work "counts". Our family feeling is based in large part on our full awareness of that fact, and on our clear, calm knowledge that we are doing our share.

The places where an unstructured approach to labor seems to work best (though not necessarily perfectly) are communities with relative stability and small group size over a long period of time, where everyone knows each other quite well. Dandelion has not had this history; along with turnover of members, we continue to welcome a cheering flow of visitors, prospective and associate members. Our labor system provides a structure through which we can effectively organize to utilize the labor of new people, without being dependent on all of us knowing each other very well.

So there it is. Why would we want to go through the effort, risk and anguish of trying to change our labor system when the one we have works well? Why try to reinvent the wheel when Dandelion has a set of wheels that has already carried us this far along our collective path? We've certainly changed tires along the way, and we continually do the necessary wheel balancing and aligning as we travel. We exchange greetings with others we meet along the road, groups who have chosen to walk, ski or ride a horse, as well as others with vehicles similar to ours. But we like our own mode of travel, and we intend to keep our wheels and use them as they were made to be used - by and for the whole community.