Being Your Own Boss

‘I remember standing in the aisle where I work, casually chit-chatting with a co-worker, wondering aloud about what things would be like if all workplaces were run entirely democratically like our store. I figured without hierarchies (formal ones, anyways), that big changes could be realized. Workers would own and run everything. It would be the end of capitalism. And then my co-worker said, “Yeah, but if you flipped a switch and tomorrow every place was a co-op, we’d still all be competing with each other, just without bosses.”’
– Ogier, ‘Workers Co-Ops – Crashing in the same car’.

Some people try to escape the frustrations of waged work by becoming self-employed or joining a co-operative (which is basically a group form of self-employment). In both cases those involved have equal say, investment, and recompense from the business. Unfortunately the idea that you are becoming your own boss has more truth to it than is often intended.

A business where the workers are their own boss is still subject to the same market forces as every other business, so instead of a manager or director telling you what to do, market forces set the boundaries of any decision you have to make. Rather than having capitalism managed for you, you end up managing it for yourself, internalising the boss.

In good times being your own boss can feel 
empowering and fulfilling, as the decisions you are allowed to make roughly match up with what you are comfortable doing anyway, though self-exploitation and overwork are common companions. However when the capitalist economy takes a downturn, and competition becomes more cut-throat, the crushing inevitability of the choices required to carry on can hit with far more impact than if you were able to pin them on a boss.

Even worse than this, some bosses now force workers to be listed as self-employed freelancers in order to gain more profits by avoiding the cost associated with the hard-won rights from previous workers’ struggles (such as sick pay, holiday time, guaranteed regular hours, or regular pay raises). This often means having all the disadvantages of having an employer, while the company you sell your labour to is free from the legal obligation to give you your basic employment rights.