Pirates or ningas?

Aileen Brayden on orgtheory.net posted a link to a lovely article on The Law and Economics of Pirate Organisation. It describes how pirates could and did democratically elect their captains. The captain had absolute authority in battle but at other times, power lay with the Quartermaster, who was also democratically elected. Both positions were open to immediate recall, and in this pirates were far in advance of the democracy that is on offer in Ireland today. In addition, Pirates drew up constitutions which covered how loot was to be distributed, how much compensation injured pirates would received and what rules pertained to life aboard the ship; my favourite rule was “the musicians to have Rest on the Sabbath Day, but the other six Days and Nights, none without special Favour”.

The organisation of pirates is a good example of something many labour process theorists have noted; those doing the work have a good understanding of what needs to be done and how to do it. The paper quotes a sailor aboard Amundsen’s exploring ship (which also adopted a non-hierarchical form of organisation); “No orders were given, but everyone seemed to know exactly what to do (p1086)”. The creations of teams, quality circles and performance reviews by modern work organisation are all attempts to capture this creative energy and give the illusion of workers control within workplaces that remain governed by hierarchical structures. The paper concludes “government does not have a monopoly on … institutions of governance any more than it does have a monopoly on the ability to generate cooperation and order.” The paper also finally lays to rest the old argument; pirates or ningas? Obviously with their musicians and direct democracy, pirates win hands down every time.