Mike yesterday put up a piece about Theresa May dropping her proposal to put employees on company boards. According to the Guardian yesterday, May said
“While it is important that the voices of workers and consumers should be represented, I can categorically tell you that this is not about mandating works councils, or the direct appointment of workers or trade union representatives on boards,” the prime minister told a packed room in central London.
“Some companies may find that these models work best for them – but there are other routes that use existing board structures, complemented or supplemented by advisory councils or panels, to ensure all those with a stake in the company are properly represented. It will be a question of finding the model that works.”
Mike points out that companies are already required to ‘regard the interests of their employees’, according to Labour’s Companies Act of 2006. This, however, doesn’t work, as corporate greed always drowns out the workers’ good sense.
Mike makes the point that her promise back in July to put workers on company boards now seems just a flat-out lie, made to maker her look electable. She never intended to publish plans for it by the end of this year. It shows she cares far less about workers and consumers than she does about the bosses.
This has all happened before. I can remember back in the 1990s there were similar discussions about work councils being mooted in parts of the press. The Financial Times did a piece on the issue, which reported that about 200 British firms had works councils. Then they asked the Tories about their perspective on them. They got a bland statement that said that they had no objections, but didn’t want to make them compulsory.
Which is pretty much what Theresa May has said here.
In fact, there was never much chance of May actually wanting to put workers on company boards. The Tory party, as I’ve said before, sees itself as the party of business, and as a rule, business hates the idea of worker directors with a passion. In the 1970s there were a couple of experiments with placing the workers in the boardrooms of state industries. One was in the Post Office, the other was in BAe. Both of those experiments were discontinued. In both cases there was considerable resentment of workers involved in management decisions by upper and middle management, although I think this lessened at one level in the case of the Post Office. One business leader, when he was asked for his view of the issue, stated baldly that they tried to do it to his firm, he would move the decisions away from the boardroom. And this is, in fact, one of the problems facing worker-directors. Companies can circumvent the issue of giving power to their workers by making sure that effective decision-making is moved away from their boards.
From a left-wing perspective, there are problems with putting workers in the boardroom. Companies can alter their power structure, so that real decision-making is kept out of their hands. There is also the problem that workers placed there may also become isolated from their fellow employees, and side with management rather than the workforce. Tony Crosland, the founder of the Social Democrat section of the Labour party, believed the difficulties were so great, that he opposed worker-managers, arguing that effective trade unions were a far better way of implementing industrial democracy. He noted that through their very powerful unions, American workers had a very large part in the practical management of their companies, although industrial democracy was never mentioned.
This, however, has all gone, gutted through nearly four decades of Thatcherism, Reaganomics and neoliberal economics. Thatcher and Reagan deliberately gutted the trade unions in order to expand the power of management, and their successors on the nominal left, the Clintons, Obama, Blair and Broon, continued their assault on the unions and workers’ rights. There was never any chance of May seriously putting workers back in the boardroom. It was simply a lie to prop up the façade of ‘caring Conservatism’, as Mike has pointed out.
We desperately need working people to get back their rights at work, and to obtain more power within their companies, both through formal industrial democracy and strong unions, if we are to save people from poor wages, zero hours contracts and poor working conditions. The Tories and Blairites in Labour will fight tooth and nail against this. But in the case of the Tories this week, May’s decision has shown that they cannot be trusted on this issue, just as they can’t be trusted on any other.
Tags: BAE, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Conservatives, Financial Times, Gordon Brown, Hilary Clinton, Industrial Democracy, Labour Party, Management Boards, Margaret Thatcher, Post Office, Ronald Reagan, The Guardian, Theresa May, tony blair, Tony Crosland, Vox Political, Worker Directors, Workers' Rights, Works Councils, Zero Hours Contracts