Posts Tagged ‘Bullock Report’

Shirley Williams on the Industrial Democracy

January 5, 2019

Before she left with other members of the Labour right to form the SDP, it seems that Shirley Williams did have some genuinely interesting views on socialist issues some would associated more with the Labour left. Like industrial democracy.

The ’70s were the decade of the Bullock Report, which recommended putting workers on the management boards of Britain’s major industries, and this was still an issue a couple of years later. In her 1981 book, Politics Is For People, Williams discusses some of the problems of industrial democracy. She acknowledges that the trade unions were divided on the issue and management positively feared it. She also recognized that there were problems about how it could be achieved, given the complexities of the representation of the different trade unions in British workplaces on management boards. But she supported its introduction in Britain’s businesses, and suggested that it would be made easier through the information and computer technology that was then also appearing. She wrote

Through the need for participation in the introduction of new technologies, management and unions are having to establish consultative machinery where none exists. Those firms who want to move ahead quickly will achieve trade union cooperation if they offer participation in exchange; otherwise they will face resistance and obstruction. The new technologies offer an opportunity to widen industrial democracy at the plant and office level, where it matters most. Whether joint consultation at that level leads on to participation in the boardroom is a matter that can be left to each company and its unions to decide.

More difficult is the question of how the workforce in each firm should be represented. In the Cabinet committee which drew up the 1979 White Paper on industrial democracy, there were differing views on whether workers should elect their representatives to plant and company committees or whether they should be nominated by the trade unions (the ‘single channel’). The issue is far from simple. In Sweden and the Federal Republic of Germany most firms have only one trade union,, so there is no need to secure agreement among them before candidates for election can be put forward. In Britain, as many as twenty unions may represent the employees of large firms, and four or five unions in a firm are commonplace. In these circumstances, a straightforward election would be likely to lead all the representatives coming from the biggest unions, the rest being unrepresented.

But the nomination of a single list by agreement between the unions in a plant or firm offends the principle of democratic choice. The workers may object to one or more of the people selected to represent them, yet they would have no power to reject him or her other than by the rejecting the whole slate and jeopardizing participation itself. One way out of this dilemma would be for the unions in a multi-union plant to agree on constituencies representing each union on a weighted basis, with an election based on a secret ballot between candidates who were members of the appropriate union, some of whom might carry official endorsement.

Industrial democracy has not attracted consistent support from most trade unions, and the trade unions themselves are profoundly divided on the form it should take, many preferring a consultative structure to one statutory participation on the lines proposed in the Bullock Report. If the unions are divided, however, much of management feels threatened by the idea of industrial democracy. So for years there has been a stalemate on the subject, and government intervenes at their peril. Yet, if only beca8use there has to be effective consultation on technological change, the position cannot be left where it is. Indeed, in my view industrial democracy could usher in much better relations in industry, greater cooperation in improving the productivity of all factors of production and a better understanding of the need for voluntary incomes and prices policies to combat inflation. Many of Britain’s economic problems are rooted in institutional rigidities or, as in this case, institution conservatism. This one reform could bring in its wake a long-delayed rejuvenation. We should not be daunted by the difficulties, but rather invigorated by the possibilities.

Shirley Williams, Politics Is For People (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1981) 139-40.

Some of the issues Williams talks about here are very dated. Inflation is no longer the critical issue it was in the ’70s. It’s now very low, and this has caused problems in its turn. Profits and management pay have risen immensely, but this is not reflected in the salaries of ordinary workers. Quite the opposite. Their pay is still below inflation, and the result is that many of the quarter of a million people using food banks are actually in work. Mike has also today posted up a piece about how parents are starving themselves in the week because there isn’t enough to feed both them and their children on their wages. And this is not a recent development. Mike has published a number of articles about this over the past few years since the Tories took power under Cameron.

And the new technology to which Williams looked forward also hasn’t been an entirely liberating force. Some businesses instead are using to restrict and spy on their workers. Private Eye in their ‘Street of Shame’ column printed a story about how the weirdo Barclay Twins, who own the Torygraph, tried to fit the motion detectors used in call centres to monitor the movements of staff there to check to see if there hacks were leaving the desks. Other firms are fitting devices to their workers ankles to monitor their movements. And the spectre of Big Brother-style surveillance loomed even larger a month or so ago, when the I reported that a Swedish firm had developed an implantable chip that could be inserted into a firm’s staff.

British workers also don’t have the strong unions they enjoyed in the 1970s, which have left British workers vulnerable to low pay, the removal of employment rights and job insecurity.

However, Williams is right in that industrial democracy offers a genuine opportunity to empower working people, and benefit industry through proper cooperation between workers and management. It’s proper implementation won’t come from Williams and her fellows, who are now part of the Lib Dems, and who seem to have thoroughly forgotten it. It will only from Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.

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Fabian Pamphlet on the Future of Industrial Democracy : Part 1

November 11, 2017

The Future of Industrial Democracy, by William McCarthy (London: Fabian Society 1988).

A few days ago I put up a piece about a Fabian Society pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham. This discussed the system of workers’ self-management of industry introduced by Tito in Communist Yugoslavia, based on the idea of Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas, and what lessons could be learnt from it for industrial democracy in Britain.

William McCarthy, the author of the above pamphlet, was a fellow of Nuffield College and lecturer in industrial relations at Oxford University. From 1979 onwards he was the Labour party spokesman on employment in the House of Lords. He was the author of another Fabian pamphlet, Freedom at Work: towards the reform of Tory employment law.

The pamphlet followed the Bullock report advocating the election of workers to the management board, critiquing it and advocating that the system should be extended to firms employing fewer than the thousands of employees that were the subject of reforms suggested by Bullock. The blurb for the pamphlet on the back page runs

The notion of industrial democracy – the involvement of employees in managerial decisions – has been around at least since the time of the Guild Socialists. However, there has been little new thinking on the subject since the Bullock Committee reported in the 1970s. This pamphlet redresses this by re-examining the Bullock proposals and looking at the experience of other European countries.

William McCarthy outlines the three main arguments for industrial democracy:
* it improves business efficiency and performance;
* most workers want a greater say in their work environment;
* a political democracy which is not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing is incomplete and potentially unstable.

He believes, however, that the emphasis should no longer be on putting “workers in the boardroom.” Instead, he argues that workers ought to be involved below the level of the board, through elected joint councils at both plant and enterprise levels. These councils would have the right to be informed about a wide range of subjects such as on redundancies and closures. Management would also be obliged to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm.

William McCarthy argues that Bullock’s plan to limit worker directors to unionised firms with over 2,000 workers is out of date. it would exclude over two thirds of the work force and would apply only to a steadily shrinking and increasingly atypical fraction of the total labour force. As the aim should be to cover the widest possible number, he advocates the setting up of the joint councils in all private and public companies, unionised or otherwise, that employ more than 500 workers.

In all cases a majority of the work force would need to vote in favour of a joint council. This vote would be binding on the employer and suitable sanctions would be available to ensure enforcement.

Finally, he believes that this frame of industrial democracy would allow unions an opportunity to challenge their negative and reactionary image and would demonstrate the contribution to better industrial relations and greater economic efficiency which can be made by an alliance between management, workers and unions.

The contents consist of an introduction, with a section of statutory rights, and then the following chapters.

1: The Objectives of Industrial Democracy, with sections on syndicalism, Job Satisfaction and Economic and Social Benefits;

2: Powers and Functions, with sections on information, consultation, areas of joint decision, union objection, and co-determination;

3: Composition and Principles of Representation, with sections on selectivity, the European experience, ideas and legal framework.

Chapter 4: is a summary and conclusion.

The section on Syndicalism gives a brief history of the idea of industrial democracy in Britain from the 17th century Diggers during the British Civil War onwards. It says

The first of these [arguments for industrial democracy – employee rights] is as old as socialism. During the seventeenth century, Winstanley and the Diggers advocated the abolition of landlords and a system of production based on the common ownership of land. During the first half o the 19th century, Marx developed his doctrine that the capitalist system both exploited and “alienated” the industrial workers, subjecting them to the domination of the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production. Under capitalism, said Marx, workers lost all control over the product of their labour and “work became a means to an end, rather than an end to itself” (see Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, R. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 1961). During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Sorel and his followers developed the notion of “revolutionary syndicalism” – a form of socialism under which the workers, rather than the state, would take over the productive resources of industry. Syndicalists were influential in Europe and America in the years before the First World War. They advocated industrial action, rather than the use of the ballot box, as a means of advancing to socialism (see The Wobblies, P. Renshaw, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967).

In Britain, syndicalism came to adopt a more constitutionalist form with the formation of the guild socialists. They did not reject the use of parliamentary action, but argued that a political democracy which was not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing was incomplete and potentially unstable. This was the basic argument of their most distinguished theoretician, G.D.H. Cole. In more recent times a trenchant restatement of this point of view can be found in Carole Pateman’s Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

In his earliest writing Cole went as far as to argue that socialism required that that “the workers must election and control their managers”. As he put it “In politics, we do not call democratic a system in which the proletatiat has the right to organise and exercise what pressure it can on an irresponsible body of rulers: we call it a modified aristocracy; and the same name adequately describes a similar industrial structure” (The World of Labour,Bell, 1913).

Subsequently Cole came to feel that continued existence of a private sector, plus the growth of collective bargaining, required some modification of the syndicalist doctrine behind Guild Socialism. By 1957, he was arguing for workers to be given “a partnership status in private firms, “sharing decisions” with the appropriate level of management C The Case for Industrial Partnership, MacMillan, 1957. This is very much the position advanced by Carole Pateman after her critique of more limited theories of democracy-eg those advanced by Schumpeter and others. These “minimalist” democrats took the view that in the context of the modern state, the most one could demand of a democracy was that it should provide a periodic electoral contest between two competing political elites. After reviewing examples of industrial democracy at work in a number of countries Pateman concluded “…it becomes clear that neither the demands for more participation, not the theory of participatory democracy itself, are based, as is so frequently claimed, on dangerous illusions or on an outmoded and unrealistic theoretical foundation. We can still have a modern, viable theory of democracy which retains the notion of participation at its heart.” (op. cit.)

Continued in Part 2, which will cover the sections on the pamphlet ‘Ideas’ and ‘Legal Framework’.

Fabian Pamphlet on the Future of Industrial Democracy: Part 2

November 11, 2017

This is the second part of my article on William McCarthy’s Fabian pamphlet, The Future of Industrial Democracy, published in 1988.

The section on Ideas in chapter 3: Composition and Principles of Representation runs as follows

At this stage all one can do is propose a number of suggestions and options for further consideration by the Movement. I therefore advance the following cockshy in an attempt to start a debate. No doubt it fails to grapple with many of the problems and oversimplifies others. It should be regarded as written with the lightest of pencils. Three ideas come to mind.

First, why not retain the Bullock notion of a universal enabling ballot, to test whether workers in a given firm or establishment wish to exercise their statutory rights to participation? As the Bullock Report recognised unions would retain the right to “trigger” such a ballot in the groups they represented. Well-intentioned employers, in association with recognised unions, could agree to recommend the establishment of such statutory councils; but there would be a need to be a ballot of all workers involved.

Where a majority of workers voting favoured the establishment of participative rights the employer would be under a legal obligation to establish statutory joint councils. The composition of the workers’ side would be broadly defined by statute, as would be their powers and right. Management would be free to decide its own representatives who served on the council, but the statute would specify the obligations of the employee.

Second, why not let worker representatives emerge by means of a universal secret ballot-open to both unionists and non-unionists-with recognised unions enjoying certain prescribed rights of nomination? Here there a considerable number of European examples to choose from. In France and Luxembourg as I understand it, only unions can nominate for the “first round” of elections. If less than 50 per cent of the electorate vote there is a second election and any worker can nominate. In Belgium unions have an exclusive right to nominate “lists” of candidates where they have representative rights; non-unionists may make nominations elsewhere. Alternatively, there are systems where a given number of workers can nominate if unions fail to provide sufficient nominations. In the Netherlands, for example, any thirty workers can nominate in the larger enterprises, if unions fail to do so. In Germany any three workers can put up a candidate. For myself I favour certain limited rights of nomination in cases where unions are recognised. This is the area where the spectre of “company unionism” is most easily perceived and rightly resisted.

Third, why not specify that in areas where unions can demonstrate that they have members but no recognition any “appropriate” union has the right to make nominations? This need not prevent a given number of workers from enjoying analogous rights.

The section on Legal Framework also says

The best possible combination of nomination and electoral arrangements needs further thought than I can give it as this point. What I believe is that given suitable arrangements it would be possible both to safeguard the position of established unions and create conditions favourable to trade union growth; yet it would not be necessary to insist on a quasi-monopoly of representative rights confined to recognised unions. I suggest that after further debate within the Movement, Labour should propose an enabling statute which provides for joint participation councils in all private firms employing more than 500. The figure of 500 is itself open to debate. But in this way, I estimate it would be possible to show that the intention was to provide participation opportunities for something like 50 per cent of the private sector labour force. A worthwhile beginning to further advance, based on experience and proven worth. Where it was evident that a company employing more than 500 was divided into more than one “establishment” or was composed of a group of companies under the overall control of a “holding company” or its equivalent, power would exist to demand additional joint councils, with rights related to decisions taken at appropriate management levels.

Consideration would need to be given to the creation of a similar framework of rights in appropriate parts of the public sector of employment. So far as I can see there is no good reason why workers in the nationalised industries, national and local government or the NHS should be deprived of statutory rights to participate in management decisions affecting their working lives. No doubt the representation of “management” will pose different problems, the appropriate levels of joint councils will need to be tailor-made to fit different parts of the public sector and there will be different problems of confidentiality. But I doubt if the needs of workers and the benefits to both employers and the public will be found to be all that different.

It will be said that this cockshy for further consideration is superficial, with several critical problems and difficulties left unresolved. Those who like its general drift, but feel fear that the sceptics may have a case, could not do better than look again at some of the less publicised parts of the Bullock Report. One of the more lasting services performed by the Committee of Inquiry was that it set out to explore and overcome almost all the practical objections that could be raised to any form of statutorily based workers’ participation (see Bullock op. cit. chapters 11 and 12).

For this reason its says wise and relevant things about the need to avoid allowing all kinds of exceptions to a participation law, based on the alleged differences that are said to exist in banks, shipping lines, building firms and other parts of the private sector where employers would like to escape the effect of legislation. It also provides a clear account of the problem of “confidentiality” and how best to deal with it. It makes a convincing case for an Industrial Democracy Commission (IDC) to administer and apply the legislation and monitor its effects in an objective and impartial way. (In our case an additional essential task for the IDC would be to decide when multi-level joint councils were justified in the case of a particular firm or group of firms.) Above all, perhaps, it provides a guide through the complexities of company structure-with its spider’s web of holding boards, subsidiary boards, parent companies, inter-locking “subsidiaries” and “intermediate” organisations. It even follows these labyrinth paths into the upper reaches of British and foreign-based multi-nationals.

Of course the Committee’s primary objective in tracing out the lines of corporate responsibility and influence was to decide how to apply its own benchmark of “2,000 or more employees”. After much consideration they decided that this should apply “…to the ultimate holding company of a group which in toto employs 2,000 or more people in the United Kingdom, as well as to any individual company which employs 2,000 or more people in the United Kingdom, whether or not it is part of a group” (Bullock, op. cit. p. 132).

With appropriate emendation to fit the lower thresholds advanced in this pamphlet the Bullock formula seems to me to provide the essence of the right approach.

It is also important to remember that the legal framework advanced above would its place alongside Labour’s overall programme for extending rights at work-eg the restoration of trade union rights, improved rights of recognition and an expansion of individual rights against employers in cases of unfair dismissal and discrimination. All British workers would gain from such a programme and good employers should have nothing to fear.

The proposals should also be seen against the background of the first report of the Labour Party National Executive Committee’s People at Work Policy Review Group, with its emphasis on the need for a new training initiative and action to raise economic efficiency and the quality of life at work.

A legal framework of the kind envisaged here would provide trade unions and trade unionists with unrivalled opportunities. In areas where unions were recognised union representatives would find it easier to service members and influence the decisions of management. In areas where non-unionism is now the norm there would be greater incentives to organise and recruit; it would be easier to demonstrate what unionisation could do and easier to move to a situation in which recognition became a natural development. Of course, unions and their workplace representatives would need to become experts in explaining and using the rights embodied in the new framework. There would be a need for professional and prompt guidance and support in local and national union offices.

Unions should also find it easier to tackle their media image as negative and reactionary forces-opposed to the narrow “consumerism” peddled by the Government and its allies: engaged in a perpetual battle against management-inspired improvements in productivity and efficiency. In time, and before very long, it should be possible to demonstrate the contribution which can be made by the right kind of alliance between management, workers and unions. Benighted market men and women can be relied upon to misunderstand and misrepresent any teething problems and difficulties that arise; but for trade unionists of all sorts and persuasions there will be very little to lose and a great deal to gain.

This article will conclude in Part 3, which will discuss the pamphlet’s last chapter, Summary and Conclusions.

The Fabian Society’s Recommendations for British Industrial Democracy

July 12, 2016

I’ve put up a number of pieces recently advocating various forms of industrial democracy, from the German and Austrian works councils, to the Guild Socialist version in Britain. The Labour Party was also considering introducing industrial democracy into British firms in the 1970s. This would have been extremely radical, and made up to about 50 per cent of the members of the boards of directors workers elected through the trade unions. The issue was further discussed in the Fabian Society’s pamphlet, Workers in the Boardroom: Fabian Evidence to the Bullock Committee on Industrial Democracy. In ‘Appendix 1: Conclusions of Fabian Tract “Working Power”‘, the Society laid out its recommendations for its introduction into British industry.

The Appendix states

There is now a strong case for more industrial democracy all the way up from the shop floor to the boardroom. Evidence of substantial support amongst employees and their representatives for such a development suggests that new democratic structures would have firm foundations. It is essential, however, if democratic change is to be more than a façade, that it must be backed by trade union machinery and also build on existing collective bargaining systems.

Though there are problems to be overcome in the introduction of employee participation in management, some of the fears about trade union independence lose their validity if, as has been suggested, such participation is seen as an extension of the principles of collective bargaining (if not its actual form) to areas and levels which are now the subject of managerial prerogative. What is proposed is, in face, a system of dual power (employees and management) throughout industry, including the private sector.

Labour’s strategy to promote industrial democracy should be based on the following principles:

1. A single channel of representation.

2. Strengthening, extending and building on collective bargaining.

3. A multi-dimensional approach, capable of affecting managerial decision making at all levels from shop floor to boardroom.

4. Advancing democracy in the private sector as much as the public sector.

A programme to increase industrial democracy should include the following elements.

1. The Increase of trade union membership by establishing the right to join a union, by enabling trade unions, in difficulty over recognition, to use the ACAS and, in the last resort, unilateral arbitration facilities through the court, by reforming wages councils, and by much more vigorous trade union recruitment.

2. The extension of shop floor bargaining giving shop floor representatives minimum facilities as of right, by encouraging the codification of agreements, by widening their scope to include manpower planning, safety and work design (backed by government supported experiments) and by the statutory provision of information as of right.

3. The development of company and group bargaining to fill the missing gap between shop floor bargaining and employee representation on boards.

4. The introduction of employee representatives on boards by, as a first priority, introducing 50 per cent trade union representation on nationalised industry boards and, in the private sector, by setting up a two tier board structure, which a supreme supervisory board on which 50 per cent are trade union representatives, and by changing company obligations to take account of employee interests. In the private sector, employees should be given a choice as whether they want representation on the boards or not-in organised firms through trade union machinery and in non-organised firms, under ACAS supervision. The case for an independent chairman, elected by both sides of the supervisory board, ought to be considered.

5 The recognition of trade union responsibility for a major recruitment and educational effort, and also for a close watch against arbitrary exclusion and improper use of trade union machinery. Case for an independent tribunal as final court of appeal for aggrieved individuals to be considered.

If all, or even some, of the proposals suggested are implemented, they would result in a dramatic improvement in industrial democracy. We accept that they fall short of workers’ self-management. However, they are not a barrier to the achievement of such a goal. On the contrary, they represent an important step towards its. We should always remember democratic change is a movement towards rather than a final arrival.

These are certainly radical proposals, and something like 50 per cent trade union representation may be too much for some people. but we certainly need a system like this, and improved trade union power, to protect British working people from the utter poverty and precarity now imposed by employers through zero hours contracts and so on.

The Miners and Industrial Democracy: Is This Why Thatcher Destroyed the Industry?

May 2, 2016

I found this passage in G.D.H. Cole’s Fabian pamphlet, Guild Socialism (London: Fabian Society 1919) in which he discusses the way some of the trade unions and their shop stewards, particularly the railwaymen and the miners, were wishing to transform the negative control they had in their industries towards positive control. By this, he meant that they wished to change from simply telling the management of those industries what they could not do, to becoming active participants in the management of their industries. Cole wrote:

Perhaps the most remarkable tendency in that direction in recent years is the growth of the Shop Stewards Movement. it has been principally in the Engineering and allied industries, where it represents a definite attempt by the workers to convert their negative restrictions on industry into a form of positive control over industry. You may say that that was not consciously so. So far as many of the Shop Stewards are concerned it was not; but I am dealing not with what was consciously present in the mind of every Shop Steward, but with the general tendency of policy behind the Shop Stewards’ Movement as a whole. In that sense, what I say is undoubtedly true. During the present year the big control movement of the railwaymen and the miners have been obvious expressions of the tendency I have been describing. Both the railwaymen an the miners no longer content themselves with the imposition of restrictions on the way in which industry is run, but demand that they shall be admitted to a share in the control of industry, and shall have the right to a certain extent to lay down the conditions under which industry is to be organised in the future, and to share in the positive task of reorganising it. There is the second big difference between Trade Unionism as it has existed in the past and the Guild of the Future. (p. 10).

Thatcher was determined to smash the unions, and particularly the miners’, because of the way they had overturned Heath’s government with the three-day week. She was also terrified of them ‘ratcheting down’ of success reforms by the Labour party, which she believed would result in the complete socialisation of industry. 1975 was also the year of the Bullock report, which recommended a system of workers’ control, where the trade unions would place worker’s representative in the boardroom. Reading that passage and its remarks on the desires of the miners and railwaymen now nearly a century ago to run their industries, whether that was what she was also scared of. And the result was her privatisation and destruction of the mining industry, and John Major’s destructive privatisation of the railways.

‘Red’ Ken Livingstone’s Arguments for Industrial Democracy

May 7, 2014

Livingstone Book pic

In his 1989 book, Livingstone’s Labour: Programme for the Nineties (London: Allen Hyman Ltd) the much reviled leader of the GLC and bête noir of Thatcher and Blair, presented a case for the introduction of industrial democracy into British firms. This, he believed, would make state intervention popular, and increase the efficiency of the firms themselves. He writes

Once the idea of intervention is accepted, the question is how should it be done? No one in their right mind would wish to repeat the mistakes of previous forms of public ownership in Britain in which vast, remote, undemocratic, Morrisonian bureaucracies alienated the groups they were supposed to serve. Nor do we want some state-owned investment bank based in London and managed by a few well-meaning City bankers who have at sometime in the past been known to vote Labour in a good year. It would be a great mistake to recreate in our new system the inherent failings of the present centralised metropolitan financial system.

We must ensure that what Labour creates is based on the different regions of Britain and is inherently partipatory and democratic. If we can create an investment system which involves the workforce on an industry by industry, company by company, and plant for plant basis, it would not only be very difficult to abolish following a change of government but it would usher in economic rights for the individual citizen in addition to our traditional electoral rights.

I have no doubt that people in the future will look back at the present time and express amazement that private investors and accountants could intervene to contract and close firms based solely on a short-term financial decision, while the people and sometimes whole communities who had given their lives to that firm had no rights except to draw the dole.

It will no doubt come as a shock to those who wield power and influence at the top of great bureaucracies and corporations to suggest that their workforce should have control over the investment programme of their company, but in the long term they are the people who have the greatest stake in the success or future of the firm. Instead of the investment decisions being taken solely by a firm’s directors and accountants, who are so often only interested in the quickest short-term return and therefore decide to invest the company profits in stock market or property speculation rather than expanding production or developing new products, we should give the workforce in each firm a power of veto over all investment plans and the power to initiate an alternative strategy. The workforce would require access to all the relevant information about the firm or industry concerned, plus adequate research resources for it take part in any debate about future prospects. The most obvious way to provide such resources is on a regional basis and this would be the most important function of elected regional authorities, discussed in the next chapter.

All the evidence from other parts of the world and the more limited experience of Britain in this field, shows that workers in a firm take a much more long term, strategic view, if for no other reason than their jobs depend on the survival and success of the company concerned. I have no doubt that had such economic rights and responsibilities been introduced by the post-war Labour government under Attlee, then the British economy would by now be a lot closer to that of West Germany in strength and size.

These sentiments will seem alarming here in Britain where the class system is still so much more of a barrier to judging individuals on their merits than in the other more modern Western democracies. Indeed, there is no doubt that these reactionary and arrogant attitudes have been strengthened during the Thatcher premiership with the constant emphasis on the theme that ‘managers must be free to manage’. Given the gross mismanagement of our economy by our ‘managers’ over the past decades, there is little empirical evidence to suggest that British managers’ ability to run the economy is such that the rest of us should simply do as we are told whilst fervently hoping that their success rate improves. (pp. 33-4).

I’ve blogged about the West German co-determination system, in which workers are elected to the boardroom, and have wide rights regarding the supervision and management of personnel issues, though they don’t control investment or the business plan. The Fabian pamphlet ‘The Future of Industrial Democracy’ and the evidence presented to the Bullock Report in the 1970s noted the unanimous evidence that while workers generally say they don’t want to be managers, they do work harder and better when they feel that they have a say in the firm’s management. There are various systems of industrial democracy across northern Europe, including the Netherlands, Austria and Denmark. It’s only the British class system that prevents it from being adopted over here.

Review: Tom Schuller, Democracy at Work

July 8, 2013

Schuller Book

Following on from Mike Sivier’s post on the Lib Dem’s promotion of employee ownership, there have been plans to increase worker’s participation in management for a long time. Apart from the 19th century co-operative movement, there was the League for Democratic Control at about the time of the First World War. The Labour Party formulated a number of suggestions for putting it into practice in the 1980s, which, if they had been passed, would have been the most radical in Europe. Industrial democracy has also been the subject of a number of books, one of which is Tom Schuller’s Democracy at Work (Oxford: OUP 1985). This begins with this quotation from the Liberal Industrial Inquiry of 1928.:

‘While as a citizen he (the thinking workman) has an equal share in determining the most momentous issues, about which he may know very little, his opinion is seldom asked or considered, and he has practically no voice in determining the conditions of his daily life, except in so far as trade-union action has secured it. Indeed, where management is inefficient and autocratic he is frequently compelled to watch waste and mistakes of which he is perfectly well aware without any right of intervention whatever. And this, despite the fact that when these errors issue in diminished business for the firm concerned, he, and not the management, will be the first to suffer by short-time working or complete loss of employment’.

In the introduction, Schuller also states that

‘this book’s premise is that we should be actively exploring ways of achieving a more equitable distribution of power at the workplace, but it does not engage directly with the broader currents of political discourse. It contains no concise summaries of relevant theoretical approaches and few descriptive accounts of participation initiatives or systems. Its aim is modest; to provide a relatively straightforward way of looking both at the general theme of worker participation and at specific issues which have contemporary significance, emphasizing meanwhile that the contours of the debate are undergoing constant change’. (3).

Other sections in the Introduction discuss Participation: the Moving Target; the extension of collective bargaining, examining areas, organisational levels, and timing; Beyond, besides, and between bargaining: dimensions of participation; ‘Industrial’ and ‘Economic’ Democracy; and has a conclusion. It then goes on to the following chapters:

1. The Changing Profile of Work, with sections on workforce profile; the union movement; and organizational structure.

2. Conflicts and Powers, which has sections on power. This section in turn analyses the various types of power, financial, legislative, formal position, expertise, market position, technology, state policy and ideology.

Chapter 3 is entitled, Stages, Cycles, and Rhythms, and has sections on evolution by stages, cycles in democratization, rhythms in the promotion and suppression of industrial democracy, economic activity and employment, the role of government, organized labour, and social trends.

Chapter 4 is on Self-Ownership and Self-Control: Financial Participation and Economic Democracy, comprising sections on ownership and control and individual financial participation: profit-sharing. This section in turn has brief discussions on profit-based financial participation, executive share options or incentives and savings-related schemes. The next section in this chapter is on internal democratisation in the form of worker’s co-operatives. This discusses issues of autonomy, internal democracy, and models of democratic experience. After this there are sections on collective financial participation in wage-earner funds and a conclusion.

Chapter 5 is on Occupational welfare and capital control: participation in the management of pension schemes. This has sections on the growth of participation, incorporation and excorporation, and employee trustees and the control of capital. This last section also briefly discusses the roles of active shareholders, investment policy in individual funds and collective action.

Chapter 6 is on changes to the work environment, relating to issues of health and safety. This has sections on conceptual trends in health and safety, the effect of participation in joint health and safety committees, and consultation and participations, which Schuller describes as a process of ‘fuzzy oscillation’.

Chapter 7 is on Political and Industrial Democracy. The has sections on the way the Whitley Councils in the Civil Service transformed the workers in this sector from civil servants to public employees; the management of public servants; senior officials and formal occupational participation; and professional determinism, which examines how far the nature of the Civil Service as a profession meant that it already had an in-built measure of employee control.

Chapter 8 is on Worker Directors, referring to the Bullock Report of the 1970s and the issue of workers’ representatives in the boardroom. This has sections on the origin of the move towards board-level representation, board functions, and the process of representation at board level.

Chapter 9 is on the division of labour and the role of skill in determining this. This also has sections on intrinsic skills in technology and the labour process, instrumental skills and segmentation, occupationalism and the sexual division of labour; and participative skills, and the process of learning how to represent.

The last chapter is on collective interests and the dimensions of solidarity.

The book thus provides an overview of some the issues involved in industrial democracy and worker participation and representation. One reason, perhaps, for the lack of concrete examples of legislation for worker’s control is that the author considers that the boundaries and issues involved are always changing. Schuller suggests that some of these issues may only be solved by the workers themselves through their own practical experience. The book concludes that ‘perhaps the strongest rationale for worker participation is that it provides opportunities for people to learn from each other by formulating issues, and maybe even solving them, through some form of collective enterprise.