Posts Tagged ‘Co-determination’

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’.

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C.A.R. Crosland on German Co-Determination and Worker’s Representation

June 30, 2016

On Tuesday I put up a piece from an Austrian government pamphlet explaining the system of Mitbestimmung, or Co-Determination, that operates in Austria and Germany, in which the workers’ interests in factories and enterprises are represented through a system of workers’ councils. C.A.R. Crosland also discusses this system in his book The Conservative Enemy: A Programme of Radical Reform for the 1960s (London: Jonathan Cape 1962). This is interesting, although Crosland believed it was inferior to negotiations carried out by free trade unions. Crosland wrote

In Germany, unlike Britain or the United States, we find a strong Left-wing pressure for direct participation in management; and this has found expression in the Mitbestimmung (‘co-determination’) experiment.

Under Mitbestimmung proper, which operates only in the coal and steel industries, the workers in each enterprise and the Trade Unions nominate between them half the members of the Supervisory Board (a part-time body which appoints the full-time Board of Management, and scrutinises and approves all major policy decisions). These worker-representatives not only participate fully (in theory) in the work of the Supervisory Board, but have the further right to nominate one members, the ‘Works Director’ (whose functions correspond roughly to those of a Personnel Director in a large British firm), to the full-time Board of Management.

Outside coal and steel, the workers in all firms of over a certain size nominate one-third of the Supervisory Board. They also elect a Works Council, which has certain co-management fights in personnel matters (wage-payments, hours, conditions of work, dismissals, etc.); and the Works Council and management are equally represented on a joint Economic Committee, which exists mainly for the transmission of information from management to workers.

This amounts to a very elaborate legal framework. But there are, of course, reasons external to industry for this constitutional approach: the German propensity to define and codify everything in legal terms, a tradition of legally-constituted Works Councils dating from early Weimar days, and above all, a powerful political motive. the German Left retains bitter memories of Krupp and Thyssen, and of the use of economic power for political ends. it was, at the end of Hitler’s war, determined to lever itself into a strategic position inside the actual governing councils of German industry, where it could ensure that industrial profits were never again used to finance a totalitarian political party.

In assessing the results of co-determination, we must notice first an incidental benefit: a marked humanisation of German management attitudes. Before the war, not only were German employers often feudal in outlook, but ‘personnel management’ in the Anglo-America sense was scarcely known. Today, the psychological effect of legal co-determination, and the practical effect of having worker-appointed Works Directors in two major industries, has been at once to liberalise employers’ attitudes and to direct attention to the importance of enlightened personnel policies.

How much actual power does co-determination give the German worker? The Works Councils have undoubtedly advanced his interests and increased his influence on all matters affecting working conditions in the plant. But, to be sure, they do nothing which goes beyond what shop-stewards or branch secretaries do in Britain in the course of their normal day-to-day negotiation with the management; and their power to influence management is certainly less than that of the unions in Britain or America.

At the level of higher management, representation in the Supervisory Board again gives the German unions a greater influence than they previously enjoyed over the personnel policies of the firm; but again, this is not as great as that wielded by British or American unions through collective bargaining from outside the managerial structure.

Moreover, with few exceptions, the workers’ delegates confine themselves to representing the workers’ interests in the traditional ‘collective bargaining’ field; that is, there is little participation in general management. This explains why many of the difficulties conventionally associated with workers’ management – the danger of divided loyalties, the difficulty of finding worker-representatives with experience of large-scale management, the apathy of the ordinary worker to the wider aspects of management – have not arise in an acute form. The worker co-managers have largely restricted themselves to the personnel field which they thoroughly understand; and within this field they have avoided split loyalties by accepting a first loyalty to the interests of the employees.

One should therefore see the German experiment less as an approach to workers’ management in the strict sense (for there is little participation in general decision-making) than as an attempt to gain additional bargaining representation for the workers – that is, to supplement the external bargaining strength of the unions with a Trojan horse of legal representation within the managerial structure. See in this light, co-determination was a sound policy for the post-war years. The bargaining position of the unions was weak; the mood of the workers was far from militant; and the continuous influx of refugees from the East meant a permanent buyer’s market for labour. Under these circumstances, it was a shrewd move to redress the balance by calling in the law and gaining formal representation inside the firm. This has without doubt increased the power of the unions at all levels; and it has done so more rapidly, and to a greater extent, than would have been possible under any alternative policy.

Yet this power is till less than that exercised by unions in other countries without attendant complications of co-determination. The German experience therefore does not invalidate the attitude of the British unions. Indeed, it may well be that as the autonomous power of the German unions increase, their interest in Mitbestimmung will diminish. (pp.220-222).

I can’t say that I don’t find this assessment disappointing. Nevertheless, the Austrians believed that their system had contributed to social peace, and the Germans talk about the realisation of the ideal of the ‘constitutional factory’. Meanwhile, successive British governments have done their best to destroy and marginalise the trade unions on this side of the North Sea. I think we do need a much stronger trade unions movement, allied with workers’ representation inside the factory through something like factory councils, or direct election to the management boards.

Co-determination and Workers in the Boardroom in Germany

April 18, 2014

Factory Elections

Elections for the Factory Council in Germany

I’ve posted up a few pieces about industrial democracy and worker’s control in Yugoslavia and in the former Soviet Union under Lenin. Capitalist West Germany also has a similar system of co-determination in which members of the workforce are represented in the boardroom in a system of factory councils, thus creating the ‘constitutional factory’.

The system is described in the book, Tatsachen Uber Deutschland: Die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Facts about Germany – The Federal Republic of Germany’) (Munich: Bertelsmann 1985). This is my translation of some of the relevant passages.

…..

Human self-determination is indisputably valid as the foundation of our social order. It results from the constitutional guarantee of the right to the free development of the personality. It would contradict this image of self-determined people, to regard the worker merely as a component of a system of production, who is solely determined by the interests of capital. Starting from this basic thought, he far-reaching unity exists today that that the aims of the enterprise must be stamped with the interests of the working people, and that the workers’ democratic say in the matter must be heard, when the entrepreneur’s decisions, touch on their vital interests. It has been attempted to do justice to these demands and concede to the workers, legally secured, a considerable measure of co-determination in the factory.

The factory council law of 1920, that first created this possibility of setting up elected representatives of workers and employee in all factories, stood at the beginning of this development. The young Federal Germany made a great step in the direction of employee co-determination in 1951, when it set in force the so-called ‘Coal, Iron and Steel Co-Determination Law’, which granted employees in the large enterprises of the coal, iron and steel industries considerable rights to co-determination, as well as the co-staffing of the organs of management. The Factory Constitutional Law of 1952 provided the employees of nearly all industries co-determination rights in nearly all factories in social and personal matters, and a hearing with in economic decisions. The second factory constitutional law of 1972 brought substantial improvements, above all for the employees’ representatives. This was considerably reformed in the comprehensive co-determination law of 1976. With all these laws the idea of the ‘constitutional factory’, which still appeared as a utopian dream a few decades ago, becomes a reality in the Federal Republic of Germany. The Basic Law’s principle of the social state is filled with life in an important area.

The Factory Council

the most important arrangement for the representation of the employees’ interests in the factory is the factory council. It is elected by all employees over 18 years old. Foreign employees are also entitled to vote and be elected. Everyone entitled to vote can equally stand as a candidate, whether or not they belong to a union. In practice, however, and above all in the larger factories, the unions have a considerable influence in the composition of the candidate lists. The number of members of the factory council is determined by the size of the enterprise. Its term of office lasts three years. As an employer could be tempted to dismiss an ‘uncomfortable’ member of the factory council, the members of the factory councils enjoy a stronger level of protection from dismissal during their time in office and for a year afterwards. The members of the factory council normally practice their office outside of their professional work. Only in the larger factories must a member or several members of a factory council be exempted from their professional activities.

The officials, employees and workers of the Civil Service equally have a representation of their interests, the personal council, whose tasks and powers resemble those of the factory council.

The Rights of the Factory Council

The factory council has multiple rights, above all in social and personal matters. In some things it must be heard, in others it can co-operate, and in some particular matters it finally has a real right of co-determination. ‘Real’ co-determination means that the employer cannot make decisions without the agreement of the factory council. If they cannot come to terms, an agreement office makes the decision, put together from equal numbers of the representatives of employers and the factory council as well as an impartial president.

Without the agreement of the factory council, the firm’s management are not allowed, for example, to arrange any overtime, short-time work, control clocks or introduce other control equipment, issue contract or premium rules, and give notice to vacate company accommodation. The factory council can even compel vacated or newly created positions to be first advertised within the factory.

The factory council cannot stop the dismissal of a fellow worker. They must be heard before every dismissal, and have a right to reply within certain limits. If they reply and themselves make a complaint, they are to be employed until the tribunal’s decision. If the employer plans the dismissal of a large number of workers, they must inform the factory council in time. This then has the right to demand the drawing up a ‘social plan’, that ameliorates the negative aspects for those affected. For example, a settlement, or the costs of removal, would be paid to them.

Also, where the factory council only has a right to a hearing, it can very frequently achieve improvements for the workers through skilful negotiation. In practice the factory council and the employer only rarely stand opposed as irreconcilable opponents, but work together, as the law expressly demands – and strive for sensible compromise.

The individual employee, apart from their electoral rights to the factory council, has rights, which could be called the ‘Innerfactory Basic Rights’. They have the right above all to be informed of the type of job and the arrangements for the termination of work; to demand information on the remuneration of work and the calculation of wages; to inspect their personal acts; and to complain if they feel discriminated against or unjustly treated. In most cases the employee is allowed to draw on a member of the factory council.

Co-determination in Large Factories

The factory council has no influence on the economic management of the enterprise. It is above them only in having a certain compass to inform, and only that in factories with over 100 employees.

There is, however, economic co-determination in various forms in almost all big factories. In the German Federal Republic more than half of large enterprises are joint-stock companies. German joint-stock companies have two management premiums: the supervisory board as supervisory organ and the board of directors, which conducts current business. From 1951 onwards a third of the members of the supervisory board in every joint-stock company must be elected representatives of workers and employees. This rule is valid for small and medium joint-stock companies (up to 2,000 employees), and also today in certain other legal forms for enterprises with 500-2000 employees.

There are, however, two special co-determination regulations for big businesses. In the large enterprises of mining, iron and steel production, with over 1,000 employees the so-called Iron, Steel and Coal Co-determination Law has been applied since 1951. According to this law, one half of the supervisory board is occupied by representatives of the investors and the other by those of the employees respectively. Both sides must then agree on a further, neutral member. A work director must be a member of the board of directors as a fully-qualified member, who cannot be elected against the voices of the employees representatives in the supervisory board.

For the big businesses of the remaining industries, which have more than 2,000 employees, the general co-determination law of 1976 is valid. In this law, which encompasses around 500 enterprises in all branches of the economy with the exception of the coal, iron and steel industries, and the press, the regulations are more complicated. According to this, there is complete parity per capita between the sides of the shareholders and the employees. But in cases of a tied vote, the voice of the chairman decides, who cannot be elected against the wishes of the investors. Furthermore, at least one representative of the ‘managing employees’, meaning an employee with management functions, must belong to the supervisory board on the side of the workers. The unions would have preferred it, if the co-determination law for the coal, iron and steel industries, which has stood the test of time over three decades, would have been extended to the remaining large factories. But the same have succeeded with legislation, which sees it as a too sweeping limitation of the basic constitutional right to property. The employers’ federations are of the opinion, that in this form the law places too strongly places narrow limits on property rights, and raised a constitutional complaint. The Federal Constitutional Court referred the complaint back and declared that the Co-determination Law is consistent with the Basic Law. The co-determination of workers has proved to be a stabilising element for the economic and social order of Germany. This order depends not least on the readiness of all parties to working together more fairly. The possibility of active co-creation increases the workers’ and employees’ motivation to work and thereby strengthens the efficiency of German industry.

______________________

Composition of the Supervisory Board according to the Factory Constitutional Law

10:4 Investors to workers.

In the coal, iron and steel industry the proportion is 7:7 investors to workers with a neutral member.

According to the Co-determination Law of 1976

Investors to workers – 7:7 + 1 president with a deciding vote and 1 managing employee.

Forms of Co-determination and its Area of Validity

Co-determination after the law of 1976 – 4.5 million employees, large, joint-stock companies.

Coal, Iron and Steel Co-determination law – 0.6 million employees.

3rd Partnerships – 0.6 million, small joint-stock companies.

Interfactory Co-determination (Factory Constitution Law) 9.3 million, the remaining economy.

Interfactory Co-determination (Personal Representation Law) – 3.6 million, the Civil Service.

No co-determination – 3.4 million – small factories with less than 5 employees.

Rights of the Factory Council

Co-operation

Personal planning, dismissals, termination of employment, work arrangements, factory organisation, factory alterations, work protection.

Co-determination

Working time, principles of pay, holidays, social facilities, professional education, factory regulations, recruitment and promotion.

…..

This isn’t workers’ control, but it is a type of industrial democracy, giving the workers a voice in some of the decisions made by management concerning their pay and conditions. I don’t know if this legislation survived the administrations of Franz-Josef Strauss, Helmut Kohl or Gerhard Schroder, Germany’s answer to Tony Blair. Some of the functions of the factory council could be performed through a good trade union, if such things were still permitted in post-Thatcherite Britain. Nevertheless, it seems that German workers, at least the period from 1975 to the book’s publication a decade later, enjoyed a degree of legal protection and a presence in the boardroom that their British counterparts lacked. This is one lesson from our friends on the Continent, which we should learn, no matter what the narrow chauvinists in UKIP may shout to the contrary.