Posts Tagged ‘Guild Socialism’

Workers’ Chamber Book: Chapter Breakdown

November 21, 2017

As I mentioned in my last post, a year or so ago I wrote a pamphlet, about 22,000 words long, arguing that as parliament was filled with the extremely rich, who passed legislation solely to benefit the wealthy like themselves and the owners and management of business, parliament should have an elected chamber occupied by working people, elected by working people. So far, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I haven’t found a publisher for it. I put up a brief overview of the book’s contents in my last post. And here’s a chapter by chapter breakdown, so you can see for yourselves what it’s about and some of the arguments involved.

For a Workers’ Parliamentary Chamber

This is an introduction, briefly outlining the purpose of the book, discussing the current domination of parliament by powerful corporate interests, and the working class movements that have attempted to replacement parliamentary democracy with governmental or administrative organs set up by the workers themselves to represent them.

Parliamentary Democracy and Its Drawbacks

This discusses the origins of modern, representative parliamentary democracy in the writings of John Locke, showing how it was tied up with property rights to the exclusion of working people and women. It also discusses the Marxist view of the state as in the instrument of class rule and the demands of working people for the vote. Marx, Engels, Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Kautsky also supported democracy and free speech as a way of politicising and transferring power to the working class. It also shows how parliament is now dominated by big business. These have sent their company directors to parliament since the Second World War, and the number has massively expanded since the election of Margaret Thatcher. Universal suffrage on its own has not brought the working class to power.

Alternative Working Class Political Assemblies

This describes the alternative forms of government that working people and trade unionists have advocated to work for them in place of a parliamentary system that excludes them. This includes the Trades Parliament advocated by Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, the Chartists’ ‘Convention of the Industrious Classes’, the Russian soviets and their counterparts in Germany and Austria during the council revolution, the emergence and spread of Anarcho-Syndicalism, and its aims, as described by Rudolf Rocker.

Guild Socialism in Britain

This describes the spread of Syndicalist ideas in Britain, and the influence of American Syndicalist movements, such as the I.W.W. It then discusses the formation and political and social theories of Guild Socialism, put forward by Arthur Penty, S.G. Hobson and G.D.H. Cole. This was a British version of Syndicalism, which also included elements of state socialism and the co-operative movement. This chapter also discusses Cole’s critique of capitalist, representative democracy in his Guild Socialism Restated.

Saint-Simon, Fascism and the Corporative State

This traces the origins and development of these two systems of government. Saint-Simon was a French nobleman, who wished to replace the nascent French parliamentary system of the early 19th century with an assembly consisting of three chambers. These would be composed of leading scientists, artists and writers, and industrialists, who would cooperate to administer the state through economic planning and a programme of public works.

The Fascist Corporative State

This describes the development of the Fascist corporative state under Mussolini. This had its origins in the ideas of radical nationalist Syndicalists, such as Michele Bianchi, Livio Ciardi and Edmondo Rossoni, and the Nationalists under Alfredo Rocco. It was also influenced by Alceste De Ambris’ constitution for D’Annunzio’s short-lived regime in Fiume. It traces the process by which the Fascists established the new system, in which the parliamentary state was gradually replaced by government by the corporations, industrial organisations which included both the Fascist trade unions and the employers’ associations, and which culminated in the creation of Mussolini’s Chamber of Fasci and Corporations. It shows how this was used to crush the working class and suppress autonomous trade union activism in favour of the interests of the corporations and the state. The system was a failure, designed to give a veneer of ideological respectability to Mussolini’s personal dictatorship, and the system was criticised by the radical Fascists Sergio Panunzio and Angelo Olivetti, though they continued to support this brutal dictatorship.

Non-Fascist Corporativism

This discusses the way the British state also tried to include representatives of the trade unions and the employers in government, economic planning and industrial policies, and suppress strikes and industrial unrest from Lloyd George’s administration during the First World War. This included the establishment of the Whitley Councils and industrial courts. From 1929 onwards the government also embarked on a policy of industrial diplomacy, the system of industrial control set up by Ernest Bevin during the Second World War under Defence Regulation 58a. It also discusses the corporative policies pursued by successive British governments from 1959 to Mrs Thatcher’s election victory in 1979. During these two decades, governments pursued a policy of economic planning administered through the National Economic Development Council and a prices and incomes policy. This system became increasingly authoritarian as governments attempted to curtail industrial militancy and strike action. The Social Contract, the policy of co-operation between the Labour government and the trade unions, finally collapsed in 1979 during the ‘Winter of Discontent’.

Workers’ Control and Producers’ Chambers in Communist Yugoslavia

This discusses the system of industrial democracy, and workers councils in Communist Yugoslavia. This included a bicameral constitution for local councils. These consisted of a chamber elected by universal suffrage, and a producers’ chamber elected by the works’ councils.

Partial Nationalisation to End Corporate Influence in Parliament

This suggests that the undue influence on parliament of private corporations could be countered, if only partly, if the policy recommended by Italian liberisti before the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship. Those firms which acts as organs of government through welfare contracts, outsourcing or private healthcare contractors should be partially nationalised, as the liberisti believed should be done with the arms industries.

Drawbacks and Criticism

This discusses the criticisms of separate workers’ governmental organs, such as the Russian soviets, by Karl Kautsky. It shows how working class political interests have been undermined through a press dominated by the right. It also shows how some of the theorists of the Council Revolution in Germany, such as Kurt Eisner, saw workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils as an extension of democracy, not a replacement. It also strongly and definitively rejects the corporative systems of Saint-Simon and Mussolini. This part of the book recommends that a workers’ chamber in parliament should be organised according to industry, following the example of the TUC and the GNC Trades’ Parliament. It should also include representatives of the unemployed and disabled, groups that are increasingly disenfranchised and vilified by the Conservatives and right-wing press. Members should be delegates, in order to prevent the emergence of a distinct governing class. It also shows how the working class members of such a chamber would have more interest in expanding and promoting industry, than the elite business people pursuing their own interests in neoliberal economics. It also recommends that the chamber should not be composed of a single party. Additionally, a workers’ chamber may in time form part of a system of workers’ representation in industry, similar to the Yugoslav system. The chapter concludes that while the need for such a chamber may be removed by a genuine working class Labour party, this has been seriously weakened by Tony Blair’s turn to the right and partial abandonment of working class interests. Establishing a chamber to represent Britain’s working people will be immensely difficult, but it may be a valuable bulwark against the domination of parliament by the corporate elite.

I’m considering publishing it myself in some form or another, possibly through the print on demand publisher, Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone wants to read a sample chapter, just let me know by leaving a comment.


My Unpublished Book Arguing for Worker’s Chamber in Parliament

November 21, 2017

I’ve begun compiling a list of articles on the various coups and other methods the US and the other western countries have used to overthrow, destabilise or remove awkward governments and politicians around the world, when those nations have been seen as obstructions to the goals of western, and particularly American, imperialism and corporate interests. ‘Florence’, one of the great commenters on this blog, suggested that I should write a book on the subject, to which she can point people. She’s worried that too few people now, including those on the left, are aware of the struggle against dictators like General Pinochet and the other butchers in the Developing World, who were set up by us and the Americans as part of the Cold War campaign against Communism. Many of the regimes they overthrew weren’t actually Communist or even necessarily socialist. But they were all reforming administrations, whose changes threatened the power and profits of the big American corporations. Or else they were otherwise considered too soft on the Communist threat. So, I’m compiling a list of the various articles I’ve written on this subject, ready to select some of the best or most pertinent and edit them into book form.

A year or so ago I got so sick of the way parliament was dominated by the very rich, who seem to pass legislation only to benefit themselves rather than the poor, that I wrote a pamphlet, For A Workers’ Chamber. This argued that what was needed to correct this, and really empower working people, was a separate chamber in parliament directly elected by working people themselves. I’ve tried submitting it to various publishers, but so far those I’ve approached have turned it down.

Here’s a brief summary of the pamphlet and its arguments.

For A Workers’ Chamber is a short work of 22, 551 words, arguing that a special representative chamber composed by representatives of the working class, elected by the working class, is necessary to counter the domination of parliament by millionaires and the heads of industries. These have pushed through legislation exclusively benefiting their class against the best interests of working people. It is only by placing working people back into parliament that this can be halted and reversed.

The pamphlet traces the idea of workers’ political autonomy from Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, Anarchism, Syndicalism and Guild Socialism, the workers’, socialists and peasant councils in Revolutionary Russia, and Germany and Austria during the 1919 Raeterevolution. It also discusses the emergence corporatist systems of government from the Utopian Socialism Saint-Simon in the 19th century onwards. After Saint-Simon, corporativism next became a much vaunted element in the constitution of Fascist Italy in the 20th century. This merged trade unions into industrial corporations dominated by management and big business in order to control them. This destroyed workers autonomy and reduced them to the instruments of the Fascist state and business class. It also discusses the development of liberal forms of corporatism, which emerged in Britain during and after the First and Second World War. These also promised to give working people a voice in industrial management alongside government and management. However, it also resulted in the drafting of increasingly authoritarian legislation by both the Labour party and the Conservatives to curb trade union power and industrial discontent. It also examines the system of workers’ control and producers’ chambers, which formed the basis of the self-management system erected by Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas in Tito’s Yugoslavia. It also recommends the part-nationalisation of those companies seeking to perform the functions of state agencies through government outsourcing, or which seek to influence government policy through the election of the directors and senior management to parliament as a way of curtailing their influence and subordinating them to the state and the wishes of the British electorate.

The book examines the class basis of parliamentary democracy as it emerged in Britain, and the Marxist critique of the state in the writings of Marx and Engels themselves and Lenin during the Russian Revolution, including those of non-Bolshevik, European Social Democrats, like Karl Kautsky, who rejected the need for institutional workers’ power in favour of universal suffrage. It also critically analyzes Tony Crosland’s arguments against nationalisation and workers’ control. The book does not argue that parliamentary democracy should be abandoned, but that a workers’ chamber should be added to it to make it more representative. The final chapter examines the possible advantages and disadvantages of such a system, and the problems that must be avoided in the creation of such a chamber.

I’m considering publishing the pamphlet myself in some form or other, possibly with Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone’s interested in reading a bit of it, please leave a comment below and I’ll send you a sample chapter.

Fabian Pamphlet on Future of Industrial Democracy: Part 3

November 11, 2017

William McCarthy, The Future of Industrial Democracy (1988).

Chapter 4: Summary and Conclusions

This, the pamphlet’s final chapters, runs as follows

This pamphlet has concerned itself with the change required in Labour’s policies for extending the frontiers of industrial democracy. It has been suggested that the objectives in People at Work need to be given concrete expression in an enabling statute which provides for the creation of elective joint councils at establishment level in all private firms employing more than 500 workers. In the case of multi-establishment firms joint councils will be needed at both establishment and enterprise level. Similar arrangements should be introduced into the public sector.

The primary condition for the establishment of joint councils would be an affirmative ballot of the workers concerned. Employers would be entitled to “trigger” such a ballot in association with recognised unions. In the absence of employer agreement recognised unions would be able to invoke the ballot procedure unilaterally. Where there were union members, but no recognition had been granted, a union with members would still be entitled to trigger a ballot covering the workers it wished to represent. Where no union members existed a given proportion of the labour force, say 10 per cent, would also be free to demand a ballot.

In all cases there would need to be a majority of the workers affected voting in favour of a joint council under the terms of the enabling Act. Such a vote would be legally binding on the employers; and there would be suitable sanctions to secure enforcement. Worker representatives would emerge by means of a universal secret ballot. Recognised trade unions would be given certain prescribed rights of nomination. Where unions had members, but were denied recognition, appropriate unions would also have the right to make nominations. This need not prevent a given number of workers from enjoying analogous right to make nominations.

Statutory joint councils would have the right to be informed about a wide variety of subjects which would be specified in the enabling Act-eg intended redundancies, closures and reductions in labour demand. Management would also be under a more general obligation to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm-including cost structures, profit margins, productivity ratios, manpower needs and the use of contract labour. Information could only be refused on limited and specified grounds of commercial confidentiality in parts of the public sector somewhat different criteria of confidentiality would be specified in the Act.)

Councils would have a similar right to be consulted on all decisions likely to have a significant impact on the labour force-using words similar to those set out in the EC draft Fifth Directive. This would be complemented by an obligation to consult the joint council on a number of specified subjects-such as manpower plans, changes in working practices, health and safety matters, etc. There would be a right to propose alternatives and a limited right of delay. Worker representatives would be under an obligation to present management proposals to their constituents for their consideration. The statute would stress that one of the main objects of consultation would be to raise efficiency and improve industrial performance.

The workers’ side of a joint council would have a right to complain to a special court if any of their statutory rights were ignored or denied by an employer. This would be empowered to make orders against a defaulting firm as a final resort.

The most radical changes in established Labour party policy that are recommended in this pamphlet concern the need to modify the principles of single channel representation, as these were expressed and applied to worker directors in the majority report of the Bullock Committee on Industrial Democracy. It is argued that if Labour is to establish a positive and convincing case for industrial democracy in present day Britain it must be prepared to urge its introduction over the widest possible area. To help retain the justifiability of single channel representation at board-room level Bullock understandably felt the need to confine his proposals to a fraction of the labour force. It is suggested that this degree of selectivity would not be acceptable today.

There should also be a limited area of joint decision taking or co-determination covering such matters as works rules, health and safety policies, the administration of pension schemes and training. Joint councils should also be given rights to develop and monitor equal opportunities policies and administer various government subsidies. They could also be linked to a Labour government’s regional or industrial planning process. They should provide the final internal appeal stage in cases of unfair dismissal and discrimination.

Labour should place much more emphasis on the positive case for industrial democracy. They should focus on the extent to which workers need to feel that they have some degree of influence over their work situation. Above all, Labour should stress the well-established links between participation and improvements in industrial efficiency and performance. They must emphasise that the development and extension of industrial democracy would produce substantial benefits for the community as a whole, quite apart from its impact on working people.

By stressing these aspects of the argument, it would be possible to attack the credibility and naivety of Thatcherite assumption concerning the need to ‘liberate’ British managers from all forms of regulation and responsibility-irrespective of the effects on workers in their employ. It should also make it more difficult for Labour’s opponents to misrepresent the negative case for participation as a mere cover for union restriction and control.

My Conclusions

The pamphlet makes a strong case for the establishment of joint councils below boardroom level, which would extend workplace to democracy to a greater proportion of the work force than recommended by the Bullock report. It shows how arguments for control of the means of production by the workers themselves have been around ever since Gerard Winstanley and the Diggers in the 17th century. He also shows, as have other advocates for worker’s control, that such schemes give a greater sense of workplace satisfaction and actually raise productivity and efficiency, as well as giving workers’ greater rights and powers over the terms and conditions of employment.

This is in very stark contrast to the current condition of the British economy, created through the Thatcherite dogmas of deregulation, privatisation and the destruction of unions and worker’s rights. British productivity is extremely poor. I think it’s possibly one of the lowest in Europe. Wages have been stagnant, creating mass poverty. This means that seven million now live in ‘food insecure’ households, hundreds of thousands are only keeping body and soul together through food banks, three million children subsist in poverty. And the system of benefit sanctions has killed 700 people.

This is the state of Thatcherite capitalism: it isn’t working.

As for the proposals themselves, they offer workers to become partners with industry, and contrary to Thatcherite scaremongering that ‘Labour wants to nationalise everything’, G.D.H. Cole, the great theorist of Guild Socialism recognised not only the need for a private sector, but he also said that Socialists should ally with small businessmen against the threat of the monopoly capitalists.

Thatcher promoted her entirely spurious credentials as a woman of the working class by stressing her background as the daughter of a shopkeeper. It’s petty bourgeois, rather than working class. But nevertheless, it was effective propaganda, and a large part of the electorate bought it.

But the Tories have never favoured Britain’s small businesses – the Arkwrights and Grenvilles that mind our corner shops. They have always sacrificed them to the demands of the big businessmen, who manipulate and exploit them. For the examples of the big supermarket chains exploiting the farmers, who supply them, see the relevant chapter in George Monbiot’s Corporate State.

Coles’ support for industrial democracy was thus part of a recognition to preserve some private enterprise, and protect its most vulnerable members, while at the same time socialising the big monopolies and extending industrial democracy to the private sector, in order to create a truly democratic society.

This is another point that needs stressing: without workers’ control, democracy in general is incomplete and under severe threat. The corporatism introduced by Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and extended by subsequent neoliberal administrations, including those of Blair and Clinton, has severely undermined democracy in both America and Britain. In America, where politicians do the will of their political donors in big business, rather than their constituents, Harvard has downgraded the countries’ status from a democracy to partial oligarchy. Britain is more or less the same. 75 per cent or so of MPs are millionaires, often occupying seats on boards of multiple companies. Big business sponsors party political conferences and events, even to the point of loaning personnel. As a result, as Monbiot has pointed out, we live in a Corporate State, that acts according to the dictates of industry, not the needs of the British public.

This needs to be stopped. The links between big business and political parties need to be heavily restricted, if not severed altogether. And ordinary workers given more power to participate in decision-making in their firms.

Fabian Pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia: Part 1

November 7, 2017

I’ve put up several pieces about workers’ control and industrial democracy, the system in which the workers in a particular firm or industry have their representatives elected on to the board of management. It was particularly highly developed in Communist Yugoslavia, following the ideas of Milovan Djilas and Edvard Kardelj, and formed an integral part of that country’s independent Communist system following the break with Stalin and the Soviet-dominated Comintern in 1948.

In 1963 the Fabian Society published the above pamphlet by Frederick Singleton, a lecturer on Geography and International Affairs in the Department of Industrial Administration at the Bradford Institute of Technology, and Anthony Topham, a staff tutor in Social Studies in the Adult Education department of Hull University.

The pamphlet had the following contents.

Chapter 1 was on Political Structure, and contained sections on the Communist Assumption of Power, the 1946 Constitution, the 1953 Constitution, and the Policy of the League of Communists.

Chapter 2: Economic Planning, had sections on the Legacy of the Past, From Administration to Fiscal Planning, Autonomy for the Enterprise, the Investment System, and Recent Developments.

Chapter: The Working Collective, has sections on the Workers’ Council, the Managing Board, the Director, Departmental Councils, Economic Units, the Disposal of Funds by Economic Units, Allocation of Personal Income, Structure and Role of the Trade Unions, the Right to Strike, Education for Workers’ Self-Management, Workers’ Universities, Worker’s Management in Action: Decision Making, Structure of a Multi-Plant Enterprise, and Incentives or Democracy: the Problem of Motive.

The final chapter, was the Conclusion, which considered the lessons the system had for Britain. It ran:

In considering the lessons which British socialists may draw from the Yugoslav experience, we must not lose sight of the different nature of our two societies and the disparity in levels of industrial development. But it is also relevant to ask how far the ideas of workers’ control could, with the stimulus of the Yugoslav experience, become a truly popular element of British Labour policy. It is true that, with the Yugoslav exception, past experience of this form of Socialism has been inconclusive and fragmentary. Usually, it has been associated with periods of revolutionary fervour such as the Paris Commune of 1871, the Catalan movement during the Spanish Civil War, and the factory Soviets of Russia in 1917-18. The experience of Owenite Utopian communities in this and other countries is misleading, in that they existed as small and vulnerable enclaves in a basically hostile society. On the other hand, there is an authentic tradition within the British Labour movement, represented by the early shop stewards’ movement, the Guild Socialists and Industrial Unionists, upon which we can draw. The Fabian tradition too, is not exclusively centralist or bureaucratic. In the 1888 volume of Fabian essays, Annie Besant raised the question of decentralisation. She did not believe that ‘the direct election of the manager and foreman by the employees would be found to work well’, but she advocated control of industry ‘through communal councils, which will appoint committees to superintend the various branches of industry. These committees will engage the necessary managers and foremen for each shop and factory.’ The importance attached to municipal ownership and control in early Fabian writings is related to the idea of the Commune, in the government of which the workers have a dual representation as consumer-citizens and as producers. This affinity to Yugoslav Commune government is even more marked in the constitutions evolved in Guild Socialist writings.

The history of the progressive abandonment of these aims, and the adoption of the non-representative Public Corporation as the standard form for British Socialised undertakings, is well known. Joint consultation, which was made compulsory in all nationalised industries, became the only instrument of workers’ participation. Yet the problem of democracy in industry is one which should be of great concern to the British socialist. It must surely be apparent that the nationalised industries have failed to create amongst the mass of their workers a feeling of personal and group responsibility. Even in the most ‘trouble-free’ gas and electricity industries, there is little real enthusiasm for the present system of worker-management relations. Nationalisation may have appeared to the Labour government to have solved the problems of the industries concerned. But the experience of the workers in these industries has not confirmed this. They found that joint consultation between managers and unions leaders plus vaguely defined parliamentary control did not create anything resembling industrial democracy. Had it done so, there would have been much stronger popular resistance to the anti-nationalisation propaganda which was so successful in the years preceding the 1959 election.

We therefore feel that the basic aim of the Yugoslavs is one which has validity for our own situation, and we conclude with some observations on the British situation suggested by an acquaintance with the Yugoslav system.

The Problem of Scale

The forms of economic organisation and management which have been evolved by the Yugoslavs are unique, and a study of them provides a valuable stimulus to those who seek ‘a real understanding of a scheme of workers’ control that is sufficiently comprehensive to operate over an entire industry, from top to bottom, and through the whole range of activities’. However, as the scale of production grows, the problem of ensuring that democratic control extends beyond primary groups such as Economic Units through the intermediate levels to the central management of the firm and the industry, becomes more and more difficult. There is a strong body of opinion which believes that schemes of workers’ control must ultimately founder in the context of modern large-scale production. The small, multi-firm industries of the Yugoslav economy make democratic control less difficult than in a highly developed industrial society such as our own.

But questions, which should be asked in relation to our own economy are: how far could the nationalised industries be broken down into the smaller, competing units, without serious loss of efficiency? How far is the growth in the average size of firm (as opposed to scale of production units) the outcome of purely commercial and power considerations, rather than concern for increased efficiency through economies of scale? How far have we been misled by the mystique of managerial skill into accepting the necessity of autocratic control by the managers in both private and public industries? After all, the principle of lay control over salaried experts is the normal and accepted principle in national and local government, and within the Co-operative movement. The decisions in these fields are no less complex and ‘technical’ than in industry. Where lay control in local Councils and Co-operative Management Boards is more apparent than real, how far is this due to the prevailing faith in technology, which makes us reluctant to transform the contribution of the elected representatives by a thorough and enthusiastic education programme of the kind found in the Yugoslav Workers’ Universities?

In the conditions of modern industry, decisions taken by line managers and directors are frequently a matter of choosing between alternative course the consequences of which have been calculated by technical staffs. Such decisions are of a social and political, rather than a technical nature, i.e. they are precisely the sort of decisions which should be undertaken by democratic bodies. These factors should be borne in mind when examining the conclusions of some writers that, whilst the Yugoslav experience is interesting, and may have relevance for countries at a similar stage of industrialisation, it has little bearing on the problems of advanced industries societies.

Continued in Part 2.

Fabian Pamphlet on Workers’ Control In Yugoslavia: Part 3 – My Conclusion

November 7, 2017

Continued from Part 2.

In parts 1 and 2 of this post I described the contents of the above Fabian pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham, published in 1963.

The authors attempted to show how, despite a very lukewarm attitude to the idea at the time, workers’ control could be a viable possibility for British industry. The authors’ noted that the very limited gesture towards worker participation in the nationalised industries had not gained the enthusiasm of the workforce, and in the previous decade the Tories had had some success in attacking the nationalised industries and nationalisation itself.

They argued that there was a tradition within the British Labour movement for workers’ control in the shape of the Guild Socialists and Industrial Unionism. The Fabians, who had largely advocated central planning at the expense of industrial democracy, had nevertheless put forward their own ideas for it. Annie Besant, the Theosophist and feminist, had argued that the workers in an industry should elect a council, which would appoint the management and foreman. This is quite close to the Yugoslav model, in which enterprises were governed through a series of factory boards elected by the workers, which also exercised a degree of control over the director and management staff.

The pamphlet was clearly written at a time when the unions were assuming a role of partnership in the nationalised industries, and had agreed to pay pauses. These were a temporary break in the round of annual pay rises negotiated by the government and management as a means of curbing inflation. This actually runs against Tory rhetoric that Britain was exceptionally beset by strikes – which has been challenged and rebutted before by British historians of the working class – and the unions were irresponsible.

The role of the factory or enterprise council in taking management decisions, rather than the trade unions in Yugoslav worker’s control also means that the trade unions could still preserve their independence and oppositional role, working to defend the rights of the workforce as a whole and present the grievances of individual workers.

The two authors acknowledge that there are problems of scale involved, in that the Yugoslav system was obviously developed to suit conditions in that nation, where there was a multiplicity of small enterprises, rather than the much larger industrial concerns of the more developed British economy. But even there they suggest that these problems may not be insuperable. Management now consists of selecting for one out of a range of options, that have already been suggested by technical staff and planners, and the experience of the co-operative movement has shown that firms can be run by elected boards. Much of the idea that management can only be effectively performed by autocratic directors or management boards may actually be just a myth that has developed to justify the concentration of power in their hands, rather than allow it to be also held by the workers.

They also note that the Yugoslav model also shows that the participation of workers in industrial management can lead to greater productivity. Indeed, the South Korean economist and lecturer, Ha-Joon Chang, in his books has shown that those industries which are wholly or partly owned by the state, or where the workers participate in management, are more stable and long-lasting than those that are run purely for the benefit of the shareholders. This is because the state and the workforce have a vested commitment to them, which shareholders don’t have. They will abandon one firm to invest in another, which offers larger dividends. And this has meant that some firms have gone bust selling off valuable assets and downsizing simply to keep the shares and, correspondingly, the managers’ salaries, artificially high.

They also present a good argument for showing that if workers’ control was implemented, the other parties would also have to take it up and preserve it. At the time they were writing, the Liberals were talking about ‘syndicalism’ while the Tories promised an Industrial Charter. This never materialised, just as Theresa May’s promise to put workers on the boards of industry was no more than hot air.

But some indication of how popular genuine worker participation in management might be is also shown, paradoxically, by Thatcher’s privatisations in the 1980s. Thatcher presented herself falsely as some kind of heroine of the working class, despite the fact that she was very solidly middle, and personally had nothing but contempt for the working class and working class organisations. Some of that image came from her talking about her background as the daughter of a shopkeeper. Another aspect was that in her privatisation of the utilities, she tried to persuade people that at last they too could be shareholders in industry. This was not only to the general public, but also to workers in those industries, who were offered shares in the newly privatised companies.

This experiment in popular capitalism, just like the rest of Thatcherism, is a total colossal failure. Newspaper reports have shown that the shares have largely passed out of the hands of working class shareholders, and are now back in the hands of the middle classes. As you could almost predict.

But the process does show how what popularity it initially had depended on Thatcher stealing some of the ideological guise for privatisation from Socialism. She had to make it seem that they would have a vested interest in their industries, albeit through holding shares rather than direct participation in management. She had no wish to empower the workers, as is amply shown by her determination to break the unions and destroy employees’ rights in the workplace. But her programme of popular capitalism depended on making it appear they would gain some position of power as individual shareholders.

The performance of the utilities following privatisation has shown that they are not better off under private management, regardless of the bilge spewed by the Tories and the Blairites in the Labour party. Under private management, these vital industries have been starved of investment, while the managers’ salaries and share price have been kept high again through cuts and increased prices. It is high time they were renationalised. And the nation knows this, hence the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.

And it’s possible that, if it was done properly, the incorporation of a system of worker participation in the management of these industries could create a real popular enthusiasm for them that would prevent further privatisation in the future, or make it more difficult. Who knows, if it had been done properly in the past, perhaps we would now have a proper functioning steel and coal industry, as well as the other vital services like rail, electricity, gas and water.

Schools Display and Document Folder on the 1920s General Strike

March 13, 2017

The General Strike: Jackdaw No.l05, compiled by Richard Tames (London, New York and Toronto: Jackdaw Publications Ltd, Grossman Publishers Inc., and Clarke, Irwin and Company 1972)

I picked this up about 20 years ago in one of the bargain bookshops in Bristol’s Park Street. Jackdaw published a series of folders containing reproduction historical texts and explanatory posters and leaflets on variety of historical topics and events, including the Battle of Trafalgar, the slave trade, the voyages of Captain Cook, Joan of Arc, the Anglo-Boer War, the rise of Napoleon, Ned Kelley and Wordsworth. They also published another series of document folders on specifically Canadian themes, such as the Indians of Canada, the Fenians, Louis Riel, Cartier of Saint Malo, the 1867 confederation of Canada, the vote in Canada from 1791 to 1891, the Great Depression, Laurier, and Canada and the Civil War.

This particular folder is on the 1926 general strike, called by the TUC when the Samuel Commission, set up to report into the state of the mining industry, published its report. This recommended that the mines should be reorganised, but not nationalised, and although the miners were to get better working conditions and fringe benefits, they would have to take a pay cut. The folder included a poster giving a timeline of the strike and the events leading up to it, and photos of scenes from it, including volunteer constables practising self-defence, office girls travelling to work by lorry, the Conservative prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, and buses and train signal boxes staffed by volunteers. There’s also a Punch cartoon commenting on the end of the Strike. It also contains a leaflet explaining the various documents in the folder, along suggested projects about the issue and a short bibliography.

Poster and timeline of the Strike

Leaflet explaining the documents

The facsimile documents include

1. A leaflet arguing the Miner’s case.

2. Telegram from the Transport and General Workers’ Union to a local shop steward, calling for preparations for the strike.

3. Pages from the Daily Worker, the official paper of the T.U.C. during the Strike.

4. Notice from the Met calling for special constables.

5. Communist Party leaflet supporting the Strike.

6. Handbill giving the proposals of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the leaders of the Free Churches for an end to the Strike.

7. Handbill denouncing the strike as ‘The Great ‘Hold-Up’.
The accompanying pamphlet states that this was very far from the truth, and that it was a government lie that the T.U.C. were aiming at a revolution.

8. Emergency edition of the Daily Express.

9. Conservative PM Stanley Baldwin’s guarantee of employment to strike-breakers.

10. Contemporary Analysis of the causes of the Strike’s failure, from the Public Opinion.

11. The British Gazette, the government’s official paper, edited by Winston Churchill.

12. Anonymous letter from a striker recommending that the T.U.C. shut off the electricity.

13. Appeal for aid to Miner’s wives and dependents.

14. Protest leaflet against Baldwin’s ‘Blacklegs’ Charter’.

The General Strike was one of the great events of 20th century labour history, and its collapse was a terrible defeat that effectively ended revolutionary syndicalism and guild socialism as a major force in the labour movement. It left a legacy of bitterness that still persists in certain areas today.

The jackdaw seems to do a good job of presenting all sides of the issue, and the final section of the explanatory leaflet urges children to think for themselves about it. And one of the folder’s features that led me to buy it was the fact that it contained facsimile reproductions of some of the papers, flyers, letters and telegrams produced by the strikers arguing their case.

Looking through the folder’s contents it struck me that the strike and the issues it raised are still very much relevant in the 21 century, now almost a century after it broke it. It shows how much the Tories and the rich industrialists were determined to break the power of the unions, as well as the sheer hostility of the press. The Daily Express has always been a terrible right-wing rag, and was solidly Thatcherite and anti-union, anti-Labour in the 1980s. Since it was bought by Richard Desmond, apparently it’s become even more virulently right-wing and anti-immigrant – or just plain racist – than the Daily Heil.

The same determination to break their unions, and the miners in particular, was shown by Thatcher during the Miner’s Strike in the 1980s, again with the solid complicity of the media, including extremely biased and even falsified reporting from the BBC. It was her hostility to the miners and their power which partly led Thatcher to privatise and decimate the mining industry, along with the rest of Britain’s manufacturing sector. And these attitudes have persisted into the governments of Cameron and May, and have influenced Tony Blair and ‘Progress’ in the Labour party, who also bitterly hate the unions and anything that smacks of real working class socialism.

Book Review: G.D.H. Cole’s A Century of Co-Operation

July 2, 2016

Cooperative Cole

(George Allen & Unwin Ltd. for the Co-operative Union Ltd 1944).

Many of us of a certain age still remember the Co-op before it became a regular supermarket chain. It was a store in which regular shoppers – the co-op’s members, were also it’s owners, and entitled to receive a share of the profits. This meant that you were paid a dividend. This was later issued in the form of ‘Green Shield’ stamps, which could be used to buy further goods in the stores. The co-operative movement was founded way back in the 1840s by the Rochdale Pioneers, former members of Robert Owen’s socialist movement. After this had collapsed, the Pioneers then went on to apply his socialist principles to running retail stores. The movement rapidly caught on and expanded, not least because, unlike ordinary shops, the co-ops sold pure food without the poisonous substances added elsewhere. For example, many bakers added arsenic to their bread to make it whiter, and more attractive to the purchaser. The co-ops didn’t, and so their food and goods was healthier, and thus more popular. Unlike their competitors, you could be fairly sure that what you bought from the co-op wouldn’t kill you in the name of making it appear more tasty. By 1942 there were 1,058 co-operative retail societies, with a total membership of 8,925,000 – just shy of 9 million people.

I found this book on the history of the movement in one of the charity bookshops in Bristol. It’s by the great socialist and writer, G.D.H. Cole, who was one of the leading members of Guild Socialism, a British form of syndicalism, which recommended the abolition of the state and its replacement with a system of guilds – trade unions, which would include all the workers in an industry, and which would run industry and the economy. Instead of parliament, there would be something like the TUC, which would also have administrative organs to protect the consumer.

The book’s chapters include:
I: “The Hungry ‘Forties'”,
II: Co-operation before the Pioneers
II. Rochdale.
IV. The Rochdale Pioneers Begin.
V. The Rochdale Pioneers to 1874.
VI Christian Socialists, Redemptionists, and Trade Unions
VII. Co-operation and the Law.
VIII. The Origins of the Co-Operative Wholesale Society
IX. Co-operative Growth in the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies.
X. The Second Revolution.
XI. The ‘Eighties and ‘Nineties.
XII. The Women’s Guild.
XIII. Co-operators and Education.
XIV. Co-operation in Agriculture – Ireland: The Beginning of International Co-operation.
XV. Co-operation before and during the First World War.
XVI. From War to War.
XVII. Guild Socialism and the Building Guilds
XVIII. Co-operative Development between the Wars.
XIX. Co-operators in Politics.
XX. Co-operative Employment.
XXI. International Co-operation.
XXII Co-operation Today and Tomorrow
I. the Growth of Co-operation.
ii. The Development of Co-operative Trade.
iii. Large and Small Societies.
iv. Democratic Control.
v. Regional Strength and Weakness.
vi. Co-operative Education.
vii. The producers’ Societies.
viii. The Wholesales and Production.
ix. The Next Steps.

Appendix: Who Were the Pioneers?

Cole notes that some forms of what became known as co-operation existed in various trades and businesses before the Rochdale Pioneers. Some of the capital used to set up businesses in the early 19th century, came from the workers. They tended to invest in other businesses’ than their employers, so that if their wages were cut during a recession or dip in trade, the dividends they would receive from their shares would not also suffer. Although not remarked on in the book, you could say that this shows how the working class has been disinherited. In many cases, they contributed their savings and money to the development of capitalism, but despite the existence in some firms of profit-sharing schemes, they have been and are being excluded from the profits of the modern, industrial economy.

From industry, co-operation also entered politics, with the establishment of a Co-operative Party, which is now part of the Labour party. The movement spread across Europe, to Germany and as far as Russia. Lenin was greatly impressed by the value of the co-operatives as a form of socialism. According to Aganbegyan, Gorbachev’s chief economist for perestroika, before 1950 47 per cent of all industries, including farms in the USSR were co-ops. Industrial democracy and co-operatives were a central plank of Gorbachev’s perestroika. Unfortunately, Gorby’s attempts to revive Communism failed, and Yeltsin turned them into bog-standard capitalist companies through the voucher system. Other thinkers and politicians in other countries saw co-operation as the solution to their countries’ social and economic problems. One of these was the Bulgarian Stambolisky, the leader of a peasant’s party before the First World War. He wished to organise the peasant farms into a system of co-operation, which would modernise the country by allowing them to acquire electricity and improve production and conditions. More recently, the Mondragon co-operatives, set up in Spain by a Roman Catholic priest in the 1950s, has become an industrial giant, involved in just about all areas of the Spanish economy.

Cole’s book understandably concentrates on the history of the co-operative movement from its emergence to the middle of the Second World War, and is an immensely detailed and thorough work of scholarship. Although not as prominent as they once were, co-operative businesses still exist in Britain. They were supported in the 1970s and ’80s by politicos like the great Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone, and may once again become a major force in British society and the economy.

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.

A Fabian Pamphlet for Workers’ Management: Part Three

April 27, 2016

Guild Socialist Letter

I’ve just put up two pieces, Parts 1 and 2, of this post, on a pamphlet I picked up years ago when I was a member of the Fabian Society. As I wrote in the first part of this essay, it was written by a ‘Guild Socialist’ – a British form of Syndicalism – to a shop steward, urging him to chose the most responsible and capable personnel to set on the shop stewards committees that had been set up in many factories in order to aid the war effort. The Guild Socialist believed that this would show management and employees that such councils, rather than being trouble-makers, were serious, capable partners in industry. Such an approach would immensely help workers’ demands for a greater share in industry.

Workers’ control is still a radical idea, but such a system of factory councils exist in Germany, Austria and Sweden. There was a similar system of workers’ control in Communist Yugoslavia. The shop steward’s committees mentioned in the pamphlets were councils set up to manage industrial disputes in the war time industries. Workers were forbidden to strike, but were given a place in management. These councils were largely dismantled after the war, as it was felt they placed too great restrictions on the unions’ ability to bargain. The councils did survive, however, in the Whitley Councils, that had been set up during the First World War in the Civil Service. I think these have since been dismantled under the Tories.

I put up the pieces from this pamphlet, not just because I agree with the general principle that workers’ should have a role in industrial management, but also to make a point about the value of trade unions themselves. Mike earlier this week put up a long piece on how workers have benefited from trade unions, after he was told by a woman when he went canvassing at the weekend that she wouldn’t vote Labour ‘after what the unions did to us’.

This clearly is a reference to 1979 Winter of Discontent, to which the Tories continually refer ad nauseam to justify their attacks on the unions. I’ve already put up a piece from one of the history books stating that Britain in the ’60s and ’70s was not unusually strike prone, and that most of the strikes in Britain were carried out according to the law, often with very good reasons behind them. And this pamphlet shows that even the radical wing of British trade unionism in the 1940s – that section that wanted a quasi-syndicalist reconstruction of society – did not do so out of a desire to cause mischief or deliberate disruption. Rather, they believed in efficiency, and that the workers on the shop floor quite often knew more about what was needed than a management, content solely on the maximisation of its own profits.

And, quite honestly, ‘Guild Socialist’ has a point. BHS collapsed, throwing 11,000 people out of work, because its chairman, Philip Green, starved it of investment. He did very well out of it, however. He may have left the company with a black hole in its pension fund of over half a billion pounds, but his ill-gotten gains was nicely stored in an offshore tax haven. Plus he got to buy a £400 million + yacht.

And this hasn’t been the only case of such flagrant mismanagement.

There have been a number of studies which show that the best run companies are unionised. This reinforces the point, repeated again and again in the Guild Socialist pamphlet, urging responsibility and competence. But Thatcher, Cameron and the rest of their cronies in big business aren’t interested in competence. Only in profiteering and impoverishing and exploiting the workforce. And they’re wrecking British industry to do it.

Fabian Pamphlet for Worker’s Management in Industry: Part Two

April 27, 2016

Guild Socialist Letter

Management hostility to trade unions and shop stewards’ committees.

The writer of the pamphlet also notes the capitalist resentment of the shop’s stewards’ committees and trade unionists, but have been forced to grudgingly recognise the powerful assistance they are giving the war effort.

Take for example your position as a shop steward. Your employers very much resent the kind of organisation you have been able to introduce into their works since the outbreak of war. They dislike it, because their idea of the right way of running industry is that they give the orders and you obey them without asking why. They dislike even the fact of your belonging to a Trade Union; but that they have come to accept, provided that your Union confines itself to ordinary collective bargaining outside the factory and makes no attempt to interfere inside the factory as long as they observe standard rates and conditions. They dislike your shop stewards’ committee very much more, because its very reason for existing is to interfere inside the factory, and to take charge of grievances of your which the Trade Union, as long as it stays outside the factory, can hardly touch. They dislike shop stewards, because shop stewards stand essentially for the claim of the workers to an effective voice in the CONTROL OF INDUSTRY – a control exerted when the shoe pinches, a control which involves the worker’s demand to be treated as a partner in industry, and not merely as a hired hand. (pp. 6-7).

Shop Stewards to Show They are Sensible and Competent

The only way of overcoming these fears, which are formidable obstacles in the way of workers’ control, is for the shop stewards to give plain proof of their competence and sense of responsibility. To the extent to which they can show themselves able to help in raising production, and therewith in securing redress for grievances which are holding it up, they will be in a position to command the respect of both employers and Trade Union officials: whereas, if they rest content with mere slogans and political agitation, without making themselves masters of practical workshop affairs, they will fail to command general backing among the workers, and will consequently forfeit their title to the employers’ full recognition and respect. If Trade Unionists wish to take a vital share in the running of industry, they will have to choose shop stewards who are competent, not only as agitators, but also as practical contributors to workshop efficiency. These stewards will have to be men who recognise the difficulties and problems of the industrial managers, and are prepared to cooperate in solving them. The reluctance of most managements to give a cordial welcome to delegations chosen by the rank and file as co-partners in the work of organising production will need to be met by a determination on the workers’ part to choose only those best fitted for such offices, and by a readiness on the part of the Trade Unions to give the delegates so chosen a position of unequivocal recognition as agents of Trade Unionism in the particular factory.

Assertions are often heard at present that the shop stewards, far from having a mandate either from the Trade Unions or from the main body of the workers, are in truth self-appointed stirrers-up of trouble, however desirous they may seem to be of seconding the demand for ‘bigger and better production’. This reproach needs to be met by deeds rather than words, for in proportion as the shop stewards prove their mettle as effective participants in workshop control the Trade Unions’ case for a share in the settlement of industrial policy will be reinforced and it will be much more difficult for the managers and directors of industry to reject the help of the shop stewards in matters of immediate workshop concern. Workers’ control cannot be won merely by talking about it, but only by plain demonstrations of practical competence; and this demands the service of the ablest men in the Trade Union ranks- the ablest in workshop technique, as well as in the art of commanding the respect and countenances of their fellow-workers.

To an ever-increasing extent, shop stewards chosen in this spirit should be able to take over from the factory managements many of the tasks of workshop discipline and ordering of the process of production, and to contribute therewith many suggestions for speeding up the pace of production without imposing unbearable strains upon the workers. The worker knows best where the shoe pinches, and is often times well equipped for proposing salutary changes in the arrangement of work. The printer’s chapel, a time-honoured institution among compositors, is an excellent example of what can be done by a closely organised body6 of craftsmen to take the discipline of workshops into their own hands, and there is no reason why the engineers or shipbuilders should be behindhand in their exercise of collective power. (A Letter To A Shop Steward, by ‘Guild Socialist’ (Fabian Society, No Date, pp.9-11).

A Workers’ Council in Every Factory

There ought to be, in every war factory of any considerable size, a fully recognised works committee consisting of workshop delegates chosen directly by the workers. These works committees ought to be linked up with the regular Trade Union machinery by adequate representation on Trade Union District Committees, which should hold regular policy-making conferences with the shop stewards from the various works. The works meeting convened by the shop stewards should largely replace the Trade Union branch as the place where matters of Union policy are regularly discussed, and resolutions to be sent forward for consideration by District Committees and, through them, by the national Trade Union authorities. The centre of Trade Union gravity ought to be shifted, as far and as fast as possible, from the branch, which has usually no direct contact with any particular factory, to the factory itself; for if workers’ control is to be won in any real sense it must be won in the factories, where the workers have to endure the hard discipline of capitalist industry. It is in the factory that workers of different crafts and callings come together to serve the common purpose of production; and the factory is clearly the unit on which must be based a workers’ movement capable of a real assumption of power.