Posts Tagged ‘Industrial Action’

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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Dennis Skinner’s Personal Recommendations for Improving Britain

May 31, 2016

The veteran Labour MP and trade unionist, Dennis Skinner, also makes some political recommendations of his own in his autobiographical Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences, published two years ago in 2014. He summarises his plans, saying

So I’m fighting for a new Labour government to axe the bedroom tax, save the NHS, cut fuel bills, created jobs for the young and raise living standards. My personal manifesto will be to the left of that of the party but I’m committed 100 per cent to the election of Labour candidates across Britain. (p.313).

As for the proposals themselves, he writes (headlines in bold are mine)

I’ve a few suggestions of my own to boost Labour’s popularity and beat the Tories.

End Privatisation

To start the ball rolling we should end expensive privatisation instead of paying a fortune to contractors such as G4S, Serco and Capita that make a mess of services in the process. It’s time we got back to publicly run, publicly owned services provided in the public interest.

Nationalise the Railways

On the railways, the £900m surplus on East Coast trains, operated publicly after the private sector crashed twice, shows us the way ahead. Instead of boosting Richard Branson’s profits, a nationalised railway could make a profit and generate the cash to improve every station in Britain.

A ‘Robin Hood’ Tax on City Speculators

If we want extra money for the National Health Service and social care, we should levy a Robin Hood tax on speculators in the city. Directing the funds raised directly to health and care, including help for the mentally handicapped, rather than to the Treasury, would be immensely popular. We could start with a low rate and increase it when the tax proves to be popular, as I’m sure it will be, by emulating the one per cent National Insurance rise for the NHS when Gordon Brown was Chancellor.

Scrap Trident

Scrapping Trident would free up billions of pounds for a massive house building programme so everybody has a roof over their head and nobody is homeless. The position on council house sales has to change or local authorities won’t build houses if they know they must sell them cheaply after a few years.

End Nuclear Weapons, Restore Local Democracy

The savings from defusing nuclear weapons can also help save local democracy. Councils are being swamped by central government. Powers are either grabbed by Whitehall or transferred to unelected quangos. Ever since the Clay Cross rent rebellion, Whitehall has dictated to communities. We need to reverse the trend.

Nationalise the Utilities

On the question of the utilities – gas, electricity, water – this is the moment to start taking them back into public ownership. We took control after 1945 and right up to Wilson’s final government, when he nationalised aerospace with a majority of only three, public ownership was advanced. To cap energy bills is a good idea but a better plan is to control utilities by restoring public ownership in Britain of firms that are currently owned in France, Germany and almost every country on the globe.

Spend More on Education; End Privatised Schooling

Spending on education more than doubled under the last Labour government, which was impressive. let’s stop the growth of faith schools and misnamed free schools – tax payers fund them so they’re not free – by enhancing the powers of local authorities to champion the education of every single child.

Raise Minimum Wage

We need to end the pay freezes. The people that are carrying the burden of the bankers’ ramp are mainly workers at the bottom of the scale. The Living Wage shouldn’t be optional. Everybody should get it. But let’s not stop at £7.65 an hour outside London and £8.80 in the capital. The trade union campaign for 10 an hour should be Labour policy. A decent day’s work deserves a decent day’s pay.

Ban Zero Hours Contracts

We should introduce legislation to outlaw zero hours contracts and private employment agencies. Playing off worker against worker, ferrying into Britain cheap labour to undercut employees, is poisoning community relations. Sticking 10, 12 or 15 eastern Europeans into a house then deducting large sums form their earnings is in nobody’s interests except cowboy employers. Reasserting the role of Jobcentres as local labour exchanges will improve wages and conditions.

Increase Trade Union Rights

Trade union rights must be strengthened significantly, including the abolition of sequestration. Industrial action requires two sides to be involved in a dispute, yet it is union funds that are seized. Rebalancing employment rights in favour of workers and unions is essential if we are to build a fairer economy.

Abandon Tory Obsession with Fiscal Restraint

And we must escape the dumb economic mantra about balancing the books. There would have been no Spirit of ’45 if Clement Attlee’s goal was to balance the books. There would have been no NHS, new Welfare State, new council houses and unemployment wouldn’t have dropped to 440,000 in 1950, after only five years of the finest Labour government ever. In fact the finest government ever.

We need spending to get people to work and the economy growing. You don’t need a crystal ball to see where we should be going. We can find the way ahead by reading the history books. (pp. 309-12).

He states that they’re not just his ideas, but have been discussed for the last 10 or 20 years in the Bolsover constituency.

I have some caveats. I don’t like the attack on faith schools, having been to an Anglican faith school myself, and I don’t share his euroscepticism. But other than that, I think he’s absolutely right. Thatcherism has done immense damage to this country. Now, after thirty years of it, it is long past the time it should have been discarded.