Posts Tagged ‘Joint Stock Companies’

The Fascist Argument Against Free Market Capitalism

January 15, 2023

I notice that as the failure of contemporary free market capitalism becomes every more obvious, its right-wing supporters are out on the net telling everyone how wonderful capitalism is. Capitalism, according to them, has lifted more people out of poverty than any socialist state has ever done. You find this repeated by the Lotus Eaters, and I recent found yet another video on YouTube put up by a right-winger.

Now there is something to this. Marx in the Communist Manifesto was impressed by the global achievements of capitalism, and industrialisation and trade has produced development and prosperity in Britain, the West and elsewhere, and lifted people out of the poverty of agricultural subsistence economies. But this hasn’t been done by capitalism alone. Trade unions have also been part of the development of mass prosperity in the industrialised nations through demands for increased wages, better working conditions and so on, a fact ignored by the right. And working people in the west enjoyed their greatest period of prosperity when capitalism was regulated as part of the post-War consensus. In Britain this took the form of a mixed economy in which the utilities were owned and operated by the state. The privatisation of these utilities, the devastation of the welfare state and the deregulation of the economy has led to a massive transfer of wealth upwards, so that the poor have become colossally poorer and the wealth of the rich even more bloated and obscene. Properly regulated, capitalism does raise people out of poverty. But free market capitalism, of the kind frantically promoted by right-wingers like the Lotus Eaters, has done the reverse.

But let’s grant them that the 19th century was an age of industrial and agricultural expansion in which people enriched themselves. Mussolini expressed this view in his speech about the corporative state he was introducing into Italy. The fascist corporations were industrial organisations, one for each industry, which included representatives of the trade unions and the owners’ organisations. The Italian parliament was dissolved and reorganised into a Chamber of Fasces and Corporations, in which these organisations were supposed to debate economic policy. In fact, it just served as a rubber stamp for the Duce’s decisions. It was, however, important for propaganda purposes, to show that Mussolini’s regime had transcended capitalism and socialism.

The Fascists weren’t enemies of capitalism, far from it. Mussolini’s constitution made private industry the basis of the state and economic life, which is why I’m using it his critique of free market capitalism against the free marketeers. Mussolini had been a radical socialist, but when the Fascists seized power he declared them to be true followers of Manchester School capitalism. In other words, free trade. This was accompanied by a programme of privatisation. In Germany Hitler gave a speech to the German equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry, saying that capitalism could only be preserved through a dictatorship. He stated that he would not nationalise any company, unless it was failing. During the Nazi dictatorship industry was organised into a series of interlocking associations subject to state control. But they were not nationalised, and the leadership of the organisations was always given to private industrialists, not the managers of state industries.

Back to Italy, Mussolini described how this initial period had begun to decay. The old family run firms declined, to be replaced by joint stock companies. At the same time, firms organised themselves into cartels. In America, these cartels demanded intervention from the government. Mussolini announced that, if left unchecked, this would lead to the emergence of a state capitalism that was every bit as pernicious as state socialism. His solution was that capitalism needed to be more ‘social’. It would be subordinated to the state through the corporations, where workers and management would cooperate to make Italy a great power once more.

Something similar has happened over the past four decades. Under this new corporativism, representatives of private industry have entered government as advisors and officials, often in the departments charged with regulating their industries. At the same time, industry has received massive subsidies and tax breaks so that much of the tax burden has moved lower down on working people. Mussolini was correct about private industry demanding state intervention, however much this is denied and state planning attacked by free market theorists. And the result is corporativism, which the free marketeers denounce as not being true capitalism. But it’s been pointed out that the type of capitalism they believe in has never existed.

Free market capitalism is a failure. The solution is not a murderous dictatorship, but the old, regulated, mixed economy of the social democratic consensus. An economy that includes private industry, but which recognises that it alone does not create wealth, and which demands the inclusion of working people and their organisations in industrial negotiations and policies in order to create prosperity for working people.

Pamphlet by Robert Owen on Self-Governing Communes

March 4, 2017


Robert Owen’s pamphlet on reforming Britain into federation of autonomous socialist communities: front cover


Rear cover listing other works written by Owen.

Looking through my bookshelves yesterday, I managed to find an old copy of a pamphlet by Robert Owen that I’d read when I was at college. It’s a facsimile edition of the Utopian Socialist’s Outline of the Rational System of Society, published by his Home Colonization Society at their headquarters in Pall Mall in London in 1841. The modern edition was republished by a small, private press on Guernsey.

Inside the front cover is a short piece by the Home Colonization Society’s secretary, A.C. Cuddon, giving a brief overview of its aims and activities. It states

Whatever may be said or written on the improvement of all classes of society, it is now evident to those who reflect, that that which is necessary to this end is a SOUND, GOOD, PRACTICAL EDUCATION, AND PERMANENT BENEFICIAL EMPLOYMENT to all who require them; in fact, that any other measures are mere palliatives, and can produce only temporary benefits, at an extravagant waste of time, capital and labour.

It will also be obvious to those who have thoroughly investigated the subject, that a sound education and permanent beneficial employment cannot be given under the present competitive arrangements of society; and that the best mode of securing these benefits to the population will be by the establishment of SELF-SUPPORTING HOME COLONIES, on account of their complete efficiency for the purpose, and their great economy over the present system.

A Society has therefore been formed to promote the establishment of these colonies; having for its object-
1stly. To submit the plans of the Colonies in all their details to the most scientific and experienced men in every department of life.
2ndly. To make these plans extensively known to the public, and to demonstrate their efficiency for the purposes designed.
3rdly. To demonstrate that these Colonies, in consequence of their very superior economical arrangements, will afford a secure and profitable investment for capital.
4thly To arrange the preliminaries for Joint-Stock Companies to carry the same gradually into extensive execution.
5thly. To publish the most useful and authentic works explanatory of the principles on which the system of Home Colonisation is based, in order to convey to the public correct information on this most important subject.

The expenses attendant on the above will be met by Subscriptions of £5 each and upwards; which shall, at the option of the subscriber, be placed to his or her credit in behalf of one or more shares, which the subscriber may choose to take in the first Joint-Stock Company established, and by donations.

A Subscription of Donation to the above amount will constitute a member of the Society.

The Society have published a statement of their views and the measures they propose, in a work entitled “A Development of the Principles and Plans on which to establish Self-supporting Home Colonies; as a secure and profitable investment for capital, and effectual means permanently to remove the causes of ignorance, poverty, and crime, and most materially to benefit all classes of society, by giving a right application to the now greatly misdirected powers of the human faculties, and of physical and moral science.”

This Society is not confined to any particular class, sect or party, but invites the cooperation of all who will unite in practical measures for the relief and amelioration of humanity. And the proposed Colonies will contain arrangements for the accommodation of every religion; the only religious requisition being, the practice and charity and kindness to all.

The pamphlet consists of several short sections, in which Owen lists the basic facts or principles on which his communities will be built, which mostly consisted of his views of human nature and psychological needs and influences of human society. The sections are entitled:

The Five Fundamental Facts on Which the Rational System of Society is Founded;

The Fundamental Laws of Human Nature, Or First Principles of the Science of Man;

The Conditions Requisite for Human Happiness;

The Principles and Practice of the Rational Religion; and

The Elements of the Science of Society, Or Of the Social State of Man.

He then gives on pages 10 to 14 of the pamphlet his proposed constitution for these colonies. He writes

A rational Government will attend solely to the Happiness of the governed.
It will ascertain what human nature is;-what are the laws of its organisation and of its existence, from birth to death;-what is necessary for the happiness of a being so formed and matured;-and what are the best means by which to attain those requisites, and to secure them permanently for all the governed.

It will devise and execute the arrangements by which the condition essential to human happiness shall be fully and permanently obtained for all the governed; and its laws will be few, easily understood by all the governed, and perfectly in unison with the laws of human nature.

Liberty of Mind or Conscience

1. Every one shall have equal and full liberty to express the dictates of his conscience on religious, and all other, subjects.
II. No one shall have any other power than fair argument to control the opinions or belief of another.
III. No praise or blame, no merit or demerit, no reward or punishment, shall be awarded for any opinions or belief.
IV. But all, of every religion, shall have equal right to express their opinions respecting the Incomprehensible Power which moves the atom and controls the universe, and to worship that Power under any form, or in any manner agreeable to their consciences,-not interfering with the equal rights of others.

Providing For and Educating the Population

I. Every one shall be equally provided, through life, with the best of every thing for human nature, by public arrangements; which arrangements shall give the best known direction to the industry and talents of every individual.
II. All shall be educated, from infancy to maturity, in the best manner known at the time.
III. All shall pass through the same general routine of education, domestic teaching, and employment.
IV. All children, from their birth, shall be under the especial care of the community in which they are born; but their parents shall have free access to them at all times.
V. All children shall be trained and educated together, as children of the same family; and shall be taught a knowledge of the laws of their nature.
VI. Every individual shall be encouraged to express his feelings and convictions only; or, in other words, to speak the truth solely upon all occasions.
VII. Both sexes shall have equal education, rights, privileges, and personal liberty; their marriages will arise from the general sympathies of their nature, uninfluenced by artificial distinctions.

General Arrangements for the Population

VIII. Under the Rational System of Society,-after the children shall have been trained to acquire new habits and new feelings, derived from the laws of human nature,-there shall be no useless private property.
IX. As soon as the members of these communities shall have been educated from infancy in a knowledge of the laws of their nature, trained to act in obedience to them, and surrounded by circumstances all in unison with them, there shall be no individual punishment or reward.
X. Society shall not be composed, as at present, of single families, but of communities or associations of men, women, and children, in the usual proportions, from three hundred to two thousand, as local circumstances may determine.
XI. As these new communities increase in number, unions of them shall be formed for local and general purposes, in tens, hundreds, thousands, &c., according to the less or more extended objects and interests which shall require their consideration and direction.
XII. Each of these communities shall possess around it land sufficient for the support, for ever, of all its members, even when it shall contain the maximum in number.
XIII. These communities shall be so arranged as to give to all the members of each of them, as nearly as possible, the same advantages; and to afford the most easy communication with each other.

Government of the Population and Duties of the Council.

XIV. Each community shall be governed in its home department by a general council, composed of all its members between the ages of thirty and forty; and each department shall be under the immediate direction of a committee, formed of members of the general council, chose by the latter, in the order to be determined upon; and in its external or foreign department, by all its members from forty to sixty years of age.
XV. After all the members of the community shall have been rendered capable of taking their full share of the duties in the general council of government, there shall be no selection or election of any individuals to office.
XVI. All the members at thirty years of age, who shall have been trained from infancy in the communities, shall be officially called upon to undertake their full share of the duties of management in the home department; and at forty they shall be excused from officially performing them: at forty they will be officially called upon to undertake the duties of the external or foreign department; and at sixty they will be excused from officially attending to them.
XVII. The duties of the general council of
home department shall be, to govern all the circumstances within the boundaries of its community,-to organise the various departments of production, distribution, and formation of character,-to remove all those circumstances which are the least favourable to happiness,-and to replace them with the best that can be devised among themselves, or of which they can obtain a knowledge from other communities. The duties of the general council of the external or foreign department will be, to receive visitors or delegates from other associations or communities,-to communicate with other similar associations,-to visit them and arrange with them the best means of forming roads, and conveying surplus produce to each other,-to travel, to give and receive information of inventions, discoveries, and improvements, and of every other kind that can be useful;-and also to regulate and assist in the establishment of new associations, composed of the surplus population of the community from among themselves, and to send to delegates to the circle of communities to which their community shall be attached.
XVIII. The general councils, home and foreign, shall have full power of government
in all things under their direction, as long as they shall act in unison with the laws of human nature, which shall be their sole guidance upon all occasions.
XIX. All individuals trained, educated, and placed, in conformity to the laws of their nature, must of necessity, at all times, think and act rationally, except they become physically, intellectually or morally diseased; in which case the council shall remove them into the hospital form bodily, mental, or moral invalids, where they shall remain until they shall be recovered by the mildest treatment that can effect their cure.
XX. The council, whenever it shall be necessary, shall call to its aid the practical abilities and advice of any of the members not in the council.

Adjustment of Differences

XXI. If the general councils should ever attempt to contravene the laws of human nature,-which is scarcely possible,-the elders of the community who have passed the councils shall call a general meeting of all the members of the community between sixteen and thirty years of age, who have been trained from infancy within it. This meeting shall calmly and patiently investigate the conduct of the general councils; and if a majority shall determine that they have acted, or attempted to act, in opposition to these laws, the general government shall devolve upon the members of the community who have passed the councils are above sixty years of age, united with those who have not entered the council and are between thirty and sixteen years of age. It is scarcely possible to conceive that this clause will ever be required; and, if required, it can only be of temporary application.
XXII. All other differences of every description,-if indeed it be possible for any to exist in these communities,-shall be immediately determined and amicably adjusted between the parties, by the decision of a majority of the three senior members of the council: except when the difference shall ex9ist between members of the councils,-when it shall be, in like manner, decided by the three members who have last passed the councils.

This is followed by a conclusion and a section of concluding remarks, in which Owen looks forward to as many as 2000 individuals being supported per mile of average quality soil, without any further discoveries and much less labour and capital than needed under the present system.

The pamphlet shows Owen’s basis in 18th century philosophy and its concern for establishing the basic principles of human nature, including morality, as well as Owen’s Deist belief. Owen states in his section on religion that God, whatever the individual religions wanted to call Him, exists, but that the precise nature of the Almighty has not been discovered. Which seems to suggest that he believed that someday science would also solve the mysteries of theology as well as the natural world.

His communities themselves are very much like the federation of small, independent communes advocated by Thomas Spence and his followers in the late 18th and early 19th century, and in France by Comte and then Fourier, who recommended reforming the country into a similar system of autonomous phalansteries. It seems to me that these ideas owe much to Rousseau and his ideas of democracy, based on his experience of the Swiss cantons, which were similarly bound together in a federation. They also seem to go back even further to the ancient Greek city states, and the constitutions suggested for them by Plato and Aristotle.

Although Owen went to America to try to found colonies there, his system proved massively impractical and all of them collapsed, as did similar plans by other Utopian Socialists. His schemes offer no rewards for excellence, or punishments for incompetence or laziness, defects which have led to the collapse of many similar experiments in communal life since then. Also, few would really want to embrace a system in which the community has almost absolute power of their children. According to William Blum, this was used as a scare in Venezuela a few years ago to prevent people voting for Hugo Chavez, and his right-wing and far right opponents told people that if they elected him, their children would become the property of the state.

The section where he recommends sending moral invalids, as well as those physically or mentally sick, to the community hospital is also sinister. It recalls the way twentieth century totalitarian governments, like Soviet Russia or Mao’s China, used psychiatry to persecute and incarcerate political dissidents, or sent them to ‘re-education’ camps. Even so, I think its very clear that ‘moral invalid’ certainly describes large numbers of the Tory, Lib Dem and Blairite sections of the Labour party. Particularly Damian Green, his mistress Theresa May, and Jeremy Hunt, and their forerunners in the last government.

Nevertheless, Owen was a major pioneer in the formation of Socialism, and in challenging the injustice, exploitation and poverty of traditional capitalist society, and so still remains important in that sense.

Apart from this pamphlet, Penguin Classics published a collected edition of his works, which I’ve reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

John McDonnell and Anti-Marxist Scaremongering on Thursday’s Question Time

September 18, 2016

I was talking to Mike this evening about John McDonnell’s appearance on Question Time last week, when all the other panelists, including Alistair Campbell, Soubry for the Tories and Dimbleby himself all tried to pile into him and attack himself and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. I didn’t see the programme, but heard from Mike that at one point someone attempted to score a point accusing McDonnell of being a Marxist. McDonnell said he was, and that as a Marxist he was overjoyed at the 2008 financial crisis, as this was the kind of massive economic crisis that is caused by capitalism. Mike took this McDonnell answering in the conditional: this is what he would believe, if he was a Marxist. But even if McDonnell is a Marxist – which is debateable – this still is not necessarily a reason why he should be feared or disqualified from government.

There’s a difference between Marxism and Communism. Communism is a form of Marxism, but as historians of the Soviet regime and political scientists will tell you, it is a form of Communism based on the interpretation of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. And I was taught by the tutor at College on the rise of Communism in Russia, that Lenin adapted and reformed Marxism as much as his ideological opponents and enemies in democratic socialism. I should point out here that before he began the course, he made a little speech stating that he wasn’t a Communist, and if, by some accident, he found himself in such a party, he would very soon find himself thrown out of it. This is pretty much true. The official ideology of the Soviet Union was Marxism-Leninism, and it broke with the ideas of the German Social Democrats, and particularly that of Karl Kautsky, as the leading European Marxist party. In 1910 the German Social Democrats (SPD) were world’s leading socialist party. They had 110 deputies in the Reichstag, the German parliament, 720,000 members and over 70 newspapers and periodicals. (See John Kelly, Trade Unions and Socialist Politics, p. 27).

The party had been riven by ideological conflict in the 1890s over Eduard Bernstein’s ‘Revisionism’. Bernstein had argued that Marxism was wrong, and that far from impoverishing the workers in the operation of the ‘iron law of wages’, the workers were becoming more prosperous. He therefore urged a revision of Marxist socialism, abandoning the aspects that were no longer relevant. Instead of the Hegelian dialect, he urged instead that the party should incorporate and adapt the ideals of the great German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. This did not mean abandoning socialism or the nationalisation of industry. Indeed, he saw the emergence of joint-stock companies as the type of capitalist institution, which would gradually become transformed as society developed to produce the new, socialist society of the future. Despite widespread, and fierce opposition, Bernstein was not thrown out of the party. Lenin, who had previously been an admirers of the Germans, really couldn’t understand this. When he met Karl Kautsky, the Austrian leader of German and Austrian Marxism, during his exile from Tsarist Russia, Lenin asked him that question. Kautsky replied that they didn’t do that kind of thing. Lenin went berserk, called him a prostitute, and published a pamphlet attacking Kautsky and denouncing him as a ‘renegade’.

Kautsky was no enemy of democracy. I’ve put up various pieces from Marx, Kautsky and the French Marxist, Lucien Laurat, showing how they all supported, to a certain degree, parliamentary democracy. Marx never ruled out violent revolution, but was increasingly of the opinion that there was no need, as socialists were winning considerable concessions and advances through parliamentary politics. Kautsky and Laurat fully support parliamentary democracy. Kautsky himself despised the workers’ soviets as undemocratic, and bitterly attacked the Bolsheviks for their suppression of human rights. He hated the disenfranchisement of the bourgeoisie, their subjection to slave labour and how they were given the worst jobs, and were given the worst rations. He also attacked the Bolsheviks’ monopolisation of the press and their destruction and banning of competing parties, newspapers and publications. And rather than industry being nationalised in one fell blow, as the Bolsheviks had done, he argued instead that Marxism demanded that industry should only be nationalised gradually at the appropriate moment. This was when the various capitalist firms in a particular economic sector had merged to create a cartel. It was only then that the industries should be taken over by the state, and run in the interests of the working class and the people as a whole. After the Bolshevik revolution, Kautsky supported the Mensheviks, their ideological rivals, in the newly independent state of Georgia in the Caucasus, before that was finally conquered by the USSR.

Lenin, by contrast, had argued in his 1905 pamphlet, What Is To Be Done, that the Russian socialist party should be led by committed revolutionaries, who would command absolute authority. Debate was to be strictly limited, and once the party’s leaders had made a decision, it had to be obeyed without question. Lenin had come to this view through his experience of the conspiratorial nature of Russian revolutionary politics. He was influenced by the ideas of the Russian revolutionary – but not Marxist – Chernyshevsky. He also adopted this extremely authoritarian line as an attempt to prevent the rise of factionalism that divided and tore apart the Populists, the Russian agrarian socialists that form Marxism’s main rival as the party of the peasants and working class.

Now I’ll make it plain: I’m not a Marxist or a Communist. I don’t agree with its atheism nor its basis in Hegelian philosophy. I’m also very much aware of the appalling human rights abuses by Lenin, Stalin, and their successors. But Marxism is not necessarily synonymous with Communism.

During the struggle in the 1980s in the Labour party with the Militant Tendency, the Swedish Social Democrats also offered their perspective on a similar controversy they had gone through. They had also been forced to expel a group that had tried to overturn party democracy and take absolute power. They had not, however, expelled them because they were Marxists, and made the point that there still were Marxists within the party. Thus, while I don’t believe in it, I don’t believe that Marxism, as opposed to Communism, is necessarily a threat.

It’s also hypocritical for members of New Labour to try to smear others with the label, when one element in its formation was a Marxist organisation, albeit one that came to a very anti-Socialist conclusion. This was Demos. Unlike conventional Marxists, they believed that the operation of the Hegelian dialectic had led to the victory, not of socialism, but of capitalism. The goal for left-wing parties now should be to try to make it operate to benefit society as a whole, rather than just businessmen and entrepreneurs.

Arguably, this form of Marxism has been every bit as destructive and doctrinaire as Militant. Blair seized control of the Labour party, and his clique swiftly became notorious for a highly authoritarian attitude to power. Events were micromanaged to present Blair in the best, most flattering light. Furthermore, the policies they adopted – privatisation, including the privatisation of the NHS and the destruction of the welfare state, the contempt for the poor, the unemployed, the disabled and the long-term sick, who were seen as scroungers and malingerers, resulted in immense poverty and hardship, even before they were taken over and extended massively by Cameron and now Theresa May.

Traditional Marxists in the Labour party, as opposed to Communists and Trotskyites aren’t a threat. And neither McDonnell nor Corbyn are either of those. What has damaged the party is the pernicious grip on power of the Blairites, who have turned it into another branch of the Tories. It is they, who have harmed the country’s economy, provoked much of the popular cynicism with politics, and impoverished and immiserated its working people and the unemployed. All for the enrichment of the upper and middle classes. It is their power that needs to be broken, and they, who are responsible for acting as a conspiratorial clique determined to win absolute control through purging their rivals. It’s long past time they either accepted the wishes of the grassroots for a genuine socialist leadership, and made their peace with Corbyn, or left to join the Tories.

Factory Councils and Workers’ Co-Determination in Austria: Part 2

June 28, 2016

Co-Determination Austra Cover

This is the second part of my translation of Co-Determination at the Workplace: The Constitutional Law on Work (Vienna: Federal Press Service 1983). As I said, this is very much not an official translation, and the information in it is more than thirty years out of date, so please don’t take it as a guide to present-day Austrian employment law. As I said, I put it up because it shows the system of factory councils and associated bodies, which give Austrian, and German workers some official representation and participation in the management of factories and businesses.

Extensive Co-Determination in Personal Matters

A range of measures can only be legally enacted by the factory owner with the express agreement of the factory council:

* The execution of factory disciplinary orders.
* The planning of staff questionnaires, in so far as they are to include not only general information about the person and about the technical assumptions for the proposed employment of the employees.
* The execution of control measures and technical systems for the control of employees, as far as these measures (systems) affect human dignity.
* In so far as regulations in the collective agreement do not exist, the execution and regulation of performance related pay.

The right of co-operation of the factory council in staff matters are especially important. The factory council is to be informed in advance of staff planning, the recruitment of employees and the placement of works accommodation, at its wish matters from the employees are to be consulted with it.

That is equally valid for an employee’s proposed promotion. Promotion is every raise in employment at the factory, which is connected to a higher ranking in the pay scheme or otherwise with a rise in salary. If the factory owner infringes one of these decisions, he can only be punished with a fine.

The settlement of efficiency wages in individual cases can, if the employee himself doesn’t agree to it, take place with the consent of the factory council. The transfer of an employee to a bad work place or the infliction of disciplinary measures also requires the agreement of the factory council. Agreements of the factory council to a settlement can also be superseded by one from the Settlement Office.

Veto on Dismissal

The factory council’s position in cases of employee’s dismissal is particularly strong. The entrepreneur must inform the factory council in advance of the proposed dismissal; the factory council can contest the dismissal within a determined time through the settlement office (an arrangement for the mediation of disputes over workers’ rights which exists outside the factory).

Appeals against dismissal by the factory council is allowed in two cases: if the dismissal has taken place because of the activities of the employee for the trade union or the factory council, and if the dismissal is socially unjustified. A dismissal is socially unjustified, which adversely affects the employee’s present interests. Dismissal is nevertheless also permitted in this case, if the entrepreneur brings proof, that the dismissal is based on conditions, which lie in the person of the employee and adversely affect the factory’s interests or factory requirements oppose the further employment of the employee. In practice that means, that a dismissal, which means social hardship for the person dismissed, is only then admissible, if the dismissed person has allowed any such offence to be his fault, or if it has been unavoidable because of a necessary reduction of the employee’s condition.

On the basis of the factory council’s possible veto against dismissal, it is necessary that the entrepreneur establishes contact with the factory council early before the proposed dismissal measures and discusses matters precisely. Pains can be taken with that, to find ways, in which the necessary measures can be carried out with as little social difficulties as possible. Frequently the help of the state administration of the labour market is is also called on.

Economic Proposals

In the frame of the factory council’s right to co-operate in economic matters the factory owner has to give information to the factory council about the economic position of the factory, the type and size of production, orders in hand, quantity and value of sales, investment plans, as well as about other measures to raise the factory’s efficiency. The factory council can lay before the entrepreneur proposals on all these areas. In middle and larger factories the entrepreneur has to convey annually to the factory council the balance, including the accounts of profit and loss. The factory council is also to be given supporting documents, and explanations as required, to understand them.

The entrepreneur is further bound to inform the factory council of planned changes to the factory, as early as possible and consult with it about them. Changes to the factory comprise especially the reduction or closure of the whole factory, the factory’s transfer, its combination with other factories, changes to the factory’s purpose, equipment, work and factory organisations, the introduction of new working methods, the introduction of measures for rationalising and automation, and of considerable significance and change for the factory’s legal forms or property relations. The factory council can deliver proposals for preventing, removing, or ameliorating the detrimental consequences of such measures for the employees. The factory council also has to take into consideration with that the factory’s economic necessities. In factories with at least 20 employees a factory agreement can be concluded over appropriate measures.

The factory council is further entitled to co-operate in the company’s organs in joint-stock companies. These rights, recognised as ‘co-determination’ as well as the right to invoke the state economic commission are handled in more detail later.

Legal Protection for Factory Councils

The law provides for the protection of the members of the factory council from arbitrary dismissal by an entrepreneur, that the dismissal of a member of the factory council can only take place with the agreement of the Settlement Office. The Settlement Office is only allowed to agree to the dismissal of a member of the factory council, if the factory council’s workplace does not exist any more because of alterations to the factory and he can not be employed any more in one of the other workplaces in the factory, if the member of the factory council is not able to perform his work any more, or if he persistently violates his duty. A dismissal is also possible because of quite gross offences by the member of the factory council. In all cases, in which a proposal for the dismissal or release of a member of the factory council is based on his personal conduct in the exercise of his mandate, the Settlement Office, has to consider, whether this behaviour, was based on the function of the member of the factory council – the representation of the employee’s interests.

In practice these decisions means, that a member of the factory council can only be dismissed or released, if he commits serious, inexcusable offences, or further employment in the factory is not possible due to factory reasons (above all from the serious reduction of numbers of staff). In the last instance, nevertheless, the rule in doubt, is that the members of the factory council are the last to be eliminated from a factory.

Apart from the factory council, for which they are nevertheless not entitled to vote, there are youth trust councils, which are also convoked and elected by young people, for the protection of the special rights of youthful employees. The youth trust councils are elected similarly to the factory councils through secret ballot and exercise in collaboration with members of the factory council analogous functions for young people. They also are covered by similar protective decisions regarding the dismissal and release as factory council members.

The Role of the Trade Unions in the Factory

In connection with the business of negotiating for the employees’ organisations and the trade unions at the level above the factory, and especially in connection with the employees’ organisation in the factories, the question arises of the legal regulation of the trade union organisations. In Austria the trade unions are not subject to their own legislation, but fall under the common law on associations, which proceed from the principle of freedom of association, protected by the constitution. Legal regulations thus merely relate to which rights belong to the trade unions in their capacity as recognised bodies capable of collective agreements.

Except for the already mentioned right to concluded collective agreements, it deals with the right of access of trade union officials to the factory. The factory councils can draw on the organs of the trade unions for consultation in all matters at any time. In these cases, and so far as this otherwise necessary for the exercise of the powers granted to them through the Constitutional Law on Work, the factory owners have to grant the organs of the trade unions access to the factory. He is to be informed prior to the forthcoming visit. Further, the organs of the trade union are to be invited to the factory assembly and also in these cases access is to be granted. The factory council is free to consult a representative of the trade union for the regular consultation with the factory owners mentioned above. It has to inform the factory owner in time for this work. In factories, in which there is no factory council, the trade union can take the initiative under agreed conditions through which a factory assembly is convened to prepare a factory council election.

The constitutional law on work also establishes that staff organs in the factory should proceed with the realisation of its tasks in agreement with the trade unions.

According to the statutes of the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions the elected members of the factory council (as far as they belong to the trade union, which is almost always the case) automatically constitute the trade union’s board in the factory group. In trade union practice, this means that the factory council elections, and also equally, as a rule, the original elections for the trade union functionaries, are elected in an indirect electoral system from the local level to the district and land level up to the federal level.
The Factory Agreements

In principle the entrepreneur and the factory council are free to conclude agreements, which also have effects on the particular work negotiations according to prevailing jurisdiction. Such agreements are met above all in the area of wage rights. In its frame, for example, are agreed higher wages than the set minimum wage established in the collective agreement. Beyond this are special regulations concluded for wage additions, frequently at the factory level. There are nevertheless factory agreements, which are naturally legally dependent on the agreement of the factory council, such as the initiation of a disciplinary order, the introduction of staff questionnaires, as far as it does not only deal with general information on their person, furthermore the execution of control measures, if these affect human dignity (for example, control system to tap telephone conversations) and finally regulation of remuneration for performance, which means payment systems, which rest on performance (for example, piece-work). The last regulation is only valid, as far as the collective agreement does not assign a regulation.

Free factory agreements are not especially regulated in the Constitutional Law on Work, which are concluded on the basis of the law itself or on the basis of the authority of collective agreement. The law provides a whole range of matters, about which such factory agreements can be concluded between the entrepreneur and the factory council. Even the settlement of a factory agreement can be compelled in several matters. If a factory agreement in these cases is not reached, a mediation agency makes a decision on the offer of one of the conflicting parties, which is proportionally put together from the representatives of the employer and employees.

The settlement of a factory agreement is compelled about the following questions in the form outlined:

* General orders, regulating the conduct of the employees in the factory.
* General establishment of the beginning and end of the working day, the duration and position of breaks and the division of work time in particular days of the week.
* The type and means of deductions and especially the time and place for the payment of salaries.
* Measures for the prevention, removal or amelioration of the consequences of an alteration to the factory, as far as this brings with its present disadvantages for everyone or an increased part of the workforce.
* The type and scope of the participation of the factory council in the administration of the factory and the enterprises own training, educational and welfare arrangements.
* Measures for the use of factory arrangements and factory resources appropriate to the purpose.

Apart from these matters, about which the factory council can compel the settlement of a factory agreement, there are a multitude of subjects, about which factory agreements are likewise possible with a legally valid action between the factory council and the management of the enterprise. To these matters belong, among others:

* Directions for the award of works accommodation
* Measures for forms of work according to human justice
* Methods of making proposals in the factory
* Profit-sharing systems
* Factory pensions and payment of retirement money
* Methods for making a complaint in the factory.

Altogether 24 areas of rights are specified in the law, about which factory agreements can be concluded. This specification is an estimate. Agreements between enterprise management and factory councils about other matters are merely free factory agreements, whose legal validity would have to be bested in individual cases.

Tertiary Representation of Employees in the Supervisory Councils

Austrian enterprise law also provides for a supervisory organ for joint-stock companies apart from the organs of complaint for the daily business management. As a rule, this supervisory organ is called the Supervisory Council. Especially extensive powers fall to the share of the supervisory council in joint-stock companies, and partly in co-operatives. In joint stock companies the supervisory council elects the members of the board, which applies itself to the business’ management.

The Constitutional Law on Work now gives the factory council (where there are several factories, the central factory council) the right to appoint a third of the members of the supervisory council from the circle of the members of the factory council. The members of the supervisory council, who have been sent by the employees must thus be serving members of the enterprise.

The employee’s representatives in the supervisory council fundamentally have the same rights and duties, as those members of the supervisory council elected by the businesses meetings of the shareholders. However, apart from a majority of votes in the supervisory council a majority of the votes of those members of the supervisory council, who were elected by the shareholders’ meetings, is required for the appointment of the board of managing directors and the election of the chairman as well as its first representation.

Two of the workers’ representatives in the supervisory council in particular also have the possibility to demand at any time a report from the board about company matters, including their relations tot eh group of enterprises.

In combines, in which the parent company employs less than a third of the employees of the whole combine, there is the possibility, for the factory councils of the daughter companies to cooperate in the election of employees’ representatives in the parent company’s supervisory board.

The decisions about the tertiary representation in the supervisory council for joint-stock companies are valid independently of the numbers of their employees. A tertiary representation in the supervisory council, is also provided with that to companies with a limited liability, also independently of the number of its employees, although such companies must only then appoint a supervisory council, if they employ more than three hundred employees. Tertiary representation in supervisory councils first comes into affect in co-operatives, if they employ at least 40 employees.

These regulations, which have been fought about particularly vehemently, for Austria mean a present broadening of the right of co-determination in factory organs. Up to 1974 it was only provided, that two representatives of the factory council should belong to the supervisory council in joint-stock companies. In other forms of companies generally not representation of the workforce in the supervisory council was prescribed. A representation of the employees in the managing organs of the companies (like, for example, in the board of directors of joint-stock companies) is not striver for by the Austrian trade unions.

The State Economics Commission

In factories with more than two hundred employees the factory council can raise an objection with the entrepreneur against alterations to the factory or other economic measures, as far as they bring with them disadvantages for the employees. A factory closure can be delayed for four weeks through this objection. If no agreement is reached in direct negotiations between factory council and the enterprise management about the planned measure, a mediation commission can be called in, formed proportionally by the sides of the employers and employees, whose task it is, to mediate and work towards an agreement of the conflicting parties. The mediation commission can nevertheless only then pronounce an award, when both the conflicting parties submit themselves before its award.

In factories with more than four hundred employees, if the efforts of the mediation commission are in vain, an appeal can the be raised above the Austrian Trade Union Federation with the State Economics Commission. Apart from representatives from the side of the employers and employees, representatives from the federal government also belong to the State Economics Commission. It is also their task to mediate between the conflicting parties and to deliver suggestions for the settlement of the points at issue. If an agreement also is not reached with the help of the State Economic Commission, the factory owner has to convey all the necessary supporting documents to this commission for it to handle the objection. The State Economic Commission has to establish in the form of an expert opinion, whether the objection is justified.

Agencies of Labour Constitution

The agreement offices mentioned, which, for example, have to decide in questions of dismissal, to which representatives nominated by the state also belong, apart from the representatives from the sides of the employers and employees, are permanent state agencies. These are to make decisions according to hearings of the employers’ and employees’ organisation.

The mediation agency, which, for example, is responsible for the enforcement of factory agreements, is newly assembled for every particular case of conflict. Representatives of the sides of the employers and employees belong to it, in which, in each case, a representative on each side of the factory in question should be represented in the mediation agency. It is presided over by a professional judge.

Rights and Duties

The entire Constitutional Law on Work is based on the principle mentioned at the beginning, which is also anchored in the text of the law: the goal of the decision about the constitution of the factory and of its application to it is to bring about an equalization of interests to the welfare of the employee and the factory.

For that the rights of the factory council have been so far developed, that in practice is becomes necessary for the entrepreneur to strive for a successful co-operation with his factory council. As the law gives the factory council the possibilities of taking an influence in so many particular questions, that a factory, in which there is a lasting conflict between management and the factory council, would be severely hampered in his work.

There far-reaching possibilities for the factory council and the necessity, which results from it, of the management and factory council co-operating, means, however, not just rights, but also duties for the factory council. The factory council has with its possibility of making co-decisions, then naturally as has a co-responsibility. It bears this responsibility not only towards the enterprise, but above all towards the employees, who have elected it, and which it has to represent.

The efforts for an equalization of interests are not just a lip service for the entrepreneurs and trade unions of Austria. That is proven amongst other things by the parliamentary decisions agreed about the Constitutional Law on Work, which has been realised after protracted negotiations about its extremely complicated matters at the end of the 1973. Once again the system of partnership has provide, that is has contributed so much to economic and social progress in Austria.

The French Revolutionary Sansculottes, Their Attitudes, Ideology and Continuing Relevance

April 22, 2014

French Revolution Book

I have found this description of the Sansculottes, the radical Parisian republicans, in D.G. Wright, Revolution and Terror in France 1789-1795 (London: Longman 1974). They weren’t working class, but a mixture of people from across the working and middle classes, including wage-earners and prosperous businessmen. The majority of them were tradesmen, shopkeepers, craftsmen, small masters, compagnons and journeymen. Their membership reflected the structure of Parisian industry, which largely consisted of small workshops employing four and fourteen workers. Despite containing many members of the middle class, the Sansculottes believed strongly in manual work and direct democracy.

The ideal sans culotte, depicted in popular prints, wore his hair long, smoked a pipe and dressed simply: cotton trousers (rather than the knee-breeches, culottes, of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie), a short jacket and the bonnet rouge (the Phrygian cap of the freed slave in ancient times). Powdered wigs, scent, knee-breeches, buckled shoes, flowered waistcoats, bows and lorgnettes were dismissed as foppish and frivolous trappings of privilege, with overtones of sexual deviancy. Equally dismissed were the manners and deferent behaviour of the ancient regime: the good sans culotte took his hat off to nobody, used the familiar ‘tu’ rather than ‘vous’ and ‘citoyen’ rather than ‘monsieur’, and swore in the colourful Parisian slang of the Pere Duchesne. He tended to judge people by their appearance: those who wore fancy clothes, spoke in ‘posh’ tones, looked haughty, or failed to offer the fraternal kiss of liberty. Those who seemed to despise the honest working man were in trouble. A music dealer was arrested as a suspect for observing, at a sectional meeting, ‘It was disgusting to see a cobbler acting as president, particularly a cobbler who was badly dressed’.

‘Aristocrat’ and ‘moderate’ became interchangeable terms for those who opposed in any way the outlook and aspirations of the sans culottes or appeared to look down on them or ridicule them; they were also applied to those who seemed indifferent and lacking in the open enthusiasm of the good revolutionary. ‘Aristocrat’ could include those who refused to buy biens nationaux or to cultivate land or sell it at a fair price, or failed to find employment for labourers and journeymen, or refused to subscribe generously to patriotic loans, or to those dealt in gold rather than republican assignats or speculated on the Bourse or in joint stock companies. As the revolutionary crisis deepened in 1793, ‘aristocrat’ increasingly came to mean bourgeois property owner; in May an orator in the Section du Mail declared: ‘Aristocrats are the rich wealthy merchants, monopolists, middlemen, bankers, trading clerks, quibbling lawyers and citizens who own anything.’ Wealth always raised sans culotte suspicion, unless offset by outstanding political virtue. Hoarders and monopolists were seen as hand-in-glove with large merchants, bankers and economic liberals in a plot to starve the people and crush the Revolution; for sans culottes were ultra sensitive to the problem of food supply and the price of bread, while they lived in constant fear of plots and betrayal. Hunger, as well as democratic politics and puritanical moral views, was a cement holding the disparate sans culotte groups together. Hence pillage could be justified as ‘egalitarian’ and ‘revolutionary’ in that it fed the people and struck at the machinations of hoarders and speculators, the visible vanguard of counter-revolution. Sans culottes always tended to advocated immediate and violent political solutions to economic problems and, with brutal simplicity, assumed that spilling blood would provide bread.

Despite the fact that many sans culottes were small property owners, there existed a deep-rooted egalitarianism. They believed in the ‘right to live’ (‘droit a l’existence’) and in ‘the equality of the benefits of society (l’egalite des jouissances). A family should have enough to live on in modest comfort, especially sufficient bread of good quality flour. No rich man should have the power of life and death over his fellow men by his ability to monopolise food and other basic necessities. thus food prices and distribution should be controlled by law, while the government should take stern action against hoarders and speculators. Some of the more radical sans culotte committees demanded taxation of the rich, limitation of rents, restriction of the activities of large financiers, government-assisted workshops and allowances for widows, orphans and disabled soldiers. (pp. 52-4).

‘He was a fervent believer in direct democracy, a concept which stemmed ultimately from Rousseau and the Social Contract and filtered down into the sections through the revolutionary press, broadsheets and speeches, revolutionary songs and Jacobin Club pamphlets and propaganda. Authority could not be delegated, for the true basis of government was the people, sitting permanently in their evening sectional meetings, where they discussed laws and decrees. Deputies should be delegates rather than representatives and be constantly and immediately answerable to societies populaires. The latter had the right to scrutinise the laws of the Assembly, administer justice and the police, and help to run the war effort. Thus the sans culottes saw themselves and the ‘nation’ as synonymous. (pp. 54-5).

We don’t need the murderous bloodthirstiness of the sans culottes, some of whom took their children to public executions as part of their political education, and, as time wore on, became increasingly nationalistic and chauvinistic, to the point where they insisted on Parisian French as they only indicator of political reliability, and were hostile and suspicious of other languages spoken in France, such as the Breton Celtic tongue, and even other French dialects. And I don’t share their radical atheism and hatred of Christianity and Roman Catholicism. However, we do need a revival of other parts of their attitude and values: the radical egalitarianism, which despises and revolted against any attempt to sneer at someone because of their occupation as a worker or manual tradesman. Owen Jones in Chavs points to the way Kenneth Clarke once heckled John Prescott with the cry of ‘Here, barman’, because Prescott had once been a ship’s steward. And this government is indeed that of ‘Aristocrats … wealthy merchants, monopolists, middlemen, bankers, trading clerks, quibbling lawyers’ and the owners of vast property and industry. And monopolists, bankers and economic liberals are pursuing policies that penalise and push into grinding poverty the poorest and weakest sections of the society for their own profit.

Instead of a government by them, which benefits the rich alone, we desperately need instead a government of real egalitarians, that is not afraid to pursue policies that include the ‘taxation of the rich, limitation of rents, restriction of the activities of large financiers, government-assisted workshops and allowances for widows, orphans and disabled soldiers’ and more. Regardless of one’s attitude to religion, it’s about time we returned and revived their radical egalitarianism against a radically unequal, illiberal and thoroughly oppressive regime.


David Cameron: He personifies the Sansculotte statement ‘Aristocrats are the rich wealthy merchants, monopolists, middlemen, bankers, trading clerks, quibbling lawyers and citizens who own anything.’