Posts Tagged ‘League of Democratic Control’

Review: Tom Schuller, Democracy at Work

July 8, 2013

Schuller Book

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

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

In the introduction, Schuller also states that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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