Posts Tagged ‘Naomi Wolf’

The Success of Workers’ Industrial Management in the Spanish Civil War

December 27, 2018

I found this passage about how the anarchist workers in Catalonia were able to manage their firms and industries successfully during the Spanish Civil War in David Miller’s Anarchism (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1984).

The problems of collectivization in the cities were in many respects greater than those encountered in the countryside. Collectivization followed one of two paths, depending on whether the previous owner of the factory or workshop in question stayed put or fled. If he stayed, the C.N.T. encouraged him to continue with his management functions, while installing a ‘control committee’ of its own members to supervise the general running of the enterprise. If he left, the union quickly developed its own management structure, promoting technicians and skilled workers in positions of responsibility. These measures appear to have struck a sensible balance between industrial democracy and the requirements of efficient production, and eye-witness accounts (such as Borkenau’s) testify to their success. After visiting the workshops of the Barcelona b8us company, he wrote that, ‘It is an extraordinary achievement for a group of workers to take over a factory, under however favourable conditions, and within a few days to make it run with complete regularity. It bears brilliant witness to the general standard of efficiency of the Catalan worker and to the organizing capacities of the Barcelona trade unions. For one must not forget that this firm has lost its whole managing staff. In addition, whole branches of industry were reorganized. Contrary to what one might have expected, this took the form of combining small workshops and businesses into larger establishments. For instance in Barcelona the number of plants in the tanning industry was reduced from seventy-one to forty, and in glass-making from one hundred to thirty; over nine hundred barber’s shops and beauty parlours were consolidated into some two hundred large shops.

Barcelona was the main scene of urban collectivization, though a number of other cities (such as Alcoy) also witnessed developments of a similar kind. In the Catalonian capital it embraced all forms of transport, the major utilities, the telephone service, the textile and metal industries, much of the food industry, and many thousands of smaller enterprises. Orwell has left us a memorable picture of life in a city ;where the working class was in the saddle’. As a demonstration of the creative capacities of that class, it is surely impressive. (pp. 164-5).

However, Miller goes on to say that it was less successful as a vindication of anarcho-communist theory, because of the problems of coordinating the various stages of the process of production and the collapse of the banking industry, with the result many firms were unable to obtain the raw materials they needed and had to work part time. The other problem was the difference in wealth between the workers taking over the factories and workshops. Some were comparatively well off, while others were in serious debt, and this disparity continued after collectivization.

The Russian experiment in workers’ control after the October Revolution collapsed because the workers’ didn’t have the skills and education to manage industry. It was also crushed by the rapidly increasing grip and monolithic control of the Bolshevik party and bureaucracy, so that the Left Communists, who still advocated it, were crushed for supporting ‘anarcho-syndicalist deviation’. However, the Yugoslavian communist made workers’ control part of their ‘self-management’ system. In Argentina after the last recession earlier in this century, many of the failing firms were handed over to the workers to run by their management, and they were largely successful in turning the fortunes of these companies around as Naomi Wolf observed in one of her videos. They’ve since been handed back to their former management after the economy recovered. However, the Mondragon cooperatives founded in the Basque region of Spain are a continuing success.

As the defenders of capital and the rights of owners and management, the Tories will do everything to discredit organized labour. One of their favourite weapons against the trade unions has been making sure that the public remembers the 1970s as a period of strikes and industrial disruption, and constantly playing up the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1979. The results of this has been that worker’s rights have been continually eroded as the power of the unions has been curtailed. Millions of people are now trapped in insecure jobs in the gig economy, with no set hours of work or rights to sick pay, holidays, maternity leave and so on. This should be ended now.

I’m not advocating anything as radical as the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of an anarchist utopia. But the example of the Catalan experiment in workers’ control shows that worker managers can conduct industry responsibly, efficiently and with proper care for their workers. There should thus be absolutely no objection to putting employees on the boards of the companies they work for.

Vox Political: The Cooperative Party Fighting Back against New Labour Infiltration?

September 10, 2016

Mike today has posted up an interesting little piece about the Cooperative Party’s plans to develop some distinctive policies of its own. The party has been allied to Labour since 1927, and has 25 MPs elected on a joint ticket. Gareth Thomas, the MP for Harrow West, who chairs the party, has said that the party will be developing its own distinctive policies ahead of centenary next year in 2017. Among the policies suggested is the representation of carers on the boards of companies providing social care services, and that the care workers for those companies should be able to take over those companies if they’re going to close or change hands. Mike comments that these are excellent policies.

The party has also stated that it is staying neutral in the leadership contest, and has rejected the idea that it is going to be infiltrated by right-wing Labour MPs, who want to split away and turn it into a vehicle for their own campaign against Jeremy Corbyn. Mike comments that the policies look like they’re deliberately formulated as part of a backlash against attempts by the Blairites to take over the party. He is, however, sceptical about how neutral it really is in the leadership contest. He asks how many of its MPs signed the letter supporting Owen Smith.

Mike’s piece is at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/09/is-co-operative-partys-new-stance-a-backlash-against-new-labour-takeover-bid/

G.D.H. Cole in the 1940s wrote a massive history of the cooperative movement, A Century of Cooperation. It’s astonishing now, after the co-op has largely turned itself into a mainstream supermarket, how revolutionary co-operatives were, and how deeply ingrained they were as part of working class life. In their time, they were seen as a genuinely revolutionary movement that would superseded capitalism. The vast majority of co-operatives were retail, but producers’ cooperatives, in which the workers also had a share in management, also existed. I think all workers should have the opportunity to take over and run failing companies, just as a few were given such power way back in the 1970s by Labour party. A few years ago I reblogged a video on the way the Argentinian economy was partly saved by its workers taking over failing economies, with comments by the veteran American radical, Naomi Wolf. Since then, most have returned to being normal capitalist enterprises. Nevertheless, the success of these companies does show that workers also can be good managers.

Vox Political: Corbyn Aid Says Companies Should Give Workers Shares

January 26, 2016

Last Thursday, Mike ran an article from that day’s Guardian, which reported that one of the Corbynistas in the Labour party, John McDonnell, had recommended that Labour should give employees the right to request their bosses to give them shares in their company. He also stated that employees should also have the right to buy out companies that are being dissolved, sold or floated on the stockmarket first before they are offered elsewhere.

This was after Corbyn had stated that companies should be prevented from paying their workers poverty wages while their bosses awarded themselves vast pay rises by limiting the amount management could pay themselves beyond those of their employees.

Mike stated of the proposal to extend workers’ ownership and co-operative control

These are plans that would succeed. Employment would stop being a trap, forcing people to slave for the enrichment of others while being forced to claim state benefits themselves; the government would pay out fewer in-work benefits as wages rise, meaning taxes could be diverted to other causes or cut altogether; and there would be much less of the old “us v them” enmity supported by our “divide and conquer” Conservatives.

The article’s at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/21/another-great-idea-a-labour-government-would-let-employees-own-shares-in-companies/ Go and read it.

Mike’s quite right. Germany and Austria have had workers in the boardroom and forms of workers’ control since the 1920s. They’ve been immensely successful, and have no doubt contributed to those countries’ stable, prosperous economies and the ‘social peace’ that has existed there. I’ve no doubt that when Corbyn and McDonnell made these speeches, there were splutterings of ‘Communism!’ and ‘Cultural Marxism!’ by right-wing blowhards, who know little of either. In point of fact, the German and Austrian Communist parties cordially hated workers being given power while the economy remained capitalist. This betrayed the working class, they claimed, by giving them a stake in the capitalist economy, thus preventing their radicalisation. It was part of the process by which Social Democratic leaders hoodwinked and betrayed the workers into supporting capitalism, rather than rising up and overthrowing it. Proper Communists, at least at that time, were much more in favour of letting capitalism become as predatory, rapacious and exploitative as possible in the hope that this would radicalise more members of the working class, who would then revolt and overthrow the capitalist system.

Furthermore, Maggie Thatcher attempted to make capitalism popular by spreading share ownership. She did so by making a percentage of the shares in the firms she privatised available to small investors, including their workers. Ten or twenty years after she did so, these shares had, of course, nearly all been gobbled up by the big capitalists. Nevertheless, this raises the questions: if it’s fine for Maggie Thatcher to offer shares in private industry to the workers, who were employed in them, then why, under the same logic, is it wrong for Corbyn and Labour to do so? After all, if the objective is to make employees work harder and be more loyal because they actually have a stake in those companies, then this should be a worthy goal no matter which government is in power. Correct?

As for workers having first refusal to buy out firms when they’re being sold off, this has been done in Argentina. There workers were given the option to buy and turn into co-operatives companies that were going to be shut down. I’ve put up here documentaries on them, one of which included Naomi Wolf as one of the talking heads. Although the vast majority have since been returned to capitalist ownership, it did save many firms. The proposal is essentially a sound one. If it’s turned down or sneered at, then this shows that the Tories and the capitalist class have absolutely no interest in creating a prosperous economy or jobs, but simply lining their own pockets at the expense of their employees.

And laws preventing company bosses from paying themselves excessively high wages beyond the rest of their employees have been in place in Japan since forever and a day. They were introduced by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party as part of their programme to create a harmonious, middle class society governed by the social consensus and which avoided creating social stress through excessively polarised incomes. Nobody was to be too rich, or too poor.

Japan is a very authoritarian society, with a lot wrong with it. It is extremely sexist and women are very definitely seen as belonging in the home. There is little welfare provision, which has become a major issue as increasing numbers of Japanese have been thrown out of work by the long-running economic crisis. There is also an element of racism in Japanese political culture. Only full-blooded Japanese have full civil rights. This means that the descendants of Korean immigrants or prisoners of war, that have been there for three generations, are effectively excluded from mainstream Japanese society. But their concern to ensure social harmony through limiting excessive management pay and fostering solidarity between management and workers is a good one, and doubtless has also contributed to Japan becoming one of the world’s strongest economies, apart from their reputation for quality products and hard work.

Corbyn and McDonnell have thus recommended policies that should lead to the revival of British industry, and which also have their echoes schemes put into practice by the political Right. There is thus little good reason to reject them.