Posts Tagged ‘Whitley Councils’

Workers’ Chamber Book: Chapter Breakdown

November 21, 2017

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

For a Workers’ Parliamentary Chamber

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

Parliamentary Democracy and Its Drawbacks

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

Alternative Working Class Political Assemblies

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

Guild Socialism in Britain

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

Saint-Simon, Fascism and the Corporative State

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

The Fascist Corporative State

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

Non-Fascist Corporativism

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

Workers’ Control and Producers’ Chambers in Communist Yugoslavia

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

Partial Nationalisation to End Corporate Influence in Parliament

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

Drawbacks and Criticism

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

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


1916 Whitley Committee on Involving Unions in Industrial Management

May 21, 2016

Introduction Unions Pic

Hooberman in ‘An Introduction to British Trade Unions’ also discusses the 1916 Commission on the Relations between Employers and Employed, chaired by J.H. Whitley, which recommended that a system of industrial councils be set up, which brought representatives of management together with those of the employees, and that their should also be similar committees set up in the individual workplaces, as well as a special court to arbitrate labour disputes. Justifying these joint industrial councils, the Commission’s report stated:

… a permanent improvement in the relations between employers and employed must be founded upon something other than a cash basis. What is wanted is that the work people should have a greater opportunity to participating in the discussion about and adjustment of those parts of industry by which they are most affected… We venture to hope that representative men in each industry, with pride in their calling and care for its place as a contributor to the national well-being, will come together in the manner here suggested, and apply themselves to promoting industrial harmony and efficiency and removing the obstacles that have hitherto stood in the way. (P. 63).

In fact, with the exception of the civil service, these proposals did not long outlive the First World War. The unions for their part resented the limitations they placed on collective bargaining. There were attempts to revive the system in 1970s with the NEDCs, but these also failed through the failure of the unions to abide by the demands for pay restraint. This was a major factor in the Winter of Discontent, and the rise of Thatcher, although some historians have said that the blame here does not lie with the unions, who were being asked to fulfil a function which was not theirs, and which was too much of them.

The Tories have since then done their best to curb union membership and the power of the trade unions. Nevertheless, the arguments for workers participation in management is a good one.

Trade Unions and Works Councils in Britain and the Continent

May 8, 2016

I’ve posted up a number of pieces describing and arguing for a system of works councils in Britain similar to those in Germany, Austria and Sweden, which give workers in companies representation on the boardroom and at other levels, including the factory floor. I found a description of them and how they work in Colin Crouch’s Trade Unions: The Logic of Collective Action, published by Fontana in 1982. Crouch’s book is a sociological study of trade unions, which amongst other issues examines the question of when and how trade unionists decide to go on strike and the entire decision-making process around industrial disputes, trade union membership – why some people join unions while others don’t, government policies towards the unions and so on. Of workers’ councils, he writes

But some industrial relations take a different form. Instead of confronting each other ‘across the table’ with demands and threats of sanctions, seeing their interests in conflict, managers and union representatives may tackle what they see as common problems, with a mutual interest at stake. The belief that such an arrangement can provide either a supplement or an alternative to bargaining has often led various social actors to establish joint committees, works councils and other devices for consultation and worker participation which will embody the idea. After the First world War a committee of the House of Commons chaired by the Speaker, Mr Whitley, proposed the establishment of consultative committees on these lines throughout Britain in order to reduce the prevailing intense conflict between employers and workers. The plan collapsed as, during the depression, most employers decided that they need not bother with such devices since high unemployment was doing enough to make their workers forget conflict. However, the idea persisted within the public services, where ‘Whitley councils’ still exist today, though they have become normal collective-bargaining channels. A similar initiative followed the Second World War; committees for ‘joint consultation’ were established in many industries and it was generally agreed that this provided a second limb of British industrial relations, equal in importance to, but quite distinct from collective bargaining. This gradually faded in importance as shop stewards in an increasing range of firms and industries extended collective bargaining to cover many of the issues supposed to be dealt with by joint consultation, though there has been some evidence of a revival during the current recession, signification as shop stewards’ movements have been weakened (Department of Employment Gazette, 1981).

Elaborate consultation schemes involving representatives of management of employees, usually called works councils, exist in some British firms, most noticeably in ICI Ltd, but in most Western European countries these exist as a legal requirement in factories over a certain size, and employers are required to consult the workforce within this forum on certain prescribed issues. More ambitious schemes for involving workers’ representatives in non-conflictual participation are those involving worker-representation on company boards, such as was proposed for Britain, though without practical effect, in the report of the Bullock Committee (Bullock, 1977). In West Germany such a scheme has existed since the 1950s, being strengthened in 1976: worker-representatives comprise up to 50 per cent of the supervisory boards of all companies over a certain size. In that country and in Austria there are also work councils (Betreibsrate) which differ from those found elsewhere in Europe in that they comprise worker-representatives alone, not workers and managers; these councils have some signification powers of veto over aspects of management policy, and rights to consultation the receipt of information over many others.

In each case these participative or consultative forums, to which I shall refer generally as concertation, exist alongside normal collective bargaining. While the latter deals with wages and conditions and is assumed to involve conflict, the former tackle various issues of company policy, especially those affecting employment and workers’ welfare, and are supposed to be free of conflict.

It is an interesting issue of debate whether concertation constitutes a further step along the road towards even more institutionalization of conflict. In terms of Dahrendorf’s theory, I think one has to answer no; rather than institutionalizing conflict, these devices try to exclude it, at least from those areas which are seen ripe for consultation or participation rather than bargaining. Worker-representatives with a works council are not empowered to back their demands by strike threats; German Betriebsrate are required by law to co-operate with management and are not permitted to call strikes. In Dahrendorf’s study of German (1965), which is largely a criticism of that country for its continued fear of conflict, he used the preference for Mitbestimmung (that is, co-determination, the principle embodied in both Betriebsrate and worker membership of supervisory boards) as evidence of devices for conflict avoidance rather than institutionalization.
(Pp. 109-111).

He provides a few further details of the responsibilities of these councils on page 150, where he writes

A more formalized sharing in control is found in German industry. There, works councils consisting entirely of worker-representatives have a legal veto over several areas of plant- and company-level decision-making (such as overtime working, dismissals, certain working conditions) and a right to share control with management over other issues (such as redundancies and future employment policy). Further, in larger German companies workers have up to one half representation on the supervisory board of the company, with the same rights as other directors to information and decision-making. On a different model again, it is possible for workers to own and control firms themselves, without either a capitalist entrepreneur or the state intervening. This form of ownership is called producers’ co-operatives, and is found in many different countries, though usually only as a very small component of the total pattern of employment. (P. 150).

So instead of opting for confrontation, the Germans chose to include workers in factory management, though hedged about with certain legal restrictions against calling strike action. My guess is that such councils have probably played a part in the ‘social peace’ that has contributed to the German wirtschaftswunder. It also contrasts very strongly with the Thatcherite desire to remove as many rights as possible from workers, and grind them down as far as possible in order to have a compliant, and fearful workforce.

And I wonder how far the existence of such councils and similar power-sharing organisations and arrangements across Europe have stoked the fears about Europe underlying the Brexit campaign. Despite Farage’s rhetoric about immigration, one of the major unspoken cause of Tory hostility to the EU is the Social Charter. This grants European workers some basic rights. One Tory politico, who appeared on Wogan back in the 1980s openly stated that he liked the EU when it was the ‘Common Market’. This was a good thing. But the drafting of the Social Charter was a Bad Thing that should be got rid of. UKIP and the Tories hope that by leaving Europe, they can force an already prostrate working class to accept further degradation and impoverishment that would be unacceptable in the European Union, in order to make us a sweatshop economy like those in the Developing World.

A Fabian Pamphlet for Workers’ Management: Part Three

April 27, 2016

Guild Socialist Letter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Reforms for the Outsourcing Industry

April 2, 2016

Earlier today I put up a piece about how the members of the Nazis’ industrial advisory had to swear an oath of eternal loyalty to Adolf Hitler, and to use their industries and its profits to building up the Volksgemeinschaft, and so serving the whole community, rather than their own private interests. Well, the Nazis had a kind of outsourcing, in that they appointed the head Allianz, the biggest of the German insurance companies, to head the economics ministry. Hitler also sought the active co-operation of big business, deliberately toning down the anti-capitalist rhetoric and moving to stop the SA and the Nazi ‘left’ wing from doing anything radical like socialising industry.

I do wonder, however, how popular outsourcing would be if the heads of the industries involved had to swear a democratic version of the oath, in which they vowed to serve the democratically elected prime minister and parliament, and to devote their profits and energies to the whole of the British people, conceived on a non-racist basis, rather than on their own corporate profit. To some it probably wouldn’t matter, but I can others complaining at the presumption of having to swear such an oath. Florence in her comment to the post also made the point that, more importantly, the Freedom of Information Act should also be extended to cover them. It’s a good idea, and one many others have made before. It would allow the British public to know what they’re doing, and also allow the firms and sectors we wish to keep nationalised to continue to compete against them. At present the system works in the privatisers’ favour. They can use the FOI to see what the nationalised industries intend, and then try to undercut them. It doesn’t work the other way, of course. If you try to get a peek at what they intend to do, you find it’s prohibited on the grounds of company confidentiality. It’s commercially sensitive information, and so not to be divulged to the public. Even though the nationalised industries have to release it, and the private industries are competing for state business. But nevertheless, that’s how the Tories give work to their paymasters in big business.

I’ve thought about three reforms which might bring about a much needed change in the predatory and exploitative culture of the outsourcing sector.

1. Introduce worker’s representation in the boardroom.

A company’s workforce also have a solid interest in the performance of their company, and can introduce much needed financial stability. Han-Joon Chang points out that businesses in those European countries, Germany and Austria, which have such a system of workers’ representation, are much more stable and profitable financially, than industries which are run exclusively for the profit of the shareholders. Furthermore, for sometime employees in the civil servants had something like this in the Whitley Councils. These were set up during the First World War to compensate workers for the lost of the right to strike. They were dismantled in favour of a less authoritarian system in the rest of British industry after the war, so that they trade unions could carry on bargaining for the workers. Such a system should be revived, and introduced into the outsourcing sector as these have replaced the traditional civil service organs.

2. Boardroom representation of the unemployed ‘clients’ on the boards of workfare companies.

Welfare to work providers exist by exploiting the unemployed as cheap labour, under the guise of retraining workers to help them back into the labour market. However, in order to prevent the gross exploitation of such cheap labour by profiteering companies like Tesco, Sainsbury’s and charities like the Salvation Army, the actual people taken on by these companies to be retrained should also have their interests represented at the management level. This would stop abuses like that Mike covered in Scotland, where one council started a system of fining the people sent to them on the welfare to work course for such trivial offences as tutting, talking back or walking around with your hands in your pockets. Failure to pay the fines could lead you to being thrown off the course, and consequently off benefit. See Mike’s article at:

3. Part nationalise these companies. As these companies are working on government business, it is right that the state should also have a hand in them to make sure they are properly regulated and managed. Han-Joon Chang has also pointed out that this also has beneficial effect in providing financial stability, as shown by some of the part-nationalised firms in France. Of course, this would also mean streamlining some of the management structure, as private enterprise has many tiers of bureaucracy that is redundant under state management.

Or we could scrap outsourcing altogether.

As an alternative to all the above, we could just get rid of the ludicrously expensive, bureaucratic and profiteering Private Finance Initiative and Public-Private Partnerships, to renationalise those industries and services that should never have been put out to private tender in the first place, like schools, prisons and hospitals. And then we could set up unemployment retraining schemes that would work for the unemployed, not the overpaid heads of the outsourcing companies, like G4S, Serco, Maximus and the other wasters.

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.