Workers' Control in Britain
British and Irish Communist Organisation
 Policy statement no. 6, January 1974

Note: subheadings up to 'Workers control and the trade unions' have been added by Peter Brooke

1. Because workers' control was never considered in any detail by the members of the Second or Third Internationals and because the economic conditions in the Soviet Union did not allow workers' control to be put into practice, there is no generally accepted definition of workers' control in the Communist movement.

2. Probably the most fundamental definition - that is, that which sticks to essentials - would be: the sovereignty of the workers in a given factory or firm in the managing of that factory or firm. That is certainly the definition which Marx operates with when he deals in passing with workers' control in Volume III of Capital.

3. This definition places the argument about direct and representative democracy fairly and squarely where it belongs: in the realms of pure political thought. Those who would argue that if the workers delegate their sovereignty to a representative of their interests, they thereby lose control, are not arguing as communists, but Rousseauvians (Rousseau denied that democracy was possible on the basis of representative government). For the workers in a factory to keep direct control over management, they would have to be in virtually perpetual session as a general meeting, as problems in production occur virtually hourly. Under direct democracy actual production would decline steeply as more and more time was spent in general meetings, and such production as did occur would be erratic, because workers would be obliged to stop working whenever a problem of management cropped up. Direct democracy in practice must give way to some form of delegation or representation. Therefore when workers control is considered practically, it must be from the viewpoint of a representative system.


Writing of the organising function of the capitalist, Marx says:

"Inasmuch as the capitalist's work does not originate in the purely capitalistic process of production, and hence does not cease on its own when capital ceases; inasmuch as it does not confine itself solely to the function of exploiting the labour of others; inasmuch as it therefore originates from the social form of the labour-process, from combination and co-operation of many in pursuit of a common result, it is just as Independent of capital as that form itself as soon as it has burst its capitalistic shell. To say that this labour is necessary as capitalistic labour, or as a function of the capitalist, only means that the vulgus (i.e. the mob) is unable to conceive the forms developed in the lap of the capitalist production, separate and free from their antithetical capitalist character... In a co-operative factory the antagonistic nature of the labour of supervision disappears, because the manager is paid by the labourers instead of representing capital counterposed to them." (Capital, Volume 3, pp. 379-80. All quotes are from the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow 1962 edition.)

4. The only time when representatives have no chance to become despots is when the people whom they represent have an interest in what their delegates are deciding and enough knowledge of the reasons why a decision is taken to be able to judge it correct or incorrect in the light of the reasons given for it. The right of recall is purely a formal device which has no practical application if constituents are neither interested or equipped by knowledge to judge. When these two conditions are present recall is unnecessary since any representative will find it impossible to continue when he has lost the confidence of his constituents; he must resign or risk the certainty of revolt and forcible removal.

5. Unless these two conditions of interest and knowledge are present, workers' control will have no practical meaning or effect if implemented in legal form. If they are absent, even though workers' representatives may be elected to manage, they will not manage for the workers, but rather as despots or if reasonable men as enlightened despots. This is the case in Yugoslavia where the working class for historical reasons have neither interest nor knowledge to make their elected managers their representatives.

6. By interest we mean involvement arising out of material necessity. We argue that workers should be sovereign in the management of their factory because it is necessary that they are so. The material need is for the working class to survive and develop. Therefore the class has an interest in whatever is necessary for it to survive and develop. From the beginning of the 19th century to 1847 in Britain, the main threat to the working class's survival came from the mill-owners' practice of continually extending the length of the working day until the working class was dying of exhaustion. At that time the working class interest was to restrict hours of work; they formed Short Time Associations and forced the passage of the 10 Hours Act in 1847 after about 20 years of agitation.

7. Since 1945 the two main things affecting the survival of the working class are:

i. the tendency for the level of investment to be too low to ensure sufficiently extended accumulation, thus threatening the continuing development of the productive forces (one of the consequences of this is that working class consumption cannot increase sufficiently, as there is nothing additional to consume).

ii. the inability of management to organise production on the shop floor efficiently so as to maximise productivity of labour and capital in the production process - with the result that both labour-power and capital are wasted and thus there has been comparatively less produced to be available for consumption and investment.

8. The first threat to working class interests is not directly affected by the transfer of sovereignty for management decisions from the shareholders (where it at present resides) to the workers. However, workers' control has proved historically necessary to deal with this threat, because without workers' control, the working class has refused to accept conscious regulation of wages, that is, incomes policy. Such a policy aims to ensure a high level of investment. The second threat can be met directly by workers' control for which the working class in Britain is sufficiently developed at present.

9. There are two conditions for knowledge:

i. the developed ability to reason

ii. experience of what has to be reasoned about.

Capitalism has produced a working class capable of reason by virtue of universal primary education and access to the results of scientific experiment and invention, political disputation and bourgeois culture. The working class has also inherited an industrial culture created by the experience of their fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers. As the Communist Party of the Soviet Union found in the early 1920s, it is no good expecting peasants who have migrated to the towns to be capable of organising production in the factories. However, for the reason and experience of the class to be able to function, it is essential to have means of publicly debating the decisions taken by workers' representatives in managing, to ensure that those decisions are correct. Public debate means both regular assemblies of workers in order to question their representative and reach decisions, and the production of written discussion about what constitutes the correct decision, that is, some form of newspaper and publicity in each workplace.


10. Before proceeding it is perhaps necessary (because so often ignored in these days of left infantilism) to define sovereignty. Sovereignty means the ability of men to consciously direct their activities towards a given necessity arising out of a given physical or historical law. Thus, sovereignty has never implied absolute power, only power over the activities of the group of men who live within the circumference of that sovereignty. It does not imply the ability of workers to go against the laws of capitalist production today any more than it ever implied a sovereign king's ability to walk on water or prevent his country being flooded.

If workers are sovereign at their place of work, they will only be able to exercise that sovereignty if they recognise the physical and historical laws determining their conditions, and decide their actions with those in mind. These laws are not absolute limits, because as they are understood, so they can be superseded. Once it is understood that flooding can be prevented by a reservoir and a dam, the physical law which determined that spring rains would bring floods can be superseded.

So with historical laws like those of capitalist production. That law of capitalist production which determines the tendency of all labour power to be exploited without stint - that is, with no account taken of the workers' physical and social needs - was experienced by the working class and understood by it. Therefore the working class formed trade unions and acted in them to supersede that law, to positively prevent it from operating by withdrawing their labour whenever a capitalist acted under the determination of this law. After approximately 150 years of the working class in trade unions in Britain preventing capitalists from so acting, the intelligent capitalists have learned from experience not to try and operate according to this law; while the capitalists' own culture has taken account of this experience and now helps the dimmer ones learn what they failed to see.

11. There has been a minority of capitalists (Robert Owen was probably not the first) who found that their firms were not less profitable and in most cases more profitable when operated on the basis of giving the workers a share of the sovereignty in management. [not sure that Robert Owen did this at all, except in his later unsuccessful experiment in New Harmony - PB] In the 19th century these employers were often Quakers like Cadburys who found the waste of human reason and experience in their workers morally unacceptable. The consequence was in Cadbury's from the 1890s, the responsibility for making all rules for workers and the disciplining for infringements of rules was gradually handed over to workers. Safety was dealt with in a similar way, whilst workers' representatives were given confidential information about the performance of the firm. (The first conciliation agreements between employers and trade unions had been pioneered on the employers' side by Quakers like the ironmaster David Dale. [Sir David Dale (1829-1906) not David Dale (1739-1806), Robert Owen's predecessor in the textile mill in New Lanark - PB] They started from the premise that industrial disputes were susceptible to reason, that employers and workers had a common interest in keeping production going and that it was possible in a dispute that the employers had acted mistakenly in not granting a demand, just as it was possible that the workers had been mistaken in making it.)


12. In World War I the working class found itself for the first time in its experience with a guaranteed right to work and with the explicit aim of maximising production. It reacted by demanding the control of profits in return for its own abstention from taking advantage of the tight labour market to bid wages up to their full market price. However, it only made this reasoned demand after high political pressure from the Government as well as substantial wage increases agreed and enforced by the Government on employers. The class's first reflex had been to strike for higher wages, and from 1915-17 unofficial and illegal strikes were held on a large scale by miners, railwaymen, cotton spinners and engineers.

Dilution (the breaking down of production into a larger number of simpler processes for which less skill was required, i.e. a greater division of labour) was tried by engineering employers early in the war in order to meet the demand for labour created by the exodus to the army of skilled men and the demand for more production. Dilution substituted unskilled men and above all women for skilled engineers. The result was a demand from workers that there could be no dilution without consultation. The workers must agree to the change in production process, how much skill and training were needed for the new jobs and what the rate for the new Job should be. The Trade Union leaders dared not oppose this demand and the Government accepted and proceeded to enforce it on often unwilling employers. To negotiate these changes, workers' representatives at every factory were needed since each factory made different changes and the Government did not propose to jeopardise the measure of agreement and co-operation by handing down regulations from above; This is the origin of the spread of shop stewards throughout the engineering industry in Britain. Prior to this time, shop stewards had often emerged out of the ever-increasing number of piece-rate negotiations in engineering, but they were isolated occurrences in scattered workshops and the unions had never had to pay much attention to those men who nevertheless were filling a gap in working class organisation.

World War I made the shop steward a necessity in every factory. Piece-rates can only be negotiated at the shopfloor level and they spread rapidly because a more mechanised production made piece-rates the more favourable way of reckoning wages to the working class, while at the same time enabling the employer to purchase greater output for an agreed price. Even though the trade union officials were hostile to this new workers' representative, they had no choice but to make shop stewards official trade union representatives after the war. Shop stewards would continue to be necessary and must therefore be recognised as such by the unions if they were to remain organisations of the working class.

A section of these shop stewards in World War I had called themselves syndicalists and been in favour of workers' control. However, they never declared against working class political parties or working class action in making demands of Parliament. They considered such parties and action irrelevant, but would not condemn them, mainly because they were indifferent to them. (A similar approach had been adopted in the first years of the 20th century by the British working class syndicalists - Tom Mann is the most famous.) These shop stewards organised into a national co-ordinating committee to lead the fight for workers' power. But no lead was ever given to the working class by the committee which continued to shrink after perhaps two years of vigorous existence. In 1919, members of this committee journeyed to Moscow at Lenin's invitation to attend the Second Congress of the Communist International. While there, all but one of their delegates was convinced by Lenin's arguments of the need for political action and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Besides negotiating piece rate increases, the shop stewards demanded and won for the working class a pledge by the employers to return to pre-war production methods and craft customs when the war was over. Most employers honoured this pledge which meant going back to less efficient and less capital intensive production. The post war slump forced the employers to introduce the more efficient war-time techniques.


On 28 June 1917, the Whitley Committee, a sub-committee of the Committee on Reconstruction, presented an interim report to Parliament:

"The report stated that the war almost reinforced some reconstruction of industry, and that in that reconstruction it was desirable to secure the largest possible measure of co-operation between employers and employed; therefore the subcommittee advocated the establishment, for each industry of a body representative of both employers and workpeople (Joint Industrial Councils) ... It was suggested that these Councils should meet at regular intervals, and should consider among other questions,

1. the settlement of general principles governing the conditions of employment, including the methods of fixing, paying and readjusting wages

2. means of securing to the workpeople security of earnings and employment

3. technical education, training, industrial research, and the improvement of processes, machinery and organisation, appropriate questions relating to management with special reference to co-operation in carrying new ideas into effect, and full consideration of the workpeople's point of view in relation to them.

It was advocated that in addition to the National Industrial Councils for each industry subordinate bodies should also be instituted consisting of (a) district councils and (b) works committees representative of the management and of the workers employed." (Annual Register 1917, p. 141)

The Government accepted the report but decided against prescriptive legislation and in favour of voluntary implementation. The trade unions for the most part refused to work for the report's implementation because they viewed their present arrangements for negotiation as quite satisfactory. In 1920 the postwar boom ended and the working class reflexes readjusted to the new conditions of the labour market by concentrating on the right to work and resisting new wage cuts. This situation was to last for 20 years and the Whitley Report was therefore practically forgotten by the working class and employers.


13. In 1939 when war was declared, the Government had learned from World War I to offer the trade unions "complete consultation" in all aspects of production from the very beginning. In practice this meant that the working class at the shopfloor expected and were given reasons for management decisions and also had the right to ask why production was not being maximised or expedited by management, that is, to declare "no confidence" in their employers and be listened to and sometimes supported by the Government. Where the working class proved that management had consistently taken incorrect decisions, the ministry removed the management and sometimes vested control in the works committee. By 1941, the working class was sufficiently interested in the problems of production to demand the establishment of joint works production committees in the engineering industry. The workers' representatives would be able to bring up any aspect of production and have the right to expect full co-operation from the employers in discussing and working out a solution. At first these committees were established in factories where workers were most determined and militant. By 1942, the Confederation of Engineering and Shipbuilding unions had with the help of strong Government pressure negotiated an agreement with the Engineering Employers Federation whereby the employers undertook to co-operate with the unions in establishing committees in all federated firms with 150 or more workers, representing two million workers; 600 committees had been voluntarily set up in munitions factories with less than 150 workers; over 200 existed in non-munitions engineering firms. By June 1944 there were over 4,500 committees in the engineering and allied industries in factories of 150 and over; and more than 1,600 in the smaller firms. These arrangements lapsed with the end of the war - and there was no working class pressure for their continuance.

Ernest Bevin, General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, had been Minister of Labour since 1943 His method of ensuring continuous (strike-free) production and a measure of abstention in wage-increases was to make it compulsory for all war industries to observe trade union agreed wage rates and conditions. Trade unions could take an employer to court for failure to comply with collectively bargained terms. Collective bargaining carried on at both industry and factory levels as before, but disputes were settled by compulsory arbitration which was legally enforceable rather than strikes or lock-outs. In 1945 trade union membership had doubled from its 1938 figure and was to remain more or less at that figure for the next 25 years. Bevin's measures had ensured that even the most reactionary employers were forced to take trade unions seriously in their factories' every day work and observe minimum conditions of employment and wages. The working class benefited materially from the war. From 1938-45 the index of retail prices (compiled by the London and Cambridge Economic Service) had increased 48%, average weekly earnings had increased 80%.


14. In 1945 both classes expected a postwar slump (experience of World War I had taught them to expect it). Keynsianism meant that the slump never came. Since 1945 there has been a tight labour market and the working class have not had to resist wage cuts or demand the right to work. Until the late '60s, Britain's strike record was amongst the best in the capitalist world. (The trotskyite left and revolutionary intelligentsia began to think that there might not be a revolution after all as the working class had sold its birthright for a mess of pottage.)

15. The working class had been willing to abstain from using its market advantage to the full during both world wars. However, in the 1950s and 60s, the pull of the market continued strong. Though the working class was given reasons by successive Governments for wage restraint (that the economy could not pay more wages without affecting exports and investment), these reasons were flouted in practice by the employers' use of increasing wages to attract and keep labour and ensure that labour actually produced (wage drift in the form of increasing bonus and piece rates).

"Since 1950 most British wage-earners have received an increase in their basic rates at something like annual intervals ... The TUC finally withdrew its support for the 'wage-freeze' in September of that year, and about the same time the rapid use in raw material prices set off by the outbreak of the Korean War began to be reflected in retail prices. Consequently by Christmas wage increases were coming fairly readily. Prices continued to rise throughout 1951 and a second series of claims was soon in motion. Some Industries even received two increases during that year. By 1952 the pattern had become habitual ..." (The Employers' Challenge, by H.A. Clegg and Rex Adams, 1957, p. 22)

"In this situation (1956, when trade unions were again willing to use the threat to strike openly) some employers changed their attitude to strikes. Since there was no longer an elaborate structure of agreements and understandings between the unions, the government, and themselves which might be wrecked by industrial unrest, they felt themselves free to return to the prewar calculation that the cost of a strike was the cost to their own industry ... Other employers, and certainly the government took a different view. To them it seemed that the institutions and habits of industrial cooperation which had grown up over many years, although a little tarnished, were still so valuable that they should be preserved at almost any cost. A national strike, and still more a series of national strikes, might destroy them. It was not unnatural that the boards of the nationalised industries should share this view." (ibid. p. 31-2)


16. The capitalists at last recognised that this contradictory behaviour from them was bound to lead to the working class following the course of action most habitual to it, that is, exploiting the labour market for higher wages. Consequently, in the late 1960s, the Labour Government let unemployment rise without taking Keynsian countervailing measures, in order to force labour to move to regions where the demand for it was high and into the most profitable industries (this was the first such action by a Government since 1945. Countervailing measures to prevent the emergence of such pressures on labour to move had been taken always when unemployment reached 300,000).

At the same time the rate of inflation increased. The working class resisted both these events by strikes for higher wages and also demanding the right to work ... and returning a Tory government at the next election. After continuing Labour policy on unemployment and failing to control wage increases and price increases, the Conservative Government reversed course and reflated and began the Tripartite Talks. Probably the most important single factor in this reversal was the failure of the Industrial Relations Act. This Act prescribed working class actions within a framework of trade union responsibility for action taken by trade union members before the law (The 1871, 1875 and 1906 Trade Union Acts had granted legal immunity).

Both the Labour Government of 1964-70 and the subsequent Conservative Government believed such a law necessary to erect punitive measures. The logic of the Act was if the working class insisted on making inflationary wage claims and in disrupting production with lightning unofficial strikes and the employers kept caving in by granting wage increases which they could not afford, then the working class must be made legally accountable and thus made to understand that such action was wrong (all previous attempts at reason and persuasion had failed, as will be shewn.) The working class refused to let trade unions be responsible for their actions before the law and the Industrial Relations Act was in fact inoperable from the time it reached the statute book.


17. But what reason is there to believe that the Tripartite Talks and Counter-Inflation policy in 1972-4 have any more chance of success than those Incomes Policies instituted by every Govermnent since 1945?

"On 4 February (1948) , therefore the Prime Minister (Atlee) introduced to the House a White Paper on Incomes, Costs and Prices (Cmd 7321). He said that the policy hitherto pursued against inflation: high direct taxation of personal incomes and distributed profits, PAYE and heavy indirect taxation would cease to be effective if personal incomes continued to rise. A race between prices and wages would not do the worker any good because the prices always kept ahead. The nation could not afford a rise in production costs without a corresponding increase in production. Wages must no longer relate to the historical status of an industry in the wage scale but to the national need to attract labour to the vital industries ...

It did not follow that wages should be stabilised at their present level. But there was no case for increases in profits and rents, or in salaries and wages apart from increased production. To the scornful, this was 'fighting inflation by exhortation'. It was a public appeal to the trade union movement to adopt a self-denying policy in the interests of the nation and its own long-term interests, an appeal made after private discussions had failed to elicit a satisfactory reaction from the TUC. It was not surprising that old habits and attitudes die hard in a movement founded to fight for better wages and conditions ... On the following day (24th March) a delegate conference (of the TUC) ...accepted the Government's recommendations by a majority of 1,167m card votes. But there was a large minority, 2-032m [? 1,032? - PB], against acceptance. Some unions were under pressure from the Communists to regard the whole scheme 'as a terrible attack upon the people's standards ... an attempt to enrich the capitalist at the expense of the workers' .. ." (Annual Register 1948, pp. 37-9. The TUC support ceased officially on 28 June 1950, in practice it had stopped about 6 months before.)

"Sir Stafford Cripps spoke on the second day (of the TUC conference), asserting that if costs went up, real wages must fall... It was untrue to think in terms of taking from profits and adding to wages; corporate dividends totalled, after tax deduction, £320m, wages £3,260m and salaries £1,435m. A drastic cut of 25% in (distributed) profits would raise wages only 4d in the pound." (ibid p. 46)

"On 15 May (1952) the Chancellor of the Exchequer (R.A. Butler) gave a warning to representatives of trade unions and employers of the danger of inflation if new wage increases were granted. The export drive, he said, would be seriously affected and this would entail further import cuts which in turn might lead to considerable unemployment. "(Annual Register, 1952, p. 39)

"On 25th July (1957) the House of Commons debated the economic situation and the Chancellor (Peter Thornycroft) announced that, in spite of discouragement from trade union leaders, the Government intended to persist in its plan to appoint an independent council on prices, productivity and incomes." (A. R. 1957, p. 36)

"On 5 September (1957) the Congress (TUC} agreed with acclamation to a motion of Mr Cousins, general secretary of the TGWU, rejecting wage restraint in any form." (ibid, p. 43)

"It became the custom in anti-Conservative circles to jeer at the Prime Minister on account of his recent electioneering slogan 'You've never had it so good'. The odd thing was - not so odd to economists but to plain men - that we were still having it so good. Unemployment was at a minimum. The 'working classes' ... were always demanding more wages and usually getting them ... We were consuming more than we produced ..." On 25 July, Selwyn Lloyd, Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced financial measures and at the same time said "in wages and salaries 'there must be a pause until productivity has caught up'" (A.R. 1961, p. 33)

"Mr Brown's White Paper on Prices and Incomes Policy {Cmd 2639) came out on 8 April (1965) to a barrage of hopeful publicity which left Mr Brown himself visibly fatigued when he appealed on television at the end of the day. The intention after 5 months of discussion with employers and unions, was to set a 'norm' of 3-3.5% for the average annual increase in money incomes. The permitted exceptions were when employees accepted more exacting work to step up productivity, when the national interest required a particular distribution of manpower, when existing pay was 'too low to maintain a reasonable standard of living', and when a group of employees had fallen behind the remuneration of people doing similar work'" (A.R. 1965, pp. l9-20).


The difference between the 1972-4 Incomes Policy and all the others is that the Government and the capitalists are prepared to surrender some of their sovereignty in the economy to the working class.

"But we must recognise that this (the capitalist system) has only persisted because the majority have not been prepared to use their potential economic and political power against the prosperous minority ... I believe that the fundamental situation is now changing. We have seen in the last two decades an arising consciousness of the power of organised labour. One can speculate at length on the reasons ... Whatever the compound of reasons it is the facts we must face ... I agree, therefore, that no final solution has been found to the problem either of restraining the totality of income growth or of settling the relativities between individual incomes. But I have no doubt whatsoever that we must return to the search as a matter of urgency. Unless we do this and unless we are prepared to cast aside all previous political and economic dogmas in order to meet a new political situation to which they have little relevance, we have no chance of success ... I do not believe that policies of conflict will or can work. I do not think we can now redress the balance between the monopoly power of labour and the interests of price stability by individual measures.

"You cannot solve the problems of a major social upheaval by economic mechanics alone ... I suspect that the problems we are facing are not economic but political. Economic factors operate within a political framework and the old orthodoxies of economics, however coherent and self-consistent, may not apply in a changed political situation. What determines the course of a country's society and its economy is fundamentally political power and how it is used." (Reginald Maudling, The Times, 12/9/72)

"The proposals are essentially political. They are to be seen as an offer by the Government to do a socially fair deal for the unions giving up the present free-for-all. They go even further than a once-off deal. This is an offer to the TUC and CBI to take a really effective share in the formulation of economic policy from now on." (Economist, p. 12, 30/9/72)

At the Institute of Directors' Annual Conference in 1969, Barbara Castle, at that time Minister of Labour, spoke. "Her words were: 'We have got to recognise, whether we like it or not, that real power now resides in the workshop and on the office floor. It has, if you like, returned to the grass roots from whence it came. We have got to accept, again whether we like it or not, that workpeople have a veto which they are increasingly prepared to exercise; in other words, that management these days can no longer function by the arbitrary exercise of traditional 'prerogatives', but only by winning the consent of its workpeople'. Among those listening to Mrs. Castle in 1969 there was a murmur of consent to this proposition, but a quite definite undertone of shock. For it put into blunt words, and appeared to welcome without reservation a development that since World War II has led management in British industry to regard itself as increasingly powerless against first, the strength of the unions in conditions of full employment and second, the transfer of power from union officials to shop stewards and unofficial leaders operating outside the orderly, paternalistic system to which management was accustomed".. (Industrial Relations, the Boardroom View by George Bull, editor of The Director, journal of the Institute of Directors pp. l6-l7)

On November 8, 1973, Mr Heath spoke to the same Annual Conference of the Institute of Directors. "From the outset he made it clear that we intended to provide the prospect of steadily rising demand ... We shall continue to depend heavily upon increased productivity as a source of rising production for some time to come, if we are to be able to meet rising demand at home and call for continuing ingenuity and flexibility in management. And it will call for the co-operation and good-will of the shop floor - which in turn depends on an understanding of what is at stake ...

"But that is the essence of such an arrangement (tripartite agreements on prices and incomes and growth) - that individuals or sections of a society accept certain limitations on their freedoms in order that the society as a whole may benefit. And we cannot expect people to accept these limitations and constraints unless they understand why they are being asked to do so. And so I come back to the point I made a few months ago. It may be at the national level of discussions between the Government, the CBI and the TUC. It may be at the company level, between the Board and union representatives. It may be at plant level, between the managers of a plant and the men and women on the shop floor ... I am sure that it is true for government in this country today, that its authority depends upon its ability to explain to Parliament and to the public not only what it wants to to do but also why it thinks it right to do it. This is certainly not a field in which I can in any way feel complacent about our success in this so far ...

"They (the people) should be able to look to Government to explain and justify its proposals and its actions by those standards (that they are for the good of the society as a whole and at least broadly fair to individuals and groups within it). So, too, should it be in industry. Those who work in an enterprise are entitled to expect that its managers will seek to do what will benefit the enterprise as a whole, and is broadly fair to all the partners in it - to its consumers and customers, as well as to themselves as workers and to managers and shareholders. And they should be able to look to management to justify its decisions - whether on profits, on investment or on prices - by these standards ... So I believe at company level , and at plant level, men and women can be brought to understand, if it is explained to them, why a healthy level of investment depends upon profits, and what therefore is the connection between the company's profit margins and their own future employment and earnings. If it is explained to them." (Financial Times, 9/11/73)

The Financial Times leader of the same day commented: "The face of capitalism is clearly and rightly a matter of great concern to the Prime Minister. Having delivered his famous rebuke during the Lonrho case some months ago, he provided the Institute of Directors yesterday with some suggestions on how to make the face of capitalism human, pleasant and acceptable ... Mr Heath's definition of worker participation was that:

'those who work in industry should be able to accept management decisions because they have been consulted about them, can understand the reasons for them, and can feel that they have genuinely shared in the process of making them' ...

"In nine management decisions out of ten the interests of employees may be identical with those of shareholders. But it is the tenth decision that creates the problem. However Mr. Heath and others may insist that the interests of employees should rank as high as those of the shareholders the fact remains that within the present framework of company law, the ultimate sovereignty lies with shareholders ... Since the links that bind a shareholder to a company are generally more tenuous than those affecting employees (it is easier to sell shares than to find another job), one may question whether the framework is entirely appropriate to the present climate of opinion. But there remains the difficulty of defining precisely what employee participation should mean and how the broader national interest should be taken into account. If this is to involve a fundamental shift in the way directors are meant to interpret their respective responsibilities to shareholders employees and also to consumers, this will require the creation of a new legislative framework."


18. The capitalists are aware that their notions about "workers' participation" or "joint consultation" are to workers' control what the 1832 Reform Bill was to universal suffrage. Once the first step has been taken transferring some sovereignty, it is merely a question of time - that is, of how quickly the working class develop to be able to assume full sovereignty. The logic of this gradual shedding of sovereignty is to avoid an interregnum - a period when the old order has lost its right to control and the new order is still unable to exercise that right in practice because it lacks the consciousness and experience.

The old order of capitalist sovereignty can no longer be maintained without the risk of major and and persistent industrial disruption and decline. The sharing of sovereignty with the workers in order to secure continuing industrial advancement opens up a further perspective for the bourgeoisie. Their survival, and their social justification during a period of shared sovereignty, outweighs for them the prospect that this period will end in a final loss of bourgeois sovereignty. Their leaders have long ago overcome the illusion that capitalism was an eternal social order, and their philosophy as a class aware of its historical transience, is summed up in Keynes' remark: "In the long run we are all dead".

The Government and the Confederation of British Industry have been arguing against a law which sets down a formal, detailed division of right between management and worker. They favour instead a loose definition which could apply equally to the beginnings of workers' control and its full realisation. We see no reason to oppose them in this respect. A written constitution might initially deprive the bourgeoisie legally of more sovereignty than a more de facto arrangement. But this would only be because it conceded to the working class more legal sovereignty than it was capable of exercising.

An arrangement which establishes joint sovereignty without rigidly defining it allows for a progressive increase of working class control of industry as it becomes capable of exercising it, and a consequent decline of bourgeois power. And it would be entirely advantageous to the cause of socialism that working class sovereignty should reflect the growth of working class power and ability, rather than come through legal enactment from above.

It will be necessary however at the factory and firm level for workers to negotiate detailed agreements with management about workers' control. Necessary because such detail provides a modus vivendi or contract by which production can be carried on. Such agreements will need to be renegotiated periodically as the workers are able and willing to take over more and more of the sovereignty within their firm.


19. It is thus probable that shareholders will continue to retain formal sovereignty over a firm, being formally required merely to share it with workers. The shareholders at present exercise little practical sovereignty over the firms they own. If a shareholder is interested in a firm whose shares he owns he will either exercise this interest by coming to work for it as an executive or on the Board of Directors or simply become a well-informed amateur, aiding capitalism in general by helping to form public opinion. The conscious direction of capitalism is at present undertaken by the salaried and hired executive and manager aided in Britain by a section of the ever-diminishing rentier class who take an active interest in their money and are good enough at it to be put on Boards. These men act in the name of the shareholders just as the Prime Minister and Cabinet act in the name of the Queen who is still the constitutional sovereign. If the hired executive owns shares in his firm, this ownership is the result of his job, the job is not the result of owning shares.

20. The workforce in a factory are in a much better position to exercise active control and sovereignty over management than are shareholders. The workforce know the production process with greater intimacy than directors or executives and are more likely to make intelligent innovations in it than are directors and executives.

21. In other areas (how much investment to make for 10-20 years ahead; whether a new product should be introduced; how much should be produced; how to deal with bottlenecks in supply and distribution) the experience of the production process is of no help. In these areas the knowledge which management today undoubtedly possess and are continuing to develop will need to be taught to the workforce just as in the early 19th century mechanics institutes taught science and Ricardian economics. These management prerogatives (prerogatives because they are at present unchecked by their legal sovereigns, the shareholders) will cease to be prerogatives only when the workforce is able to judge them. For this, knowledge is necessary. Since Capital was written, the capitalists have become much more conscious of what they do as capitalists and therefore much more able to control it. For example a new product is not now produced until research shown that there will be a certain level of demand for it.

22. The owner of a firm only controlled it because he was also its chief executive: he performed "in person his function as manager of the production process" (Capital, volume 3, p. 285). "It (the joint stock Company) is private production without the control of private property" (p. 429). This is why all schemes for worker-shareholding are irrelevant and diversionary. The only practical relation between shareholders and firm is that between creditor and debtor. At present the effective rulers of a firm are its Board of Directors and management. A glance at these Boards and management is sufficient to see that their members are men who have worked their way up from the shop floor (Lord Stokes, Chairman of British Leyland and Sir William Batty, chairman of British Ford, started in these companies as apprentice engineers), and men who began as technicians and scientists, at least as often as they come from the rentier class. The knowledge needed to run a firm is now available to anyone who is interested from books, newspapers and specialised periodicals. This availability makes effective workers' control possible since neither ruling class reflex nor gut bourgeois instinct are any longer necessary to run a firm.


23. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin all stress the necessity for the socialist state to retain bourgeois managers and ex-factory owners in their executive positions after the working class has taken state power and the transition to communism has begun. This is because the working class would be ignorant of how to organise and administer production (quite logically as the class had never had to do so and such knowledge is not innate to any man). Until the working class had gained the necessary knowledge, these bourgeoisie would have to continue to occupy positions of responsibility and power. This of course increased the chances of sabotage and counter-revolution as the bourgeoisie would be in an advantageous position from which to organise either.

24. The Russian experience, while it is or great value to the general development of working class politics, is of more limited value to the investigation of the particular question of workers' control. It was not the exhaustion of the potentialities of capitalist economy that led to the socialist revolution in Russia, but the failure of bourgeois politics in a country that was economically ripe for extensive capitalist development. Learning from West European experience the small industrial working class in Russia developed a more capable political party than the bourgeoisie, and took political power in a country whose general economic and cultural conditions were more appropriate to capitalist than socialist development. Furthermore, the small working class that existed in 1917 was disrupted in the civil war and the war of intervention during the following years, so that it had been 'declassed'. In 1921 there began the development of a new working class out of the peasantry under the tutelage of a socialist state (which included large numbers of the old working class). Circumstances dictated that a system of "one man management" be operated in factories. During the Stalin period this system could not be superseded. No sooner had a modern industrial economy been built than another massive disruption was caused by the Nazi invasion.

The truth of Marx's statement that no mode of production disappears until its economic potential has been exhausted is being borne out in Britain and in the world economy as a whole. In Britain workers' control within capitalism is being put on the agenda by the very development of the capitalist economy. This means that the British working class has to deal with a situation that did not occur in Russia because of the political failure of the bourgeoisie while the capitalist economy was in its infancy: hence the limited value of the Russian revolution in clarifying this question of workers' control.

25. One gain for the working class from workers' control would be to minimise considerably the need to retain capitalists in positions of power after the taking of political power. Because the working class themselves would possess the skill to administer production, the capitalists could immediately be demoted into the ranks of productive labour. Such bourgeois personnel as it was necessary to retain would have a hard time organising the sabotage of production because their decisions and performance would already be subject to routine scrutiny by their workforce. The effect of workers' control must be to substantially lessen the possibility of counter-revolution.

"The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, that is, by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour, they show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage." (Capital, volume 3, p. 431)

26. It is a fact that the capitalists intend to introduce a sharing of sovereignty with the working class in Britain. The question which faces the working class is not whether to demand workers' control, but rather what form of workers' control to demand and what action is necessary to gain that form. Workers' control cannot be effectively resisted by the working class because there is no class basis from which to resist. Like piece-rates, the capitalists intend using workers' control to guarantee a minimum level of productivity. Instead of a material incentive to ensure a certain level of output, there is instead to be an appeal to reason and the placing of responsibility for the firm's continued existence in its workers' hands. The failure to maintain productivity under workers' control will not be due to the boss, because he will be answerable to the workers. The only class basis for resisting workers' control would be to hold that the working class will force themselves to work harder, lengthen their own working day, be more heedless of their own welfare than the capitalists.


27. Workers' control will aid the development of politics. An increasing amount of capital accumulation is being undertaken by the state; and in addition taxation and public credit are being used to induce private capitalists to make new investments, continue production, or seek new markets. In Britain, state accumulation and concessions to private industry must seek and obtain parliamentary assent. At present such assent is not effective control by Parliament. The absence of effective parliamentary control has alarmed a section of the British ruling class whose habits and reflexes make them chary of decisions taken in the name of Parliament which are not publicly debated and fought out between the parties, in the press, by both classes. The former de facto head of the civil service, Sir William Armstrong, appeared on television in the summer of 1973 to speak of his concern for a return to the floor of the House of decisions about "public money".

28. The difficulty of implementing such a change is that any mere change of parliamentary procedure or form would alter nothing. All the talk about curing the present decline of Parliament and recouping its loss of power by reform is beside the point. Parliament will be unable to exert effective control over "public money" until the public has a reason for controlling it, an aim to be achieved in taking action. At present public money is doled out by Parliament and the Government as and when the vicissitudes of the market induce either capitalists or workers to demand it as their right and for the good of the economy. The aim achieved in granting the money is primarily one of stability - ensuring that things are able to go on as before with making the few necessary changes as painless as possible.

Thus was each docker who made himself voluntarily redundant given £4,000 in summer 1972; or each employer in Lancashire who was paid for voluntarily scrapping 150 year old spindles and looms in 1959. When the people who elect MPs have only these limited political aims - job security, continuing production the same as always or being helped to do so if short of profits - then it is not surprising that Parliament lacks power to do anything more than sanction such piecemeal demands for money as and when they occur from those sections of the working class or capitalists who are best placed to exert political pressure. Nor is it surprising that a section of the capitalists, civil service and party (Conservative and Labour) leadership should defend the encroachment of the civil service on such decisions on the grounds that someone must judge these demands for public money on a criterion apart from political pressure, because the needs of an advanced capitalist economy must be met, and these needs may not necessarily coincide with what sections of either class want.

29. It should be said that the Labour Party leaders have always been in favour of civil service control of public money on principle; the others are purely pragmatic in their conclusion, seeing no other source for such judgements being made. The Labour Party leaders have this principle from the old habit of the socialist movement which saw decisions about the economy (in effect socialist planning and administration of a wholly "collectivised" economy) being taken by a bureaucracy of socialist experts. Such a vision was arrived at because no socialist believed that the knowledge or understanding necessary to take such decisions might be available to the working class.

Thus the function of the working class in bringing socialism seemed to the Independent Labour Party leaders and Fabians to be to vote Labour so that socialist laws could be enacted and a socialist civil service could be established and put to work. It must be recognised that because the working class in the inter-war years did not possess the interest or the ability to either plan or administer production itself, this view was realistic in seeing legislation and administration coming not from the class itself but from its leaders as being necessary for socialism. The Communist Party of Great Britain drastically underestimated the need for such provisions, adopting the attitude that such things were bound to fall into place after the Revolution had occurred, so that there was no need to think about them. What the ILP leaders and the Fabians ignored was the fact that the capitalists would struggle against socialist enactment and socialist bureaucracy. The working class would be forced to do more than vote if such advances were to survive capitalist pressure. The working class would have to apply stronger pressure and would be certainly unable to do so if its leaders were not prepared for such action.

30. However, the present inevitability of some form of workers' control, whether the "Left" wish it or not, will radically alter the situation from one where the working class know very little about the laws of capitalist production into one where the working class will be able to know what actions need to be taken to regulate market forces by the conscious working of the law of value. Just as under workers' control it will be normal for the working class to decide that a new technique is operable and worth investing in within one factory or firm, so it would be extraordinary if the experience of taking such decisions did not affect the working class's political demands of Parliament. The residual powers which Parliament now possesses but wholly delegates to the Cabinet and civil service will be retrieved because Parliament will be capable of exercising them - the public will demand the opportunity to debate and form an opinion on them. For the first time economics will become part of democratic politics because the working class will all be economists in their working lives - responsible for the economic decisions of their factory and firm. (This is obviously equally true for an Incomes Policy. Decisions about what should be produced, capital or consumption goods, and how much a section of workers should be paid will already be being taken at the factory or firm level by the workers themselves and will be reflected in the negotiating of an Incomes Policy by the whole working class.)

For the working class, deciding how public money should be spent is now a matter of which section of workers can exert most political and economic pressure on the class as a whole, for instance, the UCS workers were better at exerting political pressure on the working class than the Triumph workers have been. With the experience of workers' control, the working class will be able to take such decisions on the basis of the practicality of each rival request for money, the long term interests of the working class, and whether each request helps to meet the necessary requirements for the economy's continued growth. Working class representatives in Parliament will have to reflect that decision or lose the class's confidence.

31. This change in the ability of the working class to organise and administer the economy through being able to effectively exert control over its representatives means that economic issues become political issues in the strict sense of political, that is, an aim capable of being effected by political action. The question of a transition from capitalism to communism becomes one which the working class will find from its own experience that it is able to undertake.

No longer will socialist parties view themselves as holding ideas in trust for a working class incapable of grasping them; these same socialist parties will now be forced to argue for and justify this same sacred trust on their party programme's economic merits. And indeed in consequence these ideas will be forced to become less abstract and theoretical and rhetorical and more practical. Their function will cease to be hortatory - to inspire awe and moral fervour - and will become more mundane, that is, capable of being achieved.

The B&ICO for one will welcome this enforced change because we are thoroughly fed up with the socialist heroics that never deigns to explain what relevance it has to the workaday world, and the pristine chasteness of the intellectual Left's scholasticism which passes for theory. The bourgeoisie's first attempts to take control of the productive forces and direct them gave rise to a veritable torrent of political economic thought (Petty, Smith, Ricardo etc.) which could break new theoretical ground because there were new practical developments. Workers' control will give rise to much reflection within the working class. Until the changes of workers' control with the new ability to control the productive forces lead to a desire on the part of the working class to achieve new aims, any theorising about the shape of communism must necessarily be abstract and limited in its effect. As for theories of capitalism, the bourgeoisie have clearly outdistanced Marxists in their ability to use Marx's political economy. The greatly increased ability to measure the market forces and act on the basis of measurements in choosing how much to produce and what to charge without waiting for these to express themselves wastefully and inefficiently in real competition have made the possibilities open to workers' control much greater.


Trade Unions in Britain arose before working class political organisations, and indeed it was the trade unions who provided the resources for establishing the Labour Party. The Labour Party has existed for 73 years, while trade unions have been part of working class life for nearly 150 years. The trade union in Britain was seen by the working class and accepted by the capitalists, after 70 years of working class pressure (piecemeal and spontaneous at first, but after the 1820s, persistent, organised and conscious pressure), as a voluntary representative organisation which spoke for workers not just about wages or hours, but also all the social, and political issues of the day. Trade unions passed resolutions about Home Rule for Ireland and Mr. Disraeli's support for Bulgarian atrocities as well as about Russian despotism. It was the TUC which was responsible for the enquiry that led to the 1944 Education Act and also for the enquiry that became the Beveridge Report. While in France, Germany and Italy these activities and role were filled by Social Democrats and Communists, in Britain it has been the trade unions.

33. The jobs which trade unions were organised to do - restricting the labour market to secure employment in bad times and bid up wages in good ones; resisting encroachments on the standard wage, hours of work and pace of work - have been rendered routine and very light work indeed by Keynsian fiscal policies and then by Incomes Policy and perhaps even more by the capitalists learning from experience that it was more profitable to negotiate and consult with workers and improve their working conditions than to lengthen the working day and pace of work. However, in Britain, because trade unions have an established place as the spokesman of the working class on political and social and economic affairs, it is perfectly understandable that they should continue to be seen and treated as voluntary, representative organisations by all politicians and the press.

34. The reality is that the working class has not participated in trade unions as a class since 1945. It has had no need, since the small minority who are very interested in trade unions are now perfectly adequate numbers to do all the jobs and gain all the demands which the working class require. Further, the working class can control that small minority perfectly adequately when it acts on its own initiative to gain something the working class don't want at all, e.g., the GEC-AEI shop stewards' failure to have a work-in to protest against redundancies in the winter of 1969 or the GMWU's remarkable overnight conversion to militancy and democracy after being vilified and deserted by the Pilkington workers in their unofficial strike of summer 1971. It is an established relation between "the people" and "the representatives" (in this case shop stewards, branch officials and other interested workers) that at such times when "the representatives" consider "the people" are necessary to carry, the representative's demand with the employers or to defend a threatened principle or privilege, "the people" down tools and withdraw labour. With 150 years of experience and reflection about trade union action for these aims, British workers are quite capable and do judge for themselves whether their representatives have made the right judgement in calling a strike or urging a strike's continuation. The defeat which fell to the miners' leaders who called for strike action against the Government and Phase II in the ballot in January 1973 or the failure of the AEU to sustain its campaign of militancy in the summer of 1972 are examples as telling and weighty as the successes of militants like Fords in 1968 or the miners' strike in January 1972.

35. While the working class has been quire prepared to keep its trade unions going because in the light of its experience they are doing necessary work for it, it has ceased to participate in trade unions in the debating of political and economic and social issues - quite naturally since it has stopped going to trade union meetings. This has made trade unions notoriously unreliable in their role as accurate gauge of working class opinion. But with no other alternative, politicians and the press have continued to take the trade unions as a gauge, because the British parliamentary system would simply seize up if there were nothing which could be taken as working class opinion.

36. The institution of workers' control is going to mean that the working class is faced with being a party to decisions some of which it will know nothing about and others where it will know much but be in the habit of letting the employers do the dirty work (for instance, disciplining workers who disrupt or impede production; making provision for safety) : consequently it is extremely unlikely that the class will entrust its representatives of the trade unions to undertake these new jobs for it with the same freedom of action that they enjoy in trade union matters. Only when the class feels itself competent to judge its representative's actions will it allow that much latitude and cease participating in workers' control as a class. Until then workers' control is likely to become as much of a hothouse of reflection, debate and experiment as the trade unions were 150 years ago. It is likely to contribute as much to the political, development of the working class, acting for itself in pursuit of definite aims, as have the trade unions.

37. Until full workers' control is achieved, the relations between trade unions and the workers' representatives in management will be laden with difficulty, particularly because trade unions will have a vested interest in claiming that the workers' representative has sold out to management and is therefore not to be trusted - the trade unions thereby magnify their own importance. Because of this, it makes sense to bind the trade union to the workers' representatives in management in some way, thereby forcing the trade union to be a participant in the workers' appraisal of the representatives' actions. One way would be to require every representative to be a trade union member in any firm where trade unions have negotiating rights, but specifying that a representative is not responsible or answerable either to his trade union branch or trade union officials above him for his actions. As a representative he is answerable only to his electors - the workers in his factory or firm. This in practice is the position of a shop steward in Britain and it is probable that many shop stewards will become workers' management representatives - though it should most definitely not be a precondition. Because trade union membership in firms where trade unions have negotiating rights is usually 100%, this condition grants no favouritism to one section of workers over another while reserving to the trade unions their own position.

The trade unions passed at the 1973 TUC the first statement on workers' control by the trade union movement since 1949. Coming after a complete silence of 25 years in which the possibilities of the working class gaining large measures of workers' control if given a lead by the trade unions [would have been considerable? - PB], this statement can justifiably be termed not a result of trade union initiative but rather a reaction to the moves by the Government and CBI, moves which had the clear intention of introducing workers' control, in Britain.

The TUC statement (in the form of an interim report on Industrial Democracy by the General Council) shows that the TUC views workers' control from a class viewpoint and is only interested in workers' control insofar as it increases the power of the working class to influence decisions.

"88. It is a basic function of trade unions to obtain a degree of joint control through representation at the point at which decisions affecting workpeople are made. It has long been the case that trade unions at all levels have influenced managerial decisions, and the need for greater influence has been recognised. Logically speaking, there is not a major barrier to be broken down which prevents trade unions from participating in major decisions within the present system, because they already do so. The extension of joint control or joint regulation in any form, including collective bargaining, is a de facto sharing of the management prerogative. However, this has not extended to the point where management are formally responsible to workpeople in the same way as they are to shareholders." (Interim Report, p. 35)

However, the interim report shows itself more interested in preserving the existing trade union structure intact for all time than in developing the ability of the working class to take full control of production. The report comes out decisively against works councils and instead supports an extension of the scope of "the present structure of collective bargaining machinery to bring into the field of negotiations matters which are currently outside collective agreements." (p. 28)

It is clear that the development of works councils would provide for the regular assemblies of workers and public debate cited in paragraph 9 of this policy statement as a necessary condition for workers' control. It is also clear that such works councils would tend to erode the jurisdiction of individual trade unions and instead develop the power and ability of the shopfloor. It is possible that this might create a desire for industrial unions in the working class as being the most logical reflections of their existence. In the same way as the trade union officials resisted and fought the shop stewards during World War I because the shop stewards limited the officials' power of initiative by giving a definite voice to the working class views at the shop floor, so the TUC in 1973 is resisting the first hints that such a development at the shop floor could be taken further through works councils. In Britain trade unions are organised on a craft basis (the AUEW and the Boilermakers) and on a general, or amalgamated basis (the TGWU or GMWU). There are only two industrial unions (the NUM and the NUR). This means that in each factory there is great concern by union officials to protect the jurisdictional rights of each union. Plant bargaining and shop stewards combines have begun to overcome such divisions. Works councils would increase the workers' ability to overcome them. In factories and firms where trade unions have negotiating rights, it makes sense to constitute the works council under trade union auspices - the auspices of the factory shop stewards committee which includes shop stewards from ALL trade unions in the factory. Elections for workers' management representatives would be conducted in the works council. The works council is merely the logical extension of the factory meetings already called by shop stewards' committees everywhere to explain a dispute or air a grievance. The TUC by opposing works councils shows itself more interested in trade union "property rights" than in workers' control.

Until and unless the TUC, trade union officials and shop stewards show that they are more interested in what the working class can gain from workers' control than in preserving their own jurisdiction, the working class will get no positive help or lead from that quarter in relation to workers' control. The trade union movement must do more than react to the proposals of the bourgeoisie about workers' control if the working class is to take it seriously as having the working class's interests at heart. The trade union movement must take the initiative in organising the working class to take control over production. If it does not do so, then the class will simply be forced to look elsewhere within its ranks for leadership.


39. Workers' control is obviously not just another management device for ensuring increasing productivity and ensuring production. It has only become a practical way to ensure these things because the working class are literate, accustomed to reasoning, accustomed to taking conscious action for definite aims, and socialised in an industrial culture where science and a material relation to the world are taken for granted. It would be foolish indeed to jeopardise production by vesting responsibility for it in less capable hands. For when the vesting has taken place, there will indeed be no recourse left for capitalists but reason. The use of force and the abuse of his place by a representative of the people against the people has been defined as tyranny by Europeans since they began to think about the Bible. A workers' management representative who becomes a tyrant is very likely to face the same fate that has always come to tyrants in Europe.

40. What then will remain for the working class to struggle against? Will there be any capitalists left? Capitalism is determined by the operation of the law of value within a market, which market provides for equalisation of rates of profit, wages, exploitation, interest amongst the workers and rentiers. Insofar as the owner of a firm from the late 18th-mid 19th century acted for his firm on the basis of the limits and options which the market and its workings determined for him, Marx calls him capital embodied, a capitalist.

"We have seen that the growing accumulation of capital implies its growing concentration. Thus grows the power of capital, the alienation of the conditions of social production personified in the capitalist from the real producers. Capital comes more and more to the fore as a social power, whose agent is the capitalist. This social power no longer stands in any possible relation to that which the labour of a single individual can create. It becomes an alienated, independent, social power, which stands opposed to society as an object, and as an object that is the capitalist's source of power." (Capital, volume 3, p. 259)

From the 1850s with joint stock companies and the creation of a labour market for managers from bankrupt entrepreneurs, managers came to be capital embodied, since it was they who employed the shareholder's capital - who evaluated the market and acted on their judgements The owner of the capital was no longer its real incarnation. Marx and Engels saw in the joint stock company the beginning of the end of capitalism precisely because it was the beginning of the divorce of ownership and control.

"The capitalist stock companies, as much as the cooperative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other," (Capital, volume 3, p. 431)

With workers' control, the shareholder will cease to have even vestigial rights of control. The workers will be capital embodied. The transition from capitalism to communism will come as Marx and Engels and Lenin and Stalin were always careful to state it would - when the working class is able to supersede the law of value and the function of the market by conscious social determination and able to implement that conscious social determination without hindrance from a state machine.

41. Will government continue to have a function under workers' control? Most emphatically, yes. It will be needed to use the coercion of society as a whole against sections of it who are attempting to act in their own narrow sectional interests (what Marx calls "the performance of common activities arising from the nature of all communities" - Capital, volume 3, p. 376), as well as to reflect and oversee great movements forward by the society or reflect a resistance to progress when the society is temporarily out of breath. The problem of sectionalism is a continuing one. Thus there is no reason why steel workers under workers' control should not resist the introduction of aluminium as a substitute for steel and present perfectly scientific arguments about the superiority of steel over aluminium. The two industries could struggle against each other and hold society to ransom by each going out on strike unless the other were stopped from producing. To enforce society's interests, a government is necessary. At present the government has the confidence of the working class as being the body which governs society. If that body still enjoys their confidence when workers' control has been achieved, then it will still govern.

42. It is obvious that the development of workers' control from the point where the workers' right to be consulted and to veto management decisions is merely acknowledged and the shareholders retain the semblance of greater sovereignty, to workers' control where the workers are the sole sovereigns will be uneven. In industries where labour is casual or not in the habit of exercising power in trade unions, it is likely to proceed slowly and also to encounter much opposition from employers. In industries where trade unions are strong and where management take a decision which the majority of workers consider tyrannous (e.g. Dennis Poore's decision to close the Triumph factory; UCS's decision to close etc.) workers are likely to take full sovereignty for themselves immediately such a decision is announced.


43. To our knowledge, no working class organisation has ever opposed workers' control. However, there has been a history of protracted controversies amongst working class organisation about workers' control. The legacy of these controversies for the present generation of workers and communists has been an ambiguity about workers' control.

44. Syndicalism became known as a political tendency with a name when the French took it up in the 1890s. Prior to that time, English workers had attempted to practice it without giving it a name. (William Lovett became the storekeeper of the first London Cooperative Trading Association which had been established in 1828. Lovett estimates that between 4-500 similar associations were established in Britain at this time (see "The Life and Struggles of William Lovett, p. 33). French syndicalism (which influenced the rest of Europe) held that control over the production process by the workers would mean the end of capitalism. The one and only condition for communism was workers' control.

45. The main opposition to the syndicalists then was that they ignored the existence of a state which was controlled by the capitalists and which would never allow such an event to occur. The state must be smashed and a workers' state constructed before workers' control would be realistic. In this, critics in Europe were certainly correct. It took the upheaval of World War I to convince even a section of the capitalists that workers' control was necessary.

46. However, in making the criterion for rejection of workers' control the impossibility of its implementation, the critics of syndicalism neglected to deal with the assumption that workers' control over the production process was sufficient of itself to lead to communism. This omission is important because the logic of syndicalism is that it is the fact that capitalists organise production which makes it capitalist. This implies that capitalists when organising production do so not because impelled by the laws of capitalist production, but out of preference or choice.

Yet in practice, it was just these laws which caused the failure of the English experiments. By abolishing money, and exchanging their products via the issuing of certificates for the labour time spent in producing each article, the workers in London, Birmingham and Manchester hoped to be able to earn a living wage. After all if one worker could work for 8 hours and exchange his products for those of 8 hours of other people's labour, no one should gain more than he earned through labour and all live in harmony with each other.

"I was sanguine that those associations formed the first step towards the social independence of the labouring classes... I was induced to believe that the gradual accumulation of capital by these means would enable the working classes to form themselves into joint stock associations of labour, by which (with industry, skill, and knowledge) they might ultimately have the trade, manufactures, and commerce of the country in their own hands." (Lovett, p33-4)

In each place this system soon broke down and money re-established itself. What caused its breakdown was that each individual worker's labour time in producing an article for exchange cannot remain inviolate and absolute (this is equally true of an individual factory). Competition determines how much labour is socially necessary to produce an article and it is only through competition that the law of value can operate and continue to give rise to technical innovation, increased productivity and capital accumulation. The "direct exchange" of labour time leads to competition, the operation of the law of value and the consequent development of the productive forces, unless obstructed by guild organisation. The English workers believed that it could lead to a cooperative commonwealth if given its head. When it did not, they returned to attempts to restrict competition and control the labour market in trade unions.

47. "Without the factory system arising out of the capitalist mode of production there could have been no co-operative factories. Nor could these have developed without the credit arising out of the same mode of production. The credit system is not only the principal basis for the gradual transformation of capitalist private enterprises into capitalist stock companies, but equally offers the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale." (Capital, volume 3, p. 431)

The credit system makes the total capital of a society available to producers. One factory is not limited to its own profits for investment, it can draw on the wealth accumulated by the rest of society. This is the direct opposite of the direct exchange of labour time. Instead of exchange on the basis of equal labour time, it is exchange on the basis of the most profitable labour saving: only that is sold and produced which is the most efficient user of capital and labour. Marx clearly assumed that workers' control would be practised on the basis of recognising the laws of capitalist production.

48. S. and B. Webb were the only ones to attack syndicalism on the basis that it ignored or was unaware of the existence of the law of value. They pointed out that if the miners were allowed to organise their production according to their democratically arrived at wishes, and town gas workers practised the same "democratic right", society might be faced with too much coal and town gas and not enough cotton and machine tools. S. and B. Webb were not in favour of the market and competition deciding these questions. They wanted society to consciously operate the law of value through a new parliament where workers would be represented not according to occupation, since what you worked at had nothing to do with what things you wanted to consume.

49. Because no one on the Left has taken up S. and B. Webb's attack, syndicalism remains at the level of denying the laws of capitalist production. Syndicalism will continue to be a "natural" reaction of a working class which is newly proletarianised - fresh from the farm or ex-artisan. Because all his life the new proletarian has been able to produce enough to feed and clothe himself and his family, he cannot believe that 10 hours of his labour should not bring him the means to subsist. Further, he has always worked when and how he thought best; the necessity for working to suit the maximum use of machinery is to him incomprehensible.

50. However, once a working class has been proletarianised for some generations, they learn by experience to accept the laws of capitalist production as given and do not waste their energy in attempting to act as if these laws were not there. Moreover, they find that within those laws it is possible to act and achieve the aim of a living wage. It is no accident that syndicalism has had most influence in each nation of Europe at the period when its peasants and artisans were becoming proletarianised. There is a direct connection. Moreover, as each new wave of migration proceeds, syndicalism must be tried and rejected by experience. Thus England has had no proper syndicalists amongst its working class since the 1830s, (the Webbs characterised the British "syndicalists" of the 1890s-1910s as getting support from an increasingly educated and politically interested working class who would not be treated as if they had no reason and would no longer accept mere orders), while May '68 in France and Italy's Hot Autumn of 1969 were direct evidence that these nations had indeed seen a population shift from farm to factory since the mid-50s unequalled in magnitude in their respective histories. Just as certainly were the general strikes in which Rosa Luxemburg saw so much [potential?] in Germany and Austria in the 1890s evidence of the same thing.

51. When the Left talk of workers' control, they are trying to reawaken the primeval syndicalist responses in a much too old and realistic working class. It must be said that no advocates of workers' control on the left today have faced up to the necessity of recognising the laws of capitalist production as incapable of being changed by democratic will alone. They thus logically fall victim to the errors of syndicalism in believing democracy at work will abolish capitalism.

52. It is hardly surprising therefore that these advocates of workers' control have had no effect on the working class whatsoever. In fact, workers' control first appeared as practical to this generation of workers in spring 1971 when militant shop stewards organised a work-in which had the aim of securing government aid to prevent the shipyards closing. The workers at UCS showed that they believed themselves to be sovereign by demanding that the resources of the nation (that is, the capital of all society) be made available to continue what they considered to be a potentially profitable undertaking, though the management did not. The UCS shop stewards acted on the basis of reality:

(1) accepting that production must be profitable;

(2) accepting that it was impossible to go it alone, outside the already existing exchange and credit relations and indeed recognising there was no sense in even trying to do so.

It was not syndicalism but sheer pragmatism which determined the actions at UCS.

53. The Communist movement has never placed great significance on the benefits for the working class in measures for workers' control being taken by employers or the government. In fact, there has even been hostility to such measures because they have been seen by Communists as obscuring the class struggle, of being "the sugar coating on the bitter pill"; The assumption on which this hostility is based is that the taking of political power by the working class would only be possible if the capitalists behaved as badly and oppressively as possible. Once capitalists began behaving as intelligent capitalists, the game was up. Further there was an assumption that the only basis from which the working class were capable of asserting their class interests was out of oppression and hardship. If oppression and hardship kept diminishing as capitalism developed, this would render the working class impotent against the capitalists, who would then enslave the class with ideology and the good life instead of hardship, rendering communism a mere dream.

54. When the term 'workers' control' is used by Lefties their intention is to maximise the syndicalist aura of the term, taking care never to define what exactly they mean.. These men require all the mystery of the syndicalist aura to excite the masses. It makes the Left think they are saying more than meets the ear; makes the requisite obeisance to hallowed proletarian tradition; while committing the speaker to no definite aim or course of action.

55. Workers' control when stripped of this syndicalist aura is subjected to criticism by the Left on the grounds

(a) that these measures are a matter of indifference for the working class because they do not bring the end of capitalism any nearer


(b) they are divisive for the working class because they will make it capitalist minded, that is, interested in the fortunes of their firm, when instead they should be longing for an end to capitalism in general.

Therefore they conclude the measures should be opposed.

56. It is hard these days to get a bald admission of opposition to workers' control as defined in the last paragraph from the Left. Opposition is expressed in the Left's insistence on seeing every political act of the bourgeoisie as an attempt to increase the level of oppression and hardship of the British working class. It follows that the working class cannot think about workers' control until it has fought against and defeated these attempts by the capitalists to impoverish the working class. For the working class to adopt such a course of action would make sense and be necessary if such attempts were being made and succeeding. But it is a fact that the working class' standard of living has been rising for 30 years. And it is also a fact that the threat to the working class is now coming from the firm's failure to invest and the manager's inability to organise production efficiently. The capitalists propose to meet these two threats (since they are equally threats to capitalism) by incomes policy and workers' control.

The Left's assumption of ever increasing impoverishment is held for reasons of faith which make its actual truth quite beside the point and a mere irrelevance. The reason for such an assumption is not that it reflects reality correctly, but rather that it is necessary to keep the revolutionary spirit alive, which the Left believe will be quenched if the working class were not being progressively impoverished. The Left has failed to convince the working class of this doctrine of greater and increasing oppression. The socialist groups in Britain before World War I had more members and made a greater impact on the working class than has the left since 1945.

57. The Left cannot cite where Marx, Engels, Lenin or Stalin ever state the view that capitalism would only be overthrown when the working class had reached a point of absolute impoverishment or misery. This is because none of them ever made such statements. These four were aware that increased impoverishment and oppression were necessary results of capitalist production with its tendency to extract absolute surplus value (by lengthening the working day, increasing the pace of work, lowering wage-rates by employing child-labour and women) and to emiseration by creating a pool of labour in excess of its requirements by which to keep wages as low as possible. They also know that such tendencies could be counter-acted by the conscious political action of the working class and by the development of capitalist production. Marx shows in Volume 1 of Capital how such tendencies carry with them the NECESSARY counter- acting tendencies to resistance in the working class'

"Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society... The establishment of a normal working day is the result of centuries of struggle between capitalist and labourer (p. 270).

"'However, the principle" (of the regulation of the working day within what Marx calls not only physical but moral bounds) "had triumphed with its victory in those great branches of industry which form the most characteristic creation of the modern mode of production. Their wonderful development from 1853 to 1860, hand-in-hand with the physical and moral regeneration of the factory workers, struck the most purblind. The masters from whom the legal limitation and regulation had been wrung step by step after a civil war of half a century , themselves referred ostentatiously to the contrast with the branches of exploitation still 'free'." (pp. 295-6)

"...from the mere connection of the historic facts before us, it follows:

"FIRST. The passion of capital for an unlimited and reckless extension of the working-day is first gratified in the industries earliest revolutionised by water-power, steam and machinery ... The changes in the material mode of production and the corresponding changes in the social relations of the producers gave rise first to an extravagance beyond all bounds, and then in opposition to this called forth a control on the part of Society which legally limits, regulates, and makes uniform the working-day and its pauses...

"SECOND. The history of the regulation of the working day in certain branches of production, and the struggle still going on in others in regard to this regulation, prove conclusively that the isolated labourer, the labourer as 'free' vendor of his labour-power, when capitalist production has once attained a certain stage, succumbs without any power of resistance. The creation of a normal working-day is, therefore, the product of a protracted civil war, more or less dissembled, between the capitalist class and the working class... The English factory workers were the champions, not only of the English, but of the modern working- class generally, as their theorists were the first to throw the gauntlet to the theory of capital." (Marx here refers to Robert Owen, as he tells us in a foot-note to this sentence.) (p. 298-9)

(The pool of surplus labour disappeared with the second world war and the use of Keynsian fiscal measures. Since then capitalism's demand for labour has outstripped the supply in Europe and the state in Britain has been unwilling to risk reaction from the working class by importing more than a limited amount of labour from elsewhere.)

In fact Marx is careful to explain that the predominant tendency as capitalist production advances is for the extraction of relative surplus value. The worker yields more surplus value not because he works harder or longer, but because he has more machinery to help him. Marx defined exploitation as the amount of surplus value produced in relation to the amount of wages. Thus for Marx an increase in exploitation does not necessarily imply an increase in suffering; on the contrary in advanced capitalism he was clear that it meant simply that each worker had greater amounts of more efficient machinery with which to produce. The advent of socialism will in fact only heighten the need for greater productivity in the working class. Because this greater productivity will be necessary for socialism to develop into communism and it involves increasing amounts of machinery and more advanced techniques being adopted - both things which are identified with exploitation under capitalism. With socialism the working class will voluntarily introduce both things itself in order to continue developing the productive forces towards communism. Marx and Engels' interests in workers' co-operative factories and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's and Lenin's and Stalin's statements about the benefits of workers' control for the working class show that they were not indifferent or hostile to workers' control.

58. The ambiguity of the left's views on workers' control is that, on the one hand, it cannot oppose workers' control with any reasons or evidence. On the other hand, it feels that workers' control would unnecessarily prolong capitalism (perhaps forever) by being the sugar coating. This ambiguity began actively to hinder the working class' interest during World War II and has continued to do so since then. Prior to that time, the question of workers' control was of no pressing urgency for the working class. Rather it had first to organise itself as a class capable of acting in factory conditions. It then had to secure its place in the fluctuations of the production cycle - that is, act to try to prevent wage cuts and maintain employment (in fact this problem intensified so that it came to eclipse all others for the working class in the 20 inter-war years). The working class had not shown a deep or abiding interest in workers' control up to World War II because it had other more important things to think and act about.

59. The Left's ambiguity has been a positive hindrance to the working class because at any point from World War II to 1972 (beginning of the Tripartite Talks) the working class could have demanded workers' control as the only basis for the Incomes Policy being tried by each successive government. By taking the initiative the working class would have been in a position to quicken the pace of implementation of workers' control (by making it easier for the conservative sections of capitalists to be whipped into line by the progressive ones). Such tangible signs of working class power usually have greater effect than when that power is presented as a logical result which is hypotheticatly inevitable by the capitalist politicians.

60. Instead the working class's erstwhile Left mentors have spent all their energy in arguing the opposite, that threats to the right to work, and wage reductions are still the main danger to the working class. A slight variant of this is the argument increasingly used: that the working class has an abstract right to ever higher wages. This implies that there is no threat to working class survival today. That survival will somehow take care of itself. There is only abstract right to assert. The world has unaccountably become Utopian and all things are always for the best. We assume that the Left uses this argument increasingly because the ridiculousness of maintaining that there is increasing impoverishment is becoming increasingly obvious. Believing that above all a collision course with the capitalists must be steered, the Left can only envision this collision coming out of abstract right, not material necessity. On the contrary, there will be no collision in Britain about abstract right to ever higher wages. The capitalists in Britain feel too certain of the essential materialism and will to survive of the working class to accept a collision with the working class about abstract right to ever higher wages. The capitalists are therefore proceeding to put the working class's materialism to the test by instituting workers' control. Workers' control will mean that every worker will be able to see for himself if the money is there for a wage increase. It will mean that changes in the production process will be argued to the workers on the basis of whether efficiency is increased by them. Workers will have to weigh up the advantages from greater output (more wages) against any disadvantages (more complex technique requiring greater concentration and skill).

61. By its ambiguity, the Left has hindered the working class's interests, since workers' control has been necessary for working class survival and development since 1945.