Thursday 23 September 2010

Inudstrial democracy

Vince Cable's statement of the obvious truth that "markets are often irrational or rigged" has produced injured bleats from the CBI et al about over-emotional language with might frighten the horses (by which they seem to mean foreign investment.) How does the right reconcile its belief that trade unions should be hedged aground with all sorts of regulations which restrict their activities, while capitalists should be free to do as they like?

Actually I'm not necessarily a great fan of trade unions. In the 1960s we Liberals had all sorts of ingenious plans for industrial democracy and worker participation. One I liked was that boards of companies over a certain size should comprise one third shareholder representatives, one third employee representatives and one third community representatives. No single bloc would therefore have a majority. These imaginative plans, which, had they been implemented could have transformed the British industrial scene and avoided the horrors of the eighties, were always opposed by the trades union movement, which saw them as a threat to their power base. They preferred confrontation to co-operation.

I am pleased to see hints of a revival of potential co-operative ideas in Vince's speech: mentions of an employee shareholder scheme for the Royal Mail, and the promotion of mutual ownership by Ed Davey. I should like to see ideas about industrial (and commercial) democracy return to centre stage. We shall not obtain a fair society until power is exercised in the interests of all, rather than one "side" or the other.

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