Thursday 6 June 2013

Power to the workers.

I have tried below (Ten Reasons to be  pleased) to indicate  some of the features of Britain's democracy which have been maintained or improved by the presence of Liberal Democrats in the government.  Of these the most significant, though fragile, is the fixed term parliament.  We have failed miserably to achieve those twin pillars  Liberalism, electoral reform and the creation of a democratic  second chamber.

A third pillar of of Liberalism is, or used to be, the extension of democracy to the workplace.  When I first campaigned as a Liberal in the 1960s and 70s we had detailed schemes for achieving this, which was then called "industrial democracy."  They are now either mouldering on the shelves, or, it seems, have been forgotten.

Yet the time is ripe for a reform of company law.  There is general disgust, not only with the bankers, but by the way that companies, through over-concentration of short-term share value,  asset stripping and the like, are used to feather the nests of directors and managers, regardless of the effects on their employees, customers and the communities they serve.

A major obstacle in the past  to worker participation in the decision making structures of companies has been the attitude of the Labour Party and their paymasters, the unions.  Both have preferred confrontation rather than co-operation, and resisted employees becoming involved in decision making  and therefore sharing responsibility,.

This may mow be changing.  A few weeks ago the present General Secretary  of the Trades Union Congress, Frances O'Grady, wrote:

Unions must learn ...from the mistakes of the Attlee period.  This was when we made our key strategic error in not going down the route of industrial democracy.  We opted for the important but limited role of securing better terms and conditions instead of pressing  for workers to have positions  on the board and taking up every chance to democratise economic relationships.

The coalition still has  two years of life.  I believe it is urgently necessary  for Liberal Democrats to take those old schemes down from the shelves, bring them up to date so that they relate to modern conditions (more commerce as well as what's left of industry, the public sector,  the increasing prevalence of international companies) and, in co-operation with our government partners, and if possible the Labour Party and Greens, achieve the transformation in our industrial and commercial lives that we have  failed to achieve in the political sphere.

If it is too much to hope that the Tories will co-operate in introducing  such legislation in this parliament, then we need schemes in readiness for the coalition negotiations for the next.

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