Workers' control

Workers' control and nationalisation

Not a wheel turns, not a lightbulb shines and not a telephone rings without the kind permission of the working class. But under capitalism, the means of production are the private property of the capitalist class: they own the machinery, the plants and the factories. The workers have no claim either to the instruments or the products of their labour, and they have no choice but to work in order to survive. This entire process is not planned according to social need, but operates anarchically to maximise profit for the capitalists.

In a few instances in history, workers have expelled their bosses and run their own workplaces under democratic control. In so doing, they learn that the parasitic capitalists are completely unnecessary. Workers already have the knowhow to run their industries, and are the basis for everything of value created in society. Trotsky explains that workers’ control of industry is a “school for planned economy”, allowing the workers to gain a scientific understanding of how the economy functions so that mankind can consciously and democratically plan production.

Therefore, through the experience of workers’ control, the working class prepares itself for direct management of nationalised industries under a planned economy. In revolutionary Russia, workers had direct, democratic control over production via the Soviets, but the objective conditions of backward, war-torn Russia limited the development of workers’ control. Under a socialist society, the entire economy will be democratically managed by the working class for the maximum benefit of mankind.

At the beginning of 1959 the National Coal Board decided to close 36 pits and throw 13,000 miners out of work in Wales and Scotland. Despite the wave of unrest amongst the miners, the reaction of the leaders of the Miners' Union was to "co-operate in minimising hardship caused by the closures". Ted Grant argued that the NUM should strike back and mobilise around the lines set out by the Miners' Charter and enforce workers' control on the Coal Board.

In the run-up to the 1959 General Election Ted Grant criticised the programme of the Labour Party highlighting that promises of reforms were just words, especially in the context of the economic slump, if the bosses' pockets had not to be touched. Unless the big 600 were taken over and production rationally organised according to a democratic plan, with the full participation of the workers and technicians themselves - Grant argued - the programme of reforms was unrealistic.

After nationalizing Coal, it became evident to workers that conditions were not improving. A number of unofficial strikes broke out in 1947 provoking the threat of retaliatory sackings by the capitalist led Coal Board. Ted Grant vibrantly protested against the lavish acceptance of this measure by the leaders of the Miners' Union and called on them to give voice to the legitimate demands and grievances of the workers and fight for workers' control over the Coal industry.

At the end of 1946 the post-war Labour government issued a Bill for the nationalization of transport provoking furious criticisms from the Tories. Ted Grant explained why Marxists opposed compensation to the transport company shareholders and demanded that workers should take control over the industry through the election of a Workers' Board.

Leon Trotsky with some general considerations about the slogan of workers’ control of production: "The first question that arises in this connection is: Can we picture workers’ control of production as a stable regime, not everlasting, of course, but of quite long duration? In order to reply to the question it is necessary to determine the class nature of this regime more clearly."

Are cooperatives an alternative to socialist revolution? Can we build a new society gradually through the cooperative movement? The central question is: who holds state power, the working class or the capitalists? Here Lenin deals with the question in the first period after the Russian Revolution.

The following article was written when Reed arrived in Sweden in February last, on his way fromRussia, in answer to false stories being circulated by the capitalist press about the management of Russian industries.

"Through all the chorus of abuse and misrepresentation directed against the Russian Soviets by the capitalist press there runs a voice shrill with a sort of panic, which cries: ‘There is no government in Russia! There is no organisation among the Russian workers! It will not work! It will not work!’ There is method in the slander." (John Reed)

A vivid description by John Reed on the functioning of the Soviets shortly after the revolution.

Written on 26 or 27 of October 1917, stating the eight key regulations on workers control following the October Revolution.