Workers' control

Workers' control and nationalisationWorkers’ control means exactly what it says: the working class and its representatives in the factories have the right to inspect the books of a company or industry etc., to check and control all ingoings and outgoings, and the actions of management.

In The Transitional Programme, Trotsky explains that the first step towards actual control of industry is the abolition of “business secrets”. Business secrets, the accounts and the books, are of course used to justify all manner of attacks on the working class such as wages reductions, lay-offs, sackings and increases in working hours.

When the bosses claim bankruptcy, or claim they are losing profits, and demand such things, workers’ control allows the workers to inspect the books and ascertain the real situation. The idea is to lift the veil, to show the working class the detailed workings of the capitalist system as a step towards its elimination.

The immediate tasks of workers’ control should be to explain the debits and credits of society: looking first at individual enterprises to determine the share of the national income of individual capitalists and of course the ruling class as a whole. Another task of workers’ control should be to reveal to society the squandering of human labour and the naked pursuit of profits, as well as to expose secret deals, swindles, and corruption inherent in the system.

— From Workers’ Control and Nationalization

The Russian Revolution is the greatest event in human history, because for the first time the working class not only led a revolution, but took power directly into their own hands and proceeded to transform society. The act is slandered as undemocratic, when in reality it involved the most far-reaching and revolutionary democracy the world has ever seen. In this article, Daniel Morley explains how this worked in practice.

Late on the night of Sunday, 25 November, rumours began to trickle out about the impending closure of the Oshawa General Motors plant. The following morning the terrible news was confirmed to be true. In response, workers of Unifor Local 222 staged a spontaneous wildcat walkout. The closure is a massive blow to the working class of the city and the province which cannot be allowed to stand. The capitalists have shown themselves to be incapable of providing decent employment. It is up to the workers to take action to defend their jobs and union.

Along with the renewed discussion in Britain around renationalisation (a policy promised by the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn), the idea of workers’ control and workers’ management has re-emerged. Indeed, John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, has said that renationalised companies should not be run like they were in the past, but should instead be run under workers’ control.

In this recording from the Revolution 2016 weekend school, Daniel Morley of the Socialist Appeal editorial board discusses the idea of workers' democracy, contrasting this with the formal democracy that we have under capitalism, and explaining the ways in which the working class can take control of the wider economy.

Here is the remarkable story of Eleftherotypia, a Greek left-wing newspaper whose workforce has defied the odds and responded to the threat of bankruptcy with workers’ control as the answer. This is taking place in the second largest newspaper in Greece and is happening despite the sabotage of the owners!

On 15 May 2010, Elio Sayago, a revolutionary activist with a long history of struggle, was named worker-president of CVG Alcasa by [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez, with the explicit order to implement Worker Control and the Socialist Guyana Plan. As the comrade relates in this interview, his management has been the victim of a series of bureaucratic traps; from the violent seizure of the company’s front gates, to manoeuvres aimed at unduly removing him from his post.

At the end of June I had the opportunity of visiting Venezuela where I attended the national conference of “Class Struggle” (Lucha de Clases), the Venezuelan section of the International Marxist Tendency. What I witnessed is an increased polarisation between left and right, but above all an open clash between the revolutionary wing of the Bolivarian movement and the reformists and bureaucrats. In a series of articles I will attempt to illustrate this.

The long delayed VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party took place on April 16-19 in Havana and discussed the Guidelines on Economic and Social Policy for the Party and the Revolution. The Congress was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, when Fidel Castro proclaimed the “socialist character of the revolution”.

The Flasko factory which has been occupied and run under workers’ control for the past eight years needs your help. We are publishing a manifesto produced by the workers of the factory that we ask you to sign your name to. Please take part in the solidarity campaign and spread the word.

One year ago the SIDOR plant was nationalised. Since then there has been ongoing battle between the workers who want to implement genuine workers’ control and those elements who are doing everything possible to make the attempts to build a ”socialist enterprsie” fail. This is part of the general struggle between revolution and reformism within the Venezuelan labour movement.

President Obama has just passed the 100 day mark of his term in office. What a difference a few weeks makes! Even though GM and Chrysler have already been given millions in public money, Chrysler has now been allowed to go bankrupt. All of its plants will be idled until it emerges from bankruptcy. And despite putting forward the option of a UAW “ownership stake” in GM and Chrysler, Obama is at the same time addressing auto workers with the cold vocabulary of Wall Street: Viability, Profitability and Liability. And these words are not hollow.

Hundreds of workers occupy three Visteon car manufacturing factories in Britain after the management closed them down, laying off the entire workforce with no notice, violating their contracts. This is reminiscent of the factory occupations of the 1970s.

We publish here an interview with Yeant Sabino, general secretary of Sutra-Vivex. He explains how the workers occupied Vivex, a plant which produces windscreens for the car industry, and how they are organising themselves through committees. The workers are demanding of President Chavez that he should nationalise their factory.

Back in 1976 the Lucas Aerospace Company in Britain was preparing to sack 20% of its 18,000-strong workforce. The Shop Stewards approached their members for technically viable means of using the existing equipment and human expertise to make socially useful products instead of weapons. The result was a 6-volume document which revealed that workers have the know-how to run industry. What was lacking was the capital. For that you need to expropriate the capitalists.

As the number of occupied factories in Latin America spreads, so does the number of cooperatives. 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.

As part of the campaign against the Bolivarian Revolution and President Chavez, the owner of Sanitarios Maracay has announced the closure of the factory. The workers, in defence of their jobs and the revolution, have occupied the factory and demanding that the Bolivarian government nationalise it under workers'control.

In Part Four we look at the developing struggle for workers’ control in Venezuela. This struggle indicates that the Venezuelan working class is beginning to actively intervene in the Bolivarian revolution and has led some of the more advanced layers of the movement to the conclusion that the socialist transformation of society is the only way forward for the Latin American revolution.

In Part Three we look at so-called workers’ self-management in Yugoslavia, at the time hailed as a genuine alternative to the Soviet model. But what was the real nature of workers’ self-management in Yugoslavia and what are the lessons we can learn for the developing struggle for workers’ control in Venezuela?

In Part Two Rob Lyon looks at the experience of workers' control and management in the Russian revolution. The experiences of the Russian proletariat offer invaluable lessons to the workers in Venezuela.

ALCASA is an aluminium plant in Ciudad Bolivar in Venezuela. It is being run under cogestion, formally speaking workers’ participation. But when you take a closer look what we see is that in practice the workforce is moving more and more towards genuine workers’ control. Managers are elected and do not get higher wages than those they had before becoming managers, and so on. It confirms that the Venezuelan workers are in the vanguard of the world revolution.

There are many indicators that show that Venezuela is in the vanguard of the class struggle internationally, one of them is the phenomenon of occupied factories run under workers' control. Throughout history it has always been the case that workers' control has been raised as a demand during periods of intense class struggle, but workers' control under capitalism can either move forward towards the complete expropriation of the capitalists or it slips back and can be reabsorbed into less threatening forms of workers' “participation” and so on.

The smashing of the PATCO union in 1981 was the opening salvo in a decades-long assault by the bosses against the airline unions and the labor movement in general. Now the bosses and their government are trying to make an example of the flight attendants and machinists.

This document was written by Ted Grant together with Roger Silverman in 1967 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian revolution. The article explains how Stalinism arose and clearly shows how even at that time the Stalinist bureaucracy was facing a serious crisis and confidently predicted its inevitable downfall at some stage.

Originally published in 1974 in a period when there was a discussion on the question of workers’ control and what it meant. The right-wing leaders in the British labour movement (and internationally) interpreted it as “workers’ participation”, which meant the workers would be consulted on minor questions, but real control remained in the hands of the bosses. Today, thirty years later, this article maintains all its validity, in explaining the real Marxist approach to this question.

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.

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

Join us!

Help build the forces of Marxism worldwide!

Join the IMT!