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Oct 20

The Politics of Workers' Control (part 1)

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As a republican socialist I believe it is important to argue for workers' control.

Often socialism is associated with centralised state ownership and bureaucracy Look for instance at the example of the Attlee Government Between 1945 and 1951 coal, iron and steel, the Bank of England, civil aviation, railways and public utilities such as electricity, water and gas were all taken into public ownership. And of course the NHS was set up. Several million workers were affected.

The architect of the programme was Herbert Morrison, Deputy Prime Minister and President of the Board of Trade -Peter Mandelson's grandfather.

Morrison was on the right of the party and really nationalisation had very little to do with socialism

Andrew Cumbers is Professor of Political Economy at Glasgow University -in the Adam Smith Business School. Cumbers explains that what really motivated Morrison was a desire to make Britain's capitalist economy more competitive after years of poor productivity and lack of investment by private owners. Most of the industries -with the possible exception of steel and road haulage- were running at a loss or practically bankrupt.

So what the Morrisonian model of nationalisation was about was turning those industries round so they could make a profit. Ideas of democratising the industries and giving a voice to workers or ideas about empowering consumers and being receptive to their needs didn't enter Morrison's mind. Rather existing structures of authority were left intact. Indeed the make up of the board rooms was left alone also.

Take coal for instance. Lord Hyndley, managing director of one of the largest private mining companies Powell Duffryn, was made first chairman of the National Coal Board.

*So with nationalisation it was often business as usual

*It didn't seem like socialism

*Rather it seemed like state capitalism

*Frew state enterprises -with the exception of the NHS- built up a strong and deep constituency of support

*And workers felt just as alienated from their new employers.

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