‘To develop a strategy of advance’ say the authors of this bookfootnote1 ‘is the crucial task of the left today.’ (page 407). It is in the search for such a strategy that a new interest in industrial democracy and workers’ control has arisen. This was evident at the Nottingham Conference on Workers’ Control which was held this March and attended by nearly 500 delegates. The resolution passed at this Conference called for ‘Workers everywhere . . . to form Workers’ Control Groups to develop democratic consciousness . . extending workers’ control over industry and the economy itself, through uniting Workers’ Control Groups into a national force in the Socialist movement.’
‘Have we not been here before?’ I was asking myself. I had already begun to delve into working class history when the appearance of this admirable book lightened the task. Ken Coates and Anthony Topham have been amongst the main architects of the new Workers’ Control Movement and in this book are explicitly directing their learning in support of this important political activity—one that may well be the most significant growth point in the British Labour Movement today.
The authors tell the history of workers’ control in Britain by inviting the main protagonists in the debate since 1910 to speak for themselves. Valuable but brief comments, accounting for less than one-sixth of the whole book, link and explain the setting of some 125 extracts averaging about two or three pages each.
After a short review of the nineteenth century lineage of the movement, Section 1 deals primarily with the rise and fall of Guild Socialism and Syndicalism; Section 2 deals with the Shop Stewards’ Movement from its origin during World War I through to 1964; Section 3, on Industrial Democracy and Nationalization, surveys early attitudes beginning with the Syndicalists (who opposed nationalization) and the Guild Socialists (who supported it if, and only if, it gave workers a part in management) and follows the argument through to 1964; Section 4 deals with the ‘New Movement 1964–67’ in which the pressure for industrial democracy in the nationalized industries is mounting, secrecy in business is coming under attack and a new awakening is apparent in a number of the trade unions.
A ground swell has begun, but the political content of the new movement is still far from clear. It is just for this reason that this book is of such value; it will help Socialists to think out the theoretical implications of the movement. More theoretical work is badly needed, for example, on the relationship of workers’ control to the economic and political organization of socialist societies. We need to know more about the theory and practice of workers’ control abroad. A critical study of the Minority Movement in Britain would be relevant; and so forth.