The second of two articles on Jugoslavia

up a broad beechwood staircase, past wall-high charts of output, profits and earnings, through the antechamber of the director’s private secretary, I was led majestically by the Workers’ Council chairman to the inner sanctum of the factory director himself. It might have been the managing director’s office in any of Britain’s great industrial corporations, with its beautiful timber panelling, board room table, heavy chairs and long line of windows looking over the whole layout of the works. What was different was that, in the absence of the director, the Workers’ Council chairman, still in his white boiler suit, motioned me to a deep chair, ordered the secretary to bring brandies, coffee, fruit juices and hors d’oeuvres and lifted the switch of the director’s intercom’ to command the central exchange to call the chairman of the management committee and a couple of department heads on the factory ‘tannoy’. He behaved as if he owned the place—which in a manner he did; for, this was Jugoslavija and the first of many industrial enterprises which I visited throughout July of 1959.

I had a long list of questions: Who owned the factory? for in Jugoslavija, although most factories are owned by the town commune (borough council) some, for reasons of size and importance, may be owned by the larger district, republic or even federal authority. In this case the town was the owner, but because it was a large factory—over 4,000 workers—and the town had several communes (equivalent in size to our constituency divisions of about 50,000 population) a joint town committee took responsibility. Did they appoint the director of the factory? Well, yes, but appointment commissions have by law to have one third of their membership represented from the Workers’ Council; so they had provided two members and the town three members. Did the Workers’ Council have a veto on appointments? De facto—yes; but de jure—no! Could they sack the director? The Workers’ Council could take such a matter up with the town committee and press it hard, if they wished. Had they tried? They hadn’t had to—yet! Had the director come from inside the factory? No! He had been chosen from outside in a publicly advertised competition.

How was the Workers’ Council elected? There was discussion in each of the departments, and lists were drawn up by the Trade Union and sometimes by groups of workers; there were always more names than seats; and then there was a secret ballot for the 85 places. About two thirds retired each year. There was no extra pay and meetings were after work hours, but since the first few years there had been no difficulty finding candidates. The work was interesting and important and helped you to ‘improve yourself’—an important phrase this last one. What were the subjects dealt with by the Workers’ Councils? First, the annual plan of the enterprise and the statement of accounts; second, the wages and salaries schedule set for the year; third, norms, labour productivity and rationalisation, fourth, production costs, quality and sales; then, labour relations, discipline, etc., safety and protection, education and training and finally the distribution of the profits.

What about the day to day running of the business? For this purpose the Workers’ Council elected a Management Board of eleven members to work with the director, but this was of course primarily the director’s responsibility. How often did the Council and the board meet? The Council met about six times a year and the board once a week, but the director would probably consult the chairman of the Management Board and even of the Works Council everyday. The director and heads of departments were of course ex officio members of the Board and always attended Council meetings. Board meetings were also out of hours, and members were unpaid and not permitted to serve for more than two consecutive years. How were heads of departments chosen and foremen and chargehands, etc? By the director, but in consultation with the management board. How would a worker take up a complaint against one of these? This had to be done first to his senior officer in the chain of command, and only if that failed through the workers’ own representatives.

What sort of workers got on to the Council and Board—League members (in Jugoslavija the only Party is the League of Communists), or the best technically qualified, or those with longest experience? About a third were League members; technical qualifications and experience were important, but the attempt was always made to get a balance of departments, skills, experience, youth, etc. The two-year term meant that new people were always coming on and very big efforts were made all the time to raise the qualifications of workers. Nearly half the workers still lived and worked part-time on their land as peasants. This well illustrates the early stage of Jugoslavija’s industrial revolution and emphasises the value of the experience of participation in management which the Workers’ Council experiment provides.

Some part of the decisions on investment policy is taken right out of the hands of individual enterprises and centralised in a national plan. Nevertheless, some power is left behind; the enterprises in Jugoslavija are independent of the central authority and cannot be ordered by any state authority in an administrative manner. They can only be made to comply with the laws of the country. This is a crucial point. I had obtained the impression before I went to Jugoslavija this summer that, apart from consultation in preparing the details of the national plan and a certain measure of administrative decentralisation—both of which were now shared by other East European workers—any other claims for the Jugoslav system of workers’ control were more or less eye-wash. There were not wanting those who told me the same inside the country. “They used to issue orders; now they make laws. What’s the difference?” asked one critic; and when I enquired whether the laws were not made by elected deputies, he snorted: “The deputies don’t make the laws; they don’t even understand them; it’s the state secretaries in Belgrade who fix all that.”