Frat Cain


[Workers’ Control]

(February 1965)

From Labour Worker, 1 February 1965, p. 3.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“What we need in this country, comrades, and in the world at large, is socialism!”

Hands clap. Thought moves on to other things.

“Next business!”

And so another wrap is gently added to the mummy of politics in the party, and the members get another fix of ritualism.

We all know the pattern. Every constituency GMC has its gleamster, guardian of the faith, the man who – with rousing phrase – will hearten consciences that have been gently jolted by yet another compromise.

Usually, he belong to the Right. Not always. Recently the Left has been producing its own brand of gleamster – the sincere, ardent comrade for whom no problem exists but can be solved by invoking “workers’ control.” To attack wage freeze, fight for workers’ control; to solve an industrial grievance, strike for workers’ control; to overcome ignorance and apathy in the labour movement, talk about workers’ control. If – to go back a bit – a Young Socialist Conference passes, without argument, a resolution calling for workers’ control and also, after heated debate, one calling for checks on immigration, salute the heightened consciousness of our youth.

Before its well-wishes so devalue the concept that its enemies can afford to ignore it, a few lines should be written in perspective.

Workers’ control of production can’t be a partial matter. To win control of hiring (as in the docks or markets, and in some pits and factories) and of firing (as in fewer cases, more in the US than here), or to win influence over promotion, is to win the right to administer part of the bosses’ empire.

While the winning can be of tremendous value, and the short-term gains sometimes considerable, victory can easily turn sour as workers, particularly the ones administering the victory, take on the goals and attitudes built into that empire.

To be more than self-administration within the confines of Capital, workers’ control must be total, that is, it must take over all production decisions and the state to enforce them. But the occasions on which workers are conscious of this need are very rare indeed – once, perhaps twice in a generation, when unexceptional demands are thwarted by some sort of crisis in the system. should be written in perspective.

On such rare occasions, the demand for workers’ control will help to plug local grievances and struggles into the working-class grid. Otherwise, let’s keep it where it belongs as a key to understanding socialism – in educational sessions, not mucking up the agitational scene, or lending comfort to political impotence.

For the moment the problem is wage freeze – w-a-g-e f-r-e-e-z-e – not workers’ control. I’m sorry that this is so. But talking won’t help.

Last updated on 18 February 2017