Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Labor Action, 24 March 1947


Stanley Grey

What Is “Workers’ Control of Industry?”


From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 12, 24 March 1947, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Printed here is another article which discusses the crucial problem of workers’ control, nationalization of industry and socialism. These articles by Stanley Grey have had as their purpose an attempt to discuss such theoretical problems of the socialist movement in terms of concrete daily experiences of workers. In previous articles, he has shown why there is no socialism in England and Russia, why there can be no workers’ state or socialism without workers’ control even if in certain instances industries are nationalized.

In this article the interesting problem of exactly how workers’ control would function under a workers’ state is discussed by Comrade Grey. The author does not claim that his is the last word on the matter. For though we may agree on the indispensability of workers’ control of production in a workers’ state, there still remains the question of how that control is to be exerted. Labor Action invites readers to discuss this matter in its columns.Ed.


What is the meaning of “workers’ control of production”? Conceptions of its meaning vary from the notion that the individual worker at his machine will have the power to decide the quantity and type of his production to the accusation that it means the tyrannical rule of the unions over all of society. It means neither the first, which could lead only to chaos in production, nor does it mean the second, which would destroy the freedom of planning and discussion, which is the essence of socialism. What then does it mean?

Under capitalism, there sometimes already exists a small measure of workers’ control of production. As a result of the growth of powerful trade unions, the workers are no longer merely inert objects completely at the mercy of the bosses. In matters of wages, hours and conditions of work in the plant, although they have far from complete control, the workers, through their unions, do have a significant voice in their determination. The contract in a plant binds both the workers and the bosses to certain conditions.

Thus the capitalist management cannot move men around in a plant according to its whim. It cannot violate the clauses on job classifications in the contract. It cannot pay the men what it would like to, but must pay them what it is forced to by the contract. The contract, which limits the capitalists’ prerogatives in certain spheres, is the legal expression of this partial workers’ control. The strength of the unions to negotiate and protect the contract is expression of this partial workers’ control.

Up to now, the spheres which were, “legitimate” for unions to intervene in were the questions of wages, hours and working conditions. This was not, of course, the product of capitalist generosity but of workers’ struggle. The workers fought for these particular rights because they had the most immediate impact on their standard of living. As capitalism is increasingly incapable of solving the problem of inflation, unemployment and war, it becomes increasingly clear that other aspects of production also have as immediate an effect on their standard of living.

Workers Seek Increasing Control

Today, for example, every worker knows that it is no longer enough to fight for wage increases; prices too must be controlled to give wages real meaning. Also, the experience of past depressions and the certainty of future ones has made the working class concern itself with how much production is organized, how much is produced and ways and means of guaranteeing full employment.

However, while the problem is to expand the limited and partial control which already exists over wages and conditions of work into a FULL control over prices and the planning of production, this cannot be accomplished by the negotiation of clauses into contracts. Although certain limited control is possible under capitalism, full workers’ control over all aspects of production cannot. be realized within the framework of capitalist rule. The transition from this very limited workers’ control to full workers’ control is not a simple quantitative change in which new spheres are added to old ones, but is a basic, qualitative social change.

Consider: The capitalists plan production for the sake of their profit. The workers would plan production for the benefit of the people. The history of depressions and war demonstrates that these two aims of production are irreconcilable. The capitalists will therefore not yield their right to plan production as a result of simple negotiation. It must be taken away from them. But the capitalist’s control over his production is based on his ownership of the means of production and his control over the state which uses the law and police powers to protect this ownership. The transition to workers’ control of production is therefore not a trade union question, pure and simple, but the social question of who is to rule the state. For the institution of workers’ control it is necessary to institute a workers’ state. Workers’ control is therefore primarily the political and social question of establishing a workers’ government.

Workers’ Control and the State

The establishment of a workers’ state is necessary not only to wrest control away from the capitalists but as a practical instrument for carrying out workers’ control. It is only through a state which they own and control that the workers can actually plan production for the benefit of society.

But state planning in and of itself is not workers’ control. Only where the state which does the planning is a workers state can one speak of workers’ control. And for the state to be a. workers’ state it must allow the fullest freedom of discussion, criticism and participation of the people in its decisions.

The people as a whole, through their democratically-elected bodies, would, create the plan and carry it out. The workers will exercise their control of production by their democratic control over those organs of the state which plan production.

Role of Unions in Workers’ State

What then of the unions in this set-up after capitalist exploitation and anarchy have been eliminated? What functions will they play? The union will still defend the interests of the workers, not against the boss, but against the mistakes and abuses of the state and its plans. Let us say, for example, that plant X is assigned to produce a certain number of motors to fill its quota of the plan. The workers will be paid a definite wage, which will be part of the plan. The assigned quota will be based on the recommendation of an elected committee of qualified technicians in that plant as to plant capacity and possibilities of production.

It is possible that this committee will overestimate capacity, that it will ignore some interests of the workers in the process. Or perhaps the central body will increase the estimate of the local body without giving any reasons for it. In such a case, the workers will have their unions in which to criticize the plan, suggest changes and, if necessary, resist its enforcement if not satisfied with the explanations. The unions, under workers’ control, will be the elected body of the working class to defend it against mistakes and .abuses of state agencies.

There is something similar WITHIN the unions under capitalism. The workers elect various committees to carry on specific functions: a negotiating committee, an educational committee, steward bodies, etc. An executive board is the body elected to direct all these committees in the period between membership meetings, but the membership meetings serve as the final corrective and forum for criticism of the functioning of all the committees. Thus within the union there is ,a division of labor between various elected bodies of the workers.

When the workers control all of society, this division of labor will extend to all of society. Thus, they will elect their planning commissions just as they elect their union leaders. And their unions will be one agency through which they will democratically control the functioning of the planning commissions.

To sum up: Workers’ control is not simply a matter of getting more influence in the shops under capitalism. For full workers’ control, less than which nothing can eradicate the insecurity of capitalism, it is necessary to overthrow the capitalist state and establish a workers’ state. Such a state must allow the widest democratic rights in order to allow workers’ control to function at all and not degenerate into bureaucratic control. And if we can expect initial mistakes and abuses of plans which will be democratically resisted by the unions, even these will disappear with, the speedy evolution of the workers’ state with its difficulties of transition to the society of socialism and genuine democracy.

Top of page

Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 6 January 2022