Melbourne Anarchist Archives Index

On Workers' Control - 2 (1970)

Again we 'hear the cry for workers Control; the first time for perhaps thirty years. And this time demands for Workers Control seem to be coming more from students than from workers. And workers who call for it do not do so through their Trade Unions but rather through unofficial groups which exist outside the official Trade Union organisation. Trade Unions, of course, do not exist to promote an end to capitalism. They could not exist in their present form outside a capitalist society (or state capitalist or "socialist" society, e.g. the USSR). Trade unions exist to defend the interests of their members - e.g. wages, working hours and conditions - and the jobs of their leaders. A group of workers trying to increase their participation in decision making in their factory through channels other than traditional trade union ones may find that their worst enemy is their trade union boss. These remarks are general but probably apply to almost all countries.

Is society run by workers instead of managerial elites possible today in any country? It is necessary to look outside Australia since with the exception of the Industrial Workers of the world - strongest before and during WW 1 - this country has no tradition of movements standing for workers management. In both France and Britain however there are examples of enterprises controlled at the factory level entirely by the workers themselves.

A short history of the various movements. The first appeared in England in 1914-15, then Russia in 1917 followed again by Italy in 1919-20. At the end of the first World War there were the Spartacists and Revolutionary Shop Stewards in Germany and similar movements in Austria and Hungary but these were quickly crushed or recuperated by state power.

Next came the most important example: the Spanish Revolution. In the province of Catalonia peasants seized the land, workers took over production in the factories and regional committees handled problems of supply etc. For some fifty years previously the people had been educated in the ideas of workers control and social ownership by the anarcho-syndicalist trades union, the CNT, and by its predecessors. In the middle of 1936 the CNT was strong and the Catalan government weak. But the workers did not destroy the government completely and in 1937 it destroyed the revolution in Catalonia.

Other limited movements have occurred in Yugoslavia 1950, Hungary 1956, Algeria 1962. There have also been the ejidos Cagricultural communes in Mexico at their peak in 1936 but now run more or less privately. Also the Kibbutzim in Israel but these have subjected themselves to the government.

Some conclusions may be drawn from these examples: when capitalist institutions cease, to take responsibility for production the proletariat continue running industry spontaneously without prior exposure to propaganda. And in Catalonia the people, because of their prior education, were able to take over a whole region and stage a revolution which would have succeeded if the external forces of destruction had not been so great. But in all cases the governments were able to strengthen their armed forces and crush the workers. If the governments had been completely crushed while weak the control of industry and agriculture by the workers and peasants may have been, achieved in many of the above examples; particularly Germany, Russia and Spain.

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