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Workers' control is participation in the management of factories and other commercial enterprises by the people who work there. It has been variously advocated by anarchists, socialists, communists, social democrats, Distributionists and Christian democrats, and has been combined with various socialist and mixed economy systems.
Workers' councils are a form of workers' control. Council communism, such as in the early Soviet Union, advocates workers' control through workers councils and factory committees. Syndicalism advocates workers' control through trade unions. Guild socialism advocates workers' control through a revival of the guild system. Participatory economics represents a recent variation on the idea of workers' control.
Workers' control can be contrasted to control of the economy via the state, such as nationalization and central planning (see state socialism) versus control of the means of production by owners, which workers can achieve through employer provided stock purchases, direct stock purchases, etc., as found in capitalism.
Historical examples by countryEdit
During the Algerian Revolution, peasants and workers took control of factories, farms and offices that were abandoned, with the help of UGTA militants. Around 1,000 enterprises were placed under workers' control in 1962, with that number climbing to 23,000+ in the following years. The FLN passed laws in the newly independent Algeria which partially institutionalized workers' control, creating a bureaucracy around workers' councils that centralized them. This caused massive corruption among new managers as well productivity and enthusiasm in the project to fall, leading to numerous strikes by workers inn protest. Following a military coup in 1965, workers' control efforts were sabotaged by the government which began to centralize the economy in the hands of the state, denying workers control. Following the Black Spring in 2001, limited degrees of workers' control have been practiced in the area of Barbacha.
In 1973, with the end of the Argentine Revolution, there was a wave of strikes and workplace occupations that rocked the country as the first elections were held, mainly in state-owned industry. 500 occupations of workplaces were taken out overall, with 350 occurring between the 11th and 15th of June, mostly of media outlets, health centres and public transport and government administration. These occupations were predominantly done in support of Peronism, and failed to achieve any long lasting results on the eve of the Dirty War. During the Argentine Great Depression, hundreds of workplaces were occupied and ran according to the principles of workers' control by angered unemployed people. In 2014, around 311 of these were still around, being run as worker cooperatives.
Aboriginal Australians arguably practiced degrees of workers' control before contact with Europeans for thousands of years around farming, construction of villages, irrigation, dams and fish traps. In Northern Queensland from 1908 to 1920, the IWW and the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union organized a degree of workers' control among meat industry workers. From 1971 to 1990, Australia saw a massive wave of workers' control corresponding with strikes all over the country. Including:
- 1971: Harco Work-In
- 1972: Clutha Development Mine Work-In
- 1972: Sydney Opera House Work-In
- 1972: Whyalla Glove Factory Work-In
- 1974: Wyong Plaza Work-In
- 1975: Nymboida Mine Work-In
- 1975: Coal Cliff Work-In
- 1978: Sanyo Television Factory Work-In
- 1979: Union Carbide Work-In
- 1980: Department of Social Security Work-In
- 1990: Melbourne Tramworkers' Strike
The Austro-Hungarian Strike of 1918 saw between 390,000 and 740,000 people go on strike. Worker councils formed within factories to coordinate the movement.
Bosnia and HerzegovinaEdit
In 2015, workers took over a detergent factory that was on the verge of bankruptcy, running it as a co-operative.
Around bankrupted 70 enterprises have been taken over by about 12,000 workers since 1990 as part of the recovered factories movement, mainly in the industries of metallurgy, textiles, shoemaking, glasswork, ceramics and mining. This has been concentrated in the South and Southeast of Brazil.
Workers' control occurred during the Prague Spring, by January 1969 there were councils in about 120 enterprises, representing more than 800,000 employees, or about one-sixth of the country’s workers. They were banned in May 1970 and subsequently declined.
Since 2016, several bankrupt factories have been re-occupied and controlled by their former workers who blocked the auctions.
The Austro-Hungarian Strike of 1918 saw between 390,000 and 740,000 people go on strike. Worker councils forming in factories to coordinate the movement. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 many industries went under workers' control.
During the Indonesian National Revolution, railway, plantation and factory workers across Java implemented workers' control from 1945 to 1946, until it was crushed by the new Indonesian Nationalist Government. In 2007, over a thousand workers in Jakarta inspired by workers' control in Argentina and Venezuela took over a textile factory in response to wage cuts, repression of a recently organized union and efforts to fire and intimidate union organizers.
Workers' control had been practiced in Poland during the Revolution of 1905, as workers protested a lack of political freedoms and poor working conditions. Workers' control also occurred in around 100 industries in the aftermath of World War I with around 500,000 participants. Notably in the short-lived Republic of Tarnobrzeg. As World War II was ending, workers took over abandoned and damaged factories and began running them between 1944 and 1947. In the aftermath of the 1956 Poznan Protests, workers' control was partially applied in 3,300 workplaces, but the top-down nature made people lose faith in them.
Russia & Soviet UnionEdit
Between the Revolutions in 1917, several instruments of worker representation rose up, called Factory committees. Each committee had varying degrees of workers' representation; with some acting as organs of worker control and management (or at least supervising the managers), while others acted as rudimentary forms of trade unions, participating in collective bargaining agreements. However after the October revolution, the factory committees became under the control of the trade unions, while following a continuing trend of centralization within the soviets.
During May 1988, Under Gorbachev - along with his reforms of perestroika and glasnost - the Supreme Soviet implemented the Law on Cooperatives. This legislation enabled and regulated the creation of worker owned and control of enterprises, while imposing high taxes and employment restrictions (which deterred the creation of them).
They occupy abandoned buildings left to rot by speculators, as a protest against gentrification and as anti-capitalist direct action to provide themselves with housing. Teaching themselves the skills they need along the way, they fix up their new houses, cleaning, patching roofs, installing windows, toilets, showers, light, kitchens, and anything else they need. They often pirate electricity, water, and internet, and much of their food comes from dumpster-diving, stealing, and squatted gardens. In the total absence of wages or managers, they carry on a great deal of work, but at their own pace and logic. The logic is one of mutual aid. Besides fixing up their own houses, they also direct their energies towards working for their neighborhoods and enriching their communities. They provide for many of their collective needs besides housing. Some social centers host bicycle repair workshops, enabling people to repair or build their own bicycles, using old parts. Others offer carpentry workshops, self-defense and yoga workshops, natural healing workshops, libraries, gardens, communal meals, art and theater groups, language classes, alternative media and counterinformation, music shows, movies, computer labs where people can use the internet and learn email security or host their own websites.
Workers' control was practiced in the Ceylon Transport Board from 1958 to 1978 with about 7,000 buses.
Workers' control has been practiced in several cities and towns during the Syrian Civil War since 2012 as they maintain agriculture, run hospitals and maintain basic social services in the lack of a state. Workers' control is also practiced in Rojava, with around a third of all industry being placed under workers' control as of 2015.
Workers' control was first practiced by the Diggers, who took over abandoned farm land and formed autonomous collectives during the English Civil War. In the 1970s, around 260 episodes of workers' control were witnessed across the UK, including:
- An 18-month long worker occupation of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders from 1971 to 1972.
United States of AmericaEdit
In Yugoslavia, there was a limited degree of workers' control of industry which was encoded into law in 1950. This occurred due to the Tito-Stalin Split and inspiration from the Paris Commune. However, the poorly designed, top-down nature of the workers' councils led to corruption, cynicism and inefficiencies until they were destroyed in the Yugoslav Wars.
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