WORK - WORKER CONTROL - 1960s - 1970s
considerations on certain forms of industrial democracy in Australia
from 1965 to 1975.
the conflict for control over the application of labour capacities at
the point of production is ever present in capitalism, its expression in
campaigns for Worker Control has been intermittent.
Why does that demand come and go?
To approach an answer will involve considering how the dynamics of
capital accumulation work themselves out at each moment, and in each
place. No formula can explain, let alone predict, an upsurge. Yet, two
elements recur, albeit never in the same guise. The first
is the relative strength of the contending classes, which extends to
cultural confidence on a world scale. Around 1920, for example,
proletarian enthusiasm had been tempered in intensified misery; fifty
years later, by contrast, the workers’ determination was grounded in
rising expectations. A second
recurrent feature is capital’s need to redesign work procedures in its
effort to combat the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Here, the
hard technology of machinery collides with the soft technology of human
capacities. The capitalists/managers must alloy these elements. To that
end, they seek the participation of the wage-labourers in gaining the
additional value essential to meet the costs of having invested in
accept the significance for the rise and fall of Worker Control of the
global class struggle and of the Janus-faced technologies still leaves
open the question of how to treat their effects. This paper attempts to
apply the materialism expressed by Engels and Mao. One aim is to surpass
the Idealism attaching to voluntarism, with its reliance on the
explanatory power of the individual as hero, a concentration on the
political as sectarian ideologies, an exclusion of the critique of
political economy, and a marginalising of the application of
technologies (hard and soft). Above all, an historical materialist seeks
for the rhythms of the pressures for worker control among social
practices, not in the minds or transitional programs of conflicting
applying the above precepts, the paper will move through seven sections:
The militancy of the late 1960s came
after 25 years of over-full employment, otherwise known as the ‘trough
The affluent society required public squalor and exacted hardships as
inflation ate into the basic-wage. Moreover, mass marketers had expanded
the socially necessary costs of reproducing labour-power to ensure the
absorption of the surplus.
Workers had to match the rising expenses that had been induced to meet
the needs of capital’s expansion. They sought over-the award payments
and a swag of overtime, while leaning on hire-purchase. The capitalists,
for their part, aimed to hold down those labour costs in campaigns that
reached far beyond the containment of hourly or weekly earnings.
Piece-rates brought limited success in the quest for higher
Neither mass immigration nor a drawing of
women into paid employment exerted the full downward pressures of a
reserve army of labour on wages. The expansion of the economy was too
great and labour-market segmentation too entrenched.
Until the mid-1950s, huge increases in
productivity could be achieved by replacing long-handled shovels with a
The swing from labour -intensive to capital-intensive operations during
the 1950s targeted the militant unions in coal and on the wharves by
mechanisation of coal, bulk-loading on the docks, and eventually
containerisation. In manufacturing, the chase after productivity gains
was as complicated as the skills under the control of the workers.
AEU official, Laurie Carmichael,
recognised how mechanisation/automation was leading ‘away from the
concrete concepts of the basic wage and margins in arbitration’. He
saw the logic of capital expansion working its way through to the
dispersal of earnings:
The total wage concept, now adopted in
principle, with its less tangible and more abstract concepts of
“economic content’ and “work value” will be carried further,
compounding the already difficult processes of substantiating argument
in the arbitration system.
By the mid-1960s, the employers were
arguing for the abolition of the wage-determination system structured on
margins added on top of a Basic Wage, but weighed down with
over-the-ward benefits to limit labour churn.
Wage determination was built on skill
differentials and rates of remunerations embedded in the rigmarole of
Awards. The employers found it bootless to break through them one by
one. For as long as that tangle could be maintained, the unions could
deflect the attacks. Hence, the employers used mechanisation-cum-automation
for two ends: first, to tear through these rigidities, and, secondly, to
overcome the labour shortages that kept up labour costs.
From the early 1950s, the unions had been
worried about job losses through mechanisation, which few people then
bothered to delineate from automation.
The earliest effects were in felt in the coal industry where 1000 jobs
went from the South Maitland fields in 1956. In 1958, the NSW Government
appointed a Royal Commission into Automation. One feature of the new
methods of work was the loss of craft skills and erasure of the clear
divide between manual and mental labour, blue and white collars workers.
The mechanisation of office tasks, for example through EDP, altered the
clerical unions and brought them closer to the industrial counterparts.
In October 1966, the ACTU conducted a seminar on automation in
conjunction with both Australian Council of Salaried and Professional
Associations and the High Council of the Commonwealth Public Service.
The employers’ assaults on the
filigreed awards deprived the unionists of some of the defensive
controls they exercised over their working arrangements. The
installation of new machines, new operating procedures and new materials
upset the traditional power arrangements at the point of production. Any
victory for the bosses on this front, however, brought an unanticipated
consequence by opening a space into which a still confident working
class could react with more assertive forms of control. Hence, that trio
of innovations did not deprive the wage-labourers of their capacity to
turn at least some of the changes back against their employers.
Many of these disputes surfaced as wage
demands. In 1953, the Arbitration Court had ended automatic adjustments
for the cost of living. In 1959, the ACTU research officer, R. J. Hawke,
acting as advocate, convinced the Court to reverse its 1953 decision. Hawke also argued
for a second tier of increases to reward productivity gains. Union
officials warmed to him. Then, in 1965, the bench swung the other way,
and Hawke went ballistic. Employers despised him because he had no
hesitation in calling a fool an idiot. His reputation for radicalism
reflected these rhetorical outbursts. When Hawke returned in 1966, he
got the status quo ante
re-instated with rises accepted for both prices and productivity. The
media demonised Hawke as ‘Mr Inflation’.
Late in 1967, the Arbitration Commission
adopted the employers’ call for a Total Wage. Furthermore, the judges
recommended absorbing increases into existing over-the-award payments,
as the Shipwrights had been forced to do in 1966. This time the metal
trades erupted. In January 1968, immediately after the return to work,
1300 delegates rallied in the Sydney Town Hall, leading to a 24-hour
strike by 200,000 unionists. So determined was this shop-floor blacklash
that, on 21 February 1968, the Commission abandoned its proposal for the
absorption of over-the-award payments, declaring their own proposal to
Ten days after the strike, the Viet Cong
occupied the US Embassy in Saigon. The annus
mirabulous of 1968 had begun. In rapid succession came news that LBJ
the would not seek re-election, of May Days in Paris, the Prague Spring,
a revival of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China,
uprisings across Latin America, incendiary urban rebellions after Martin
Luther King’s assassination, and student dissent from high schools to
The spread of revolt stimulated
Australian workers fed up with arbitration as a round of pains and
penalties. The total-wage dispute laid the ground for the walkouts in
May 1969 on the arrest of Clarrie O’Shea, the Maoist Secretary of the
Tramways Union in Melbourne. That
Tramway dispute had been brewing for years. O’Shea’s defiance of the
court presided over by John Kerr cannot be attributed to the CPA (M-L)’s
conversion to the voluntarism espoused by the Chinese Party in the wake
of the slaughter of their Indonesian comrades. Yet, the cry of ‘Dare
to Struggle, Dare to Win’ did spur the Party and Union leaderships.
Chairman Hill applied his pedantry to ensure that the Union never left
itself open to a flank attack on some technical point of law. Despite
this legalism, the Tramways campaign had been prepared on the
inevitability of O’Shea’s defiance of the state by refusing to hand
over his members’ funds. Nonetheless, tension perhaps simmered between
Hill in his ultra-Leftist phase and O’Shea as a union official
suspected of economism. The CPA(M-L) put out a leaflet around this time
which amounted to a call to bombard the trade unions as inherently
Age editorials on the strike remembered the global upsurge of the
previous 18 months to convey the alarm that seized the Australian
bourgeoisie. Kerr later confided to journalists that ASIO had paid
O’Shea’s $10,000 fine. Henceforth, the penal powers were dead in
fact, if not in law. While the state scrambled after new ways to
organize capital and disorganize labour, the gate had been opened for
all manner of industrial gains. Without that breakthrough in May 1969,
the movement for workers’ control would have had to take a different
path. Of course, had the long fuse lit by Hill and O’Shea not led on
to an explosion, the outbreak would have found another spark. By the
late 1960s, the labour movement in Australia was not a prairie but a
with the world revolt and local stroppiness from 1967, the presiding
cliques in the Australian labour movements could no longer manipulate in
the old way. After years of quiescence under Lord Monk of Lygon, the
ACTU executive was being carried along by the swerve to the Left. The
CIA realised that the drone who had been A.C.T.U. Secretary, Harold
Souter, would never be able to hold the line against the militants. At
Melbourne’s Downtowner Motel in March 1969, the US Labor attaché,
Emil Lindahl, announced that his Embassy was switching support from the
Santamaria Groupers to R. J. Hawke.
2. Power to the
the May 1969 strike had swept the penal powers aside, the employers and
their political agents could not put the lid back on the labour force.
Not only were there more union actions at every level, but the substance
of the calls for industrial democracy underwent a sea change. In early
1969, a research officer for the AEU, Jack Hutson, had defined ‘Worker
extension of the right of the trade unions particularly in the
workshops, through their
representatives, to have an effective say in
decisions made in respect to such matters s trade unionism,
safety, welfare, discipline, wage fixation, appointment of supervisory
staff, deployment of labor, technological changes, hiring and firing and
access to financial records. (Emphasis added)
items documented the subordination of the unions under the Penal Powers.
As Hutson noted, the shop steward had the same rights as a dog that had
strayed through the factory gates.
His list could not have been more radical. Its implementation would
still amount to the denial of managerial prerogatives. Nonetheless,
Hutson had yet to register the change from representation to
appeals of participatory democracy became a commonplace. In 1973, NSW
powerhouse workers responded to the Electricity Commission’s use of
professional staff to scab by starting a work-in. The tradesmen got that
idea from news of disputes at the Opera House, Harco and Clyde. Summing
up the work-ins in the electricity generation sector, members of the
“Power Group” of the CPA acknowledged that they had had next-to-no
influence over the militants.
The power workers held out for four months, running over that bastard
Askin. At the start, they saw taking control of the plant as a tactic in
their campaign for a 35-hour week, not as a step towards Worker Control
of their industry, still less of society. Their demand for shorter hours
ceased to be trade-union economism, however, because of the tactics they
had picked up to push their hours claim. Even if the power workers had
not been government employers, their occupation would have brought them
into confrontation with the state, that is, towards revolutionary
the other extreme were migrant workers with no influence over either
their work procedures or their union officials. They articulated their
powerlessness by exercising their capacity to wreck the Ford Plant at
Broadmeadows in June 1973.
After the late 1940s, the architect had
been ‘called upon more and more to work as specialist in an industrial
team rather than as an individual general practitioner’.
Twenty years on, architects had
been overtaken by engineers such as G. J. Dusseldorp, whose construction
and contracting procedures gave Lend Lease/Civil & Civic the profit
margins to negotiate industrial peace.
That reorganization of the industry would be felt all the way along the
chains of command. From inside the B.W.I.U., Pat Clancy reported
late in 1966:
The increase in supervisory levels, and
the rearrangement of their previous patterns, offered points and
fissures where workers could exert pressure.
Meanwhile, pre-fabrication altered the
allocation of tasks within and between professions and trades. For
instance, on-site skills moved around between cabinet-makers, carpenters
and labourers. Instead of a tradesman hand-crafting a cupboard,
labourers trained on the job would assemble, or perhaps only install,
kitchen units made in a factory. By the mid-1960s, pre-fabrication and
standardisation had been renamed Modular production.
Their principles were being applied to high-rise office blocks.
In 1966, an advocate of Modular construction felt that the building
industry was – at last – “on the threshold of industrialisation’.
Just before the outbreak of union militancy in the late 1960s, the
modular engineers/managers looked forward to their long-awaited
mechanisation of building:
The acceptance of an internationally
recognised dimensioning system to co-ordinate the sizes of machine-made
components is surely a logical step towards the goal of greater
efficiency in the rapidly approaching building industry ‘machine
The social division of labour into trades
would be then overwhelmed by the particularisation of the tasks in each
trade, a la Adam Smith’s pin-making.
changes were downgrading the tradesmen of the BWIU, while putting the
AWU and BLF on a collision course. The builder’s labourer had ceased
to be a labourer for a tradesman to become a labouring builder. Plastics
arrived on sites with no clear provision for demarcation. (A. V.
Jennings had bought into Moulded Products as early as 1946.) Award
provisions for new materials and tasks had to be settled as they were
volumes of ready-mix used in Australia went from 1442 cubic yards in
1956-57 up to 6603 cubic yards in 1965-66, four-and-a-half times in ten
Stopping concrete pours became emblematic of how developments in
construction process had enabled the least-skilled to control the site.
The situation was more intricate. At other stages of a development, a
dogman or a crane-driver could bring work to a halt.
The concrete went into multi-storey office blocks. High-rises required
taller cranes with different requirements for safety. The taller the
towers, the deeper went the foundations, requiring new digging machinery
Whelan the Wrecker brought new skills to demolition and added dangers to
These changes did more to determine the
tactics available to the BLF against the employers than did ideological
allegiances, whether to Euro-Communism or to the thoughts of the
Chairman. This limit on the power of positive thinking would have been
the case even had the embrace of those respective stances not been
refashioning of the Communist
Review into Australian Left
Review in 1966 announced the CPA’s drift into Euro-communism. The
Italian line pointed up Antonio Gramsci’s participation in the Turin
factory occupations around 1920.
Industrial democracy became
central to the CPA’s redirection. A symposium on Worker Control
appeared in the December 1966 issue of ALR, with another in August 1973. That
strategy tied the Party’s union base to a re-thinking of socialism. In
Brisbane, long-time CPA activist Stella Nord and the fellow-travelling
Hughie Hamilton from the BWIU backed a Worker Control national
conference in 1973. After the split with the pro-Soviet faction, this
pluralism allowed a range of voices in ALR,
including the Trotskyite leader, M. Raptis, in August 1974, on
alternative line advocated expanding the domain of leisure. This
position left the control of work, and of society, untouched. Late in
1966, the President of the CPA, Richard Dixon, referred to an article,
‘World of Plenty and of Ample Leisure’, by Sam Lilley in Marxism
Today (August 1965). Dixon offered a counter theme to the critique
of work as alienating. Instead of democratizing or humanizing the
workplace, he looked forward to a diminishing of the significance that
work had for life. He made no mention of the quality of working life.
the 1970s, the rough and tumble of the construction sector with its
cowboy builders and larrikin workforce re-routed both the Communist
Party of Australia and, later, the CPA (M-L). For a brief while, Jack
Mundey became National President of the former. His spontaneity got the
best of him on television one night in August 1974 by calling for a
‘Spring Wage Offensive’, a notion he picked up in Japan, where it
had relevance. In Australia, his call highlighted the mindlessness of a
militancy seduced by the mass media. He was replaced by Laurie
Carmichael. In the early years of Fraser, the M-Ls demoted Gallagher
from his position as vice-Chairman because he had agreed to make a
reactionary decision by the ACTU Executive unanimous. ‘Unity in
Betrayal’, thundered Vanguard,
‘Is Still Betrayal’. By the 1980s, Hill would need Gallagher more
than the other way around.
in the field exposed disjunctures between theory and practice, or
rather, between ideology and activism. Nowhere were conflicts between
words and actions more extreme than among the M-Ls. Mao’s first
reaction to Krushchev’s 1956 speech had been “On the Correct
Handling of Contradictions Among the People”, which reads like a model
for people’s democracy. Ten years later, Maoist rebels seized
factories in Shanghai from the Capitalist Roaders. Neither Mao’s
writings nor the practice of Red Guards convinced the Worker-Student
Alliance of the value of Worker Control. One WSA leader lambasted the
Worker Control Centre in Adelaide as ferociously as he did the employee
participation bills then being introduced by Dunstan.
At the same time, the WSA was promoting occupations in the car plants.
position was more consistent. In rebutting existentialist critiques of
everyday life in the centrally-planned economies, the Soviets in the
1950s had taken the line that there could be no alienation where the
working class owned the means of production. Their supporters in
Australia argued that Worker Control was a diversion and must remain an
empty slogan for as long as the bourgeoisie held state power. (For all
its adventurism, the Maoist BLF under Gallagher agreed on this point
with Pat Clancy’s BWIU, primarily because neither welcomed democracy
inside their unions.)
special pleading behind the Soviet objections to Worker Control is
undeniable. That bad faith does not mean that the point lacked
substance. For example, converts to self-management had trouble
responding to the long-time communist, Alf Watt, when he raised the
possibility of conflicts between the interests of the whole working
class and those of workers in strategically placed and better financed
plants. That inequity
would manifest itself inside the NSW building industry wherever the BLF
leadership lost touch with the small and speck sites. The Mundey team
had got elected by organizing at the grassroots before being caught up
in big sites and on green bans, a loss of direction unwittingly
documented in Rocking the
NSW BLs were not the only activists adrift in ad hocery, drawing few if any connections between on-the-job
activities and concepts of the state, or the expansion of capital.
Indeed, the popularity of various forms of voluntarism flourished as one
more rejection of political economy, which was then being spurned as
another determinist legacy of Stalinism. Neglecting the dynamics of
capital could not make them disappear. A worker-intellectual, Jack
Blake, proposed a different detour.
5. a new
The place of the ‘intellectually
trained’ in achieving a democratic workplace was also the pivot for
the Arena thesis. Out
of an academic background in social theory, science and education, two
of the founding editors of the Melbourne-based Marxist journal Arena,
were Geoff Sharp and Doug White. Their strategy responded to the
restructuring of the economy away from the industrial working-class
towards the service sectors, preceding a de-industrialisation of the
economy and the de-labourisation of manufacturing through mechanisation/automatation.
Arena editors proposed that
the nature of the work undertaken by the intellectually trained would
bring them into conflict with the commandism of capitalism. The new
tasks required “not simply a higher level of skilled worker”, but a
fresh way of working, namely, the application of an analytical approach
to established skills:
the intellectually-trained worker is called on to exercise his general
powers of knowledge and theoretical standpoint in relation to fresh
particular tasks. This perhaps is a quite central condition tending to
generate an autonomous person, who, because he cannot readily be
supervised (except by those who share his capacities) is to a degree
self regulating and is the more conscious of his individuality.
and White offered the example of school teachers who were at the time
rejecting assessment by an inspectorate, demanding instead promotional
criteria established by their own professional institute. (Here was the
B.A., Dip. Ed. Class that P. P. McGuinness would disparage.) Academics
later put into practice some of the freedom to manage their own affairs
that had been seized by their students.
hopeful that student power would be the seedbed for a new generation of
revolutionaries, Sharp and White nonetheless recognised that the needs
of the intellectually trained could be met through adjustments to the
social and cultural regimes of capital, thereby rendering its political
and economic power more secure. That proved to be the case. The personal
computer took over from the mainframe. Instead of a democratizing
impulse from the intellectually trained, capitalism saw the crown of
monopolising pass from IBM to Microsoft.
In its eclecticism, the ALR
had reprinted Radovan Richta’s article on automation and alienation
from Peace, Freedom, Socialism in June-July 1967.
The Warsaw Pact invasion
killed the attempt to ally socialist planning with cybernetics, as
proposed in the Czech Academy’s manifesto, Civilisation
at the Crossroads, edited by Richta,.
In 1969, the CPA, through ALR, published a translation of that symposium.
repressive tolerance, 1969-75
1973, the upsurge of participatory democracy had scared David
Rockefeller into getting his Tri-Lateral Commission to fund a study on
the governability of democracy, a telling oxymoron. One of its authors,
Samuel P. Huntington, came out in favour of authoritarian Singapore.
Ralf Dahrendorf, however, supported participation in works councils
across Germany, which he took as a counter to more radical demands.
that time, bourgeois democratic governments everywhere were deflecting
calls for industrial democracy away from the overthrow of capitalism
towards the reconciling of workers which their lot, often by methods
which Herbert Marcuse labelled repressive tolerance. The Whitlam
government appointed unionists to boards of instrumentalities, even
legislating for their direct election in a few cases. The technocratic
Laborites around South Australian premier Don Dunstan put forward plans
for worker participation, which the right-wing Secretary of the NSW
Labour Council, John Ducker, described as “erring on the conservative
More of a maverick, the Federal Minister for Labour, Clyde Cameron,
commissioned Canberra academic Fred Emery to report on Living at work (1976).
NSW ALP conference guaranteed employees the legal right to elect “30%
of representation on boards of directors of major industries”. In
1975, Ducker saw “joint consultation and board level representation”
as no more than “first steps”:
the real response to the challenge of an alienated workforce lies in
re-shaping work settings so that the workers participate in decisions
affecting production. Monotonous, assembly-line jobs can be done away
with; work can be totally redesigned to boost the job satisfaction and
improve the health of workers without massive costs.
promise played no part in the ten years of the Wran model.
democracy as high policy found another outlet in the forgotten 1976 Report
of the Committee to Advise on Policies for the Manufacturing Industry.
Those volumes included a commissioned survey of the role of workers in
industry, undertaken in response to a recognition “that a lack of
common purpose between management and workers was impairing the
performance of industry and frustrating the achievement of a satisfying
work environment”. A three-person team was dispatched to investigate
worker participation in Romania and Yugoslavia.
That tourist trip exemplified the extraction of bureaucratic rent in the
name of anti-bureaucratisation.
1976, the Commonwealth still wrestled with how to get unions back under
control. John Howard recorded in 1989 that
attributed this failure of will to the illegitimacy that the government
had felt because of the 11 November dismissal. State governments
demonstrated more resolve. The West Australian police arrested
Carmichael in Perth in June 1979, provoking a 24-hour national strike;
Bjelke-Peterson dismissed the SEQEB workers en
these assaults, the unions were still on the march. In 1980, the Metal
Unions hitched a wages push on the back of Fraser’s and Lynch’s hype
about an infrastructure boom to deal with the post-Iranian revolution
energy crisis. The workers were then knocked over by the 1981-82
recession, with permanent job losses. Their leaders then scurried into
the Accord for protection. The upsurge of ‘1968’ would limp through
one last lap in the industry plans from Australia
Reconstructed after 1987.
Participation for job redesign
identify whatever it is that managers contribute to the extraction of
surplus value we again must proceed from the specifics of each period
and locale. The managers whom the Australian movement for Worker Control
encountered from the late 1960s were notorious among management experts
for a paucity of talents and the poverty of their training. In 1971, the
Chairman of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, Warren D. McDonald,
missed a generation in management … Our industrial growth was so rapid
that many firms moved from being backyard operations to complex national
organisations in a few years. Father, who often started in shirtsleeves
and with perhaps a limited education, had to compete with immense
problems and back-braking work. Instead of his better-educated,
better-trained sons taking over in the natural course and being able to
handle the new problems, as in older industrial societies, he had to do
everything himself in a few years or he failed to survive. He often did
not possess either the background or, most important of all, the time to
be concerned with things like marketing research and scientific
industries included a spread of competencies among their managers. A few
were well-prepared and forward-looking; most were the lucky and the
second-rate’ named by Donald Horne who accused the rest as glorying in
“a look-no-brains attitude’.
managerial deficit had been compounded by the age-structure of many
firms, not only family ones. Talk of a youth quake in the 1960s need not
blind us to a revolt of the middle-aged against the septuagenarians in
business, unions, politics and the law. Under these circumstances,
astute managers could deploy variants of industrial democracy as levers
for lifting the productivity of their supervisors.
pair of studies confirm that workers never lose all control over the
application of their labour power, which is why managers need
co-operation from operatives. Each work-site presents distinct problems,
approaches and outcomes. Extending this examination of the early 1970s
phase in the movement for Worker Control to manufacturing will direct
attention back to the issues raised by CPA union officials regarding the
ways in which mechanisation/automation was disrupting wage
determination. The two examples follow the accounts given by managers.
this equipment was manufactured in small quantities by technicians and
radio tradesmen working from samples. Drawings were few and much
information was retained in technicians’ heads. As a consequence,
repeat orders at a later date met with obvious production difficulties.
operating procedures changed with the introduction of mass production.
Sub-contractors or tradesmen then manufactured the “sheet metal items,
coils and electrical components”. Two groups of women worked on
assembly lines making up sub-assemblies or particular models.
were given to them in batches and they selected components as required,
according to samples and instruction sheets. Between one and five stages
were involved in making up sub-assemblies, and five stages in the
assembly of finished radios, no job cycle being greater than twenty
minutes. Each sub-assembly and final assembly was inspected before it
went into storage.
workers were unable to improve their production bonuses because they
were moved around between tasks to break the monotony, and thus could
not “develop the required speed”.
system had the added disadvantage of requiring Philips to hold
components and finished radios to the value of $500,000. These stocks
locked up capital so that it could not reproduce itself. Work patterns
had to be re-organised to reduce inventory and free up the money circuit
for capital’s expansion.
drain on profits was the poor quality of the assembling. Radios often
needed re-working. The production line made it difficult for supervisors
to identify which operative had been responsible for poor work. The
women resented having “to rectify mistakes” made by other workers.
January 1966, the company experimented with the women assembling
complete units and checking the quality of their own work. The
components were delivered to the women on trays in which the parts had
been arranged in the sequence needed for their assembly. Each operative
now had responsibility for assembling an entire unit. By these means,
the value of inventory was reduced to $300,000.
the adjustments did not enhance efficiencies of labour-time. The
workers’ rate of production did not reach the universal labour-time
set at the outset by the managers. For several months, those targets had
to be slowed; at the same time, the output needed to earn a bonus was
What the managers gained in quality, they lost on speed. The
difficulties that they faced in job redesign illuminate the multiplicity
of ways in which returns on capital can be both affected, and effected.
The managers took a year to find a combination of incentives and job-
redesign that the women would accept in their practice.
had involved its workers at the micro-level, paying due attention to
repetition and other non-financial disincentives. The company had never
thought of asking them to plan the assembly. Control is a contest. In
this case, degrees of control at the point of production shifted back
and forth from the managers to the workers, and did so at different
steps in the assembly process. The workers’ control over the
application of their labour-power went up or down. Worker Control in
terms of the labour process remained constant at around zero.
ideas went to a Joint Production Committee which achieved additional
economies. The managers accepted that the workers could do both their
own work and that of their supervisors. Granting the workers’ control
over the procedure had intensified the firm’s control of the labour-time
for which it was paying wages.
stated aim was to not to work its labourers harder, but “more
effectively”. “Effectively” meant no down-time. Hence, the labour-time
for which the firm paid would be brought as close as possible to the
hours during which the wage-labourers were adding value. Although the
work went no faster, and each step required no more physical effort, the
working day became more exhausting because there were no unscheduled
breaks. The previous level of effort was now sustained across the eight
hours, rather than for five or six. In compensation, the company
identified a pool of “saved man-hours” which, converted into money,
it shared equally with the workers. Only by putting in those extra two
or three hours a day did the workers get the over-award payments they
had been seeking.
The workers were no longer killing time for a couple of hours a day. The
relentlessness of each shift was wearing them out more rapidly.
the core of this explication has been the relative strength of the
contending classes. The expressions that the class struggle assumes,
like its transient outcomes, are influenced by the war for position on
the ideological front, which includes the comparative levels of
confidence of the contenders. This conference is playing its part in
that on-going battle. The distance between the mood at the Worker
Control conferences in 1973 and that around this weekend cannot be
bridged by wishing. To regain the confidence of 1973 will require a
rebuilding of the collective organisations of working people, not
excluding trade unions.
future of any of the current social movements is not a matter of
ideological struggle alone. Upsurges of Worker Control relate to the
shifting mechanisms of capital expansion. The governor on that
growth-engine remains the second-by-second direction of labour. A drive
for industrial democracy can be initiated by reactions against new
machines and their concomitant reorganizing of the application of labour.
Such protests can take advantage of the disruption caused by the new
technologies/machines with their re-jigged operational procedures. If
not met with informed resistance, that coupling will circumscribe the
sellers of labour-power.
attention of this paper has been towards the point of production, an
approach which is dangerously lopsided. The space for industrial
democracy within capitalism is limited first by the logic of capital
expansion, and secondly, by the state, which seeks to do for capital
what its managers cannot achieve through their corporations.
greatest ever failure for Worker Control was in August 1914 when the
European proletarians did not strike to prevent the outbreak of war.
That instant called for an insurrectionary withdrawal of labour power
aimed at the state, not just against individual employers. From out of
the conflagration that followed, the ‘soviets’ emerged as one form
for realizing a dictatorship of the proletariat. It is less clear how
councils of workers can, of themselves, dislodge the dictatorship of the
bourgeoisie. This uncertainty is less true for councils of soldiers.
Some small-l liberals seek to extend political democracy to industrial
democracy within the rule of capital. Anarcho-syndicalists and
Marxist-Leninists agree that such an advance can be made permanent only
by extending political democracy beyond the rule of the propertied
paper is a draft. By all means pass copies on, but please refrain from
quoting as if it were a final version.]
 F. Engels, The Dialectics of Nature, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964, p. 180.
 Mao Zedong, Four Essays on Philosophy, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1966, p. 134.
 The distinctions between Worker Control, self-management, workers’ control, industrial democracy and employee participation are vital but require a separate paper; it is hoped that my intention will be clear from the context. However, I have used upper-case Worker Control for moves to take charge of more than the point-of-production which I discuss as ‘workers’ control’.
 It is easier to explain the rise and fall of academic interest in the subject, which trails behind the struggles waged by workers, see Harvie Ramsay, ‘Cycles of Control: Worker Participation in Sociological and Historical Perspective’, Sociology, 11 (3), September 1977, pp. 481-506; in 1966, a volume of Readings on Australian Labour Relations, edited by J. E. Isaac and G. W. Ford, (Sun, Melbourne) got no closer to any aspect of industrial democracy than collective bargaining.
 Humphrey McQueen, ‘Making capitals tick’, Overland, 172, March 2003, pp. 92-101; Humphrey McQueen, ‘What happened in globalisation?’, JAPE, 51, June 2003, pp. 103-31.
 A prime example of reporting the era in its own terms is Robin Gerster and Jan Bassett, Seizures of youth, ‘The Sixties’ and Australia, Hyland House, Melbourne, 1991.
 Walter Korpi, ‘The Long Trough in Unemployment’, Politics and Society, 33 (3), 2002.
 Michael A. Lebowitz, ‘Capital and the Production of Needs’, Science and Society, 41 (4), Winter 1977-78; Paul A. Baran & Paul M. Sweezy, Monopoly Capital, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1965, chapter 5.
 Clay Products Journal, September 1949, p. 11 on a CSIRO Report.
 Australian Left Review, (ALR), Dec.-Jan. 1967, p. 15; the articles by union officials in the ALR between 1966 and 1969 expressed what I call ‘strategic economism’. Their position was economism in the sense that demands remained within the rule of capital. It was strategic because it recognised the logic of that rule. The attrition of this defensive analysis across the intervening 30 years has weakened the working class.
 Australian Factory, February 1959, p. 26; from the Left, Ken Kemshead, Automation, friend or foe?, Fabian Society, Brisbane, 1957, pp. 6-7.
 R. J. Hawke, ‘The Commonwealth Arbitration Court Legal Tribunal of Economic Legislature?’, J. E. Isacc and G. W. Ford (eds), Australian Labour Economics, Readings, Sun Books, Melbourne, 1967, pp. 33-88.
 ALR, Feb.-March 1968, pp. 9-15; April-May 1968, pp. 8-9; R. J. Hawke, ‘Total Wage – An Analysis’, Federal Law Review, 3, June 1968, pp. 100-3; J. Hutson, Six Wage Concepts, AEU, Sydney, 1971,
 Recorded in Marian Wilkinson’s 1984 film Allies. In July 1969, Hawke got elected ACTU President. Hawke repaid the CIA’s confidence in the hours immediately after Kerr sacked Whitlam when he told unionists to stay at work and donate a day’s pay to parliamentary cretenism. The next year, Hawke became the golfing buddy of George Shultz, then with the Bechtel Corporation, between being US Secretary for Commerce and Secretary of State.
 Charles Levinson (ed.), George Allen & Unwin, London, 1974.
 ALR, Feb.-March 1969, pp. 8-12; see also J. Hutson, Penal Colony to Penal Powers, AEU, Sydney. 1966.
 ALR, December 1973, 42, pp. 10-12.
 Editorial, Architecture, Oct.-Dec. 1950, p. 119.
 Lindie Clark, Finding a common interest: the story of Dick Dusseldorp and Lend Lease, CUP, Melbourne, 2002, chapter 1; K. G. Hooker discussed the division of responsibilities between the architect, construction company and proprietor, Australian Building Science and Technology, September 1964,pp. 15-17.
 ALR, 4, Dec. 1966- Jan. 1967, p. 12.
 Australian National Clay, July 1965, pp. 8-9; a Modular Society had just been established here.
 Australian Building Science and Technology, October 1966, p. 15.
 John Hutton, Building and Construction in Australia, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1970, p. 184.
 Meredith Burgman and Verity Burgman, Green Bans, Red Union, UNSW Press, Sydney, 1998, pp. 18-19.
 Concrete Industries News, August 1965, p. 2; Henry J. Cowan, From Wattle & Daub to Concrete & Steel, The Engineering heritage of Australia’s Buildings, MUP, Carlton South, 1998, pp. 86-104 & 187-204.
 Alastair Davidson, ALR, October 1974, pp. 38-48, March-April 1975, pp. 35-44.
 ALR, 4, December 1966-January 1967, pp. 8-9.
 Arena, 32-33, 1973, pp. 9-20.
 Alf Watt, The Politics of Workers’ Control in Capitalist Countries and Worker-Power in the Soviet Union, Alf Watt, Sydney, 1973.
 J. D. Blake, Revolution from within, Outlook, Sydney, 1971, p. 114.
 Arena, 15, 1969, pp. 30-33; Warren Osmond. “Towards Self-Awareness”, Richard Gordon (ed.), The Australian New Left, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1970, pp. 192-98.
 The professional engineer, Dave Morris, disputed the Richta position, arguing that ‘nearly all of the scientific revolution applies primarily to matters of control, not to production at all’. (Italics in original), ALR, 7, Feb.-March 1968, p. 36. Morris had taken refuge in the USSR where he died just after his article appeared, see Bernice Morris, Between the lines, Sybylla, Melbourne, 1988.
erosion the centrally-planned economies can be dated from the
suppression of the Prague Spring. Moscow’s alarm at flows of
uncensored information cancelled whatever chance the command
economies had of shifting from their successes with the primitive
accumulation of capital onto supplying the superabundance of
consumer goods for Krushchev’s Goulash Communism. In the early
1970s, the Soviet Minister for Chemical Industries wanted more
memory for his IBM 360-50 so that he could control 30,000 factories.
He saw mainframes as the means to centralize, not as an aid to
devolution, or for cross-links between the plants. Hence, the mis-named
centrally-planned economies staggered on for another twenty years
through a black-market between factory managers seeking to get
around the worst of the bottlenecks. In the mid-1980s, Gorbachev
acknowledged that restructuring could not succeed without openness.
He had came 20 years too late to succeed at either. By then, the
‘problem of the millions’ had been decided in von Hayek’s
 Ray Ferris explaining why Edwin Land abandoned worker participation in his plants, David Jenkins, Job Power, Doubleday, New York, 1973, pp. 314-5.
 Holly Sklar (ed.), Trilateralism, South End Press, 1980, Part V.
 John Ducker in Doron Gunzburg, (ed.), Bringing Work to Life, Productivity Promotion Council of Australia, p. 17.
 Clyde R. Cameron, ‘Modern Technology, Job Enrichment and the Quality of Life’, Journal of Industrial Relations, 14 (4), December 1972, pp. 361-78.
 Ducker, pp. 16-17.
 Policies for Developing of Manufacturing Industry, III, AGPS, Canberra, 1976, pp. v.& 253-387.
 Best of the Independent Monthly, (ed.) Frank Devine, Deakin University Press, Geelong, 1992, pp. 151-52.
 John Buchanan, ???????
 Australian Marketing Projects, The Hoover Award for Marketing, National Committee of the Hoover Awards for Marketing, West Ryde, 1962, p. vi; Christopher Wright, The management of labour: a history of Australian employers, MUP, Melbourne, 1995.
 Donald Horne, The Lucky Country, Penguin, Ringwood, 1964, p. 239.
 Personnel Practice Bulletin, 24 (3), September 1968, pp. 194-6.
 Australian Textiles, 3, 1981, p. 34; compare Mena Calthorpe, The Dyehouse, Seven Seas Books, Berlin, 1964, which was one of the few Australian workplace novels to recognise the dignity of labour, pp. 71, 90, 92 & 163. Calthorpe might have been following a lead from the 1957 Soviet novel of Vladimir Dudintsev, Not by Bread Alone, in which the hero-engineer is victimised by managers.
 Humphrey McQueen, The Essence of Capitalism, Sceptre, Sydney, 2001, chapter 3.