Politics does not 'smell of hope and generosity' as it should for Liberals. The coalition policies for sustainable growth are predicated on a financing model that was -in large part -the cause of the market collapse that we are suffering. No generation of Liberals in the last century would have left out of their plans the radical restructuring of the ownership and control in industry. It is a prerequisite for sustainable growth as well as a crucial policy in spreading wealth, democracy and power in society.
As the resolution passed at the Liberal Joint Assembly of 1968 (reproduced below) asserts; the Party 'reject the traditional conception of the company or enterprise as being responsible to the interests of shareholders alone. It believes that it must be replaced by a system in which employees become legal members of their companies.....
The second resolution passed the following year confirmed the Liberal Party view that this measure should be introduced compulsorily.
That workers should own and control their companies is a notion that goes back in Liberal thinking at least as far back as J S Mill. The Yellow Book (1928) has a whole chapter on the Diffusion of Ownership. This was a 'signature policy of the Liberal party'-it was about the only policy that the public knew, apart from PR.
In 1948 at the Blackpool Assembly the party had embraced the compulsory introduction of co-ownership. This redistribution of wealth was no longer to be voluntary or dependent on a benevolent owner giving the enterprise to their workers (as in the Scott Bader model) It was proposed that Company Law should be changed to give employee the right to be treated at least as equals of investors.
The man who promoted this policy more than most was Robert Oakeshott. I got an email from Michael Meadowcroft this week pointing me to Oakeshott's obituary in the Guardian.The blog has previously covered the obituaries in the Economist, Times and Telegraph. The Guardian recalls:
JOL had a board of unpaid supporters and, for chairman, Robert's friend and admirer Lord (Jo) Grimond. In 1978, Robert published The Case for Workers' Co-ops, which Grimond described as "a book which all Liberals should read". The book identified successful co-ops across Europe. Robert was convinced that their strength was the motivation that comes from workers owning a share of equity. Teamwork, he said, calls for shared objectives, which is not the case where one part of income goes to labour in fixed wages and salaries, and the rest to capital. "It is surely impossible to believe," he wrote, "that rational and intelligent people, starting from scratch, would choose such a structure, when organising activities which depend on teamwork for their success."
Today when hedge funds and venture capitalists borrow vast sums of cash to take over companies, asset strip them and sell them on to the detriment of their work force and the local economy-look at Kraft and Cadbury's or BAA etc., we need to assert that it is absurd that our Industry should be run only in the interest of Investors. It is time to re-adopt the Liberal Party policy of employee ownership.
Now local Government is getting in on the act in an article on the Employee Ownership Association it writes:
The organisation was the brainchild of journalist, Robert Oakeshott, who died in June this year, aged 77, but who championed the cause of worker co-operatives.
His book entitled Jobs And Fairness is generally acknowledged as the definitive study on employee ownership in the UK and overseas. Educated at Tonbridge School, Kent, Mr Oakeshott won an exhibition to Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied classics, and graduated in 1957. His career as a journalist started on the Sunderland Echo, and he later moved to the Financial Times.
In the 1970s, he visited the highly-successful Mondragón network of co-operatives in the Basque region of Spain, and in 1978 published The Case For Workers’ Co-ops, which the former Liberal Party leader, Jo Grimond, described as ‘a book all Liberals should read’.
Resolutions reproduced from the Gladstone Club book 1978 compiled by Ian Hopton