Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Lib Dem back on course with employee ownership-with updated comments

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

........................The loud and prolonged cheering which followed the decisive rejection of a resolution urging the abandonment of the policy (employee ownership) was the climax of the Assembly and made it clear that the great majority of those present regarded the proposals as the cornerstone of Liberal Policy and the Party's main issue at the forthcoming General Election.
Profit-sharing and co-partnership have, of course, been advocated by the Liberal Party for more titan fifty years; but to-day it wants to go a good deal further than merely welcoming the development of such schemes.
It wants to extend them over a large part of industry by legislative action and give the worker a legal right to share in the control of his working life and in the product of his work.
........................................it may be that many of those who believe that property should be more equitably distributed will turn to the Liberal Party, as well as many of those who without being Socialists voted Labour in 1945. 
.........................The extension of such legal rights to the workers it is argued, is more likely to lead to their wholehearted co-operation in the production drive than would he the general introduction of profit sharing on the initiative of the employers.
Voluntary schemes are often regarded by Trade Unionists as a device primarily designed to increase the profits of the stockholders and weaken the bargaining power of the Unions; but the legal right to share in profits and control is a very different thing.
.............................They suggest, however, that all firms over a certain size should be required to share their profits with Labour as soon as capital has received about 3 per cent. and that Labour should be represented on Boards of Directors. They suggest a variety of Ways in which this could be done and deal in some detail with the problems involved.
After capital has received 3 per cent. they suggest that it might very often be desirable for additional surpluses to be distributed at the same rate per cent. on wages as on capital..................*
By now most of you will have cottoned on that the above is a report from the 1949 Liberal Assembly down the road in Hastings. Sadly there was no loud and prolong cheering after Simon McGrath move and amendment to replace the rather limp 'right to request' with a statutory right for employees to have shares and exercise workplace democracy for companies with over 250 employees
Simon's failure should not overly worry us. The blatantly preposterous reason given by the movers will easily be exposed and I guess that this morning they are rather hoping that nobody has noticed. The truth is I guess Simon thought that his amendment was uncontentious and therefore did not do the elementary organisation that was needed. Had this amendment been discussed and publicised in advance I'm sure it would have sailed through. After all Simon is scarcely a standard bearer for the Radical wing of the party
Anyway leaving that blip apart it was good to get the general principle back on track. The challenge now is to set the policy into a strong narrative of enhancing and embedding liberty through the spreading of wealth/ownership and power. Central to that policy will be a return to the Liberal Party's commitment of using government action  to achieve it. Politely asking the average shyster capitalist for a slice of his profits and control is not going to work!
*the report quoted above came from the 1949 Catholic Herald. That may at first sight seem odd but when you bear in mind that it was that Church's social teaching which inspired the Mondragon Co-ops and the distributism of Liberal like Belloc it makes more sense


  1. As the person who proposed the amendment - to be honest we were pleased it was as close as it was. Lessons have been learned about the need to lobby before the debate, not just to rely on the arguments in the conference hall!

  2. Firstly may I apologise to you for describing the amendment as Simon's. Certainly the vote was very good and the chair had to ask to 'see it again' before declaring that the platform had won. Nevertheless the summing up against was put with such authority that it would have caused folk to draw back from supporting you.

    We should tackle head on the substance of the response to your amendment. The conference was told in an authoritative manner , among other dubious things, that it was 'confiscation of private property and therefore would fall foul of the law' Tosh. It is the sort of thing that someone would say only if they deeply didn't care and were the last speaker and there was no right of reply. If it were true generations of Liberals from Eliot Dodds, Jo Grimond, a Bonham Carter or two, Richard Wainwright and even David Steel would have fallen foul.

    Interestingly the German courts had to rule on a similar challenge over Co Determination. They threw it out on the grounds that it was within the competance of the state to decide on what basis people hold property and that if they didn't like it they could always sell!

    This issue will return and in the meantime we need to do a little organising............

  3. Simon summed up for the amendment - a brilliant speech. The frustrating thing about the arguments put against was that, were they true, they would also have been arguments against other parts of the original motion (ie that consensus between employers and employees was required, and the "confiscation of private property" point - er, do we not pay taxes?!).

    The debate on the motion and amendment are available to watch here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b01n21v8/ - I'm proposing the amendment at 1.03 and Simon McGrath summates at 1.47.

  4. Thanks, yes Simon was one good. I noticed the Employee Ownership Association tweeted approvingly as well 'Storming speech in favour of giving employees right to shares in their company from Simon McGrath'! My hunch that the deal was done in the working party to resist your amendment. We could have done with Viv Bingham to sway the conference!I do intend to see why the Social Liberal Forum failed to pick up the amendment.

  5. Iain Watching our conference at home on Parliament TV I punched the air from my sofa when the huge cheer went up for employee ownership ! At long last our long-standing belief in the "John Lewis" moral style of running a business is coming to the fore again.

    No time to lose before others try and grab "our" position. The mood of the country is on our side on this given the image and bonus rewards of big business and behaviour of the banks and the financial services industry generally.

    But are our party's leaders and strategists listening ? Action now !


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