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Editorial: The triple challenge
A peaceful society can only be based on a peaceful economy. In this light, the recent deaths of Ken Coates and Jimmy Reid brought back memories of the 1960s and 1970s, and the high tide of workers’ control.
The first thing that sceptics say when they hear the phrase “workers’ control” is that most workers aren’t capable of managing their workplaces. They need specially-trained and educated people – more intelligent people, to put it bluntly – to direct them, regulate them.
The Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in (1971-1972) was a stunning refutation of this self-serving middle-class delusion. Four Scottish shipyards were in danger of economic sabotage by the Conservative government of the day. In response, the workers decided: “We are not going to strike. We are not even having a sit-in strike”, as Jimmy Reid said in the speech announcing the work-in. He went on: “Nobody and nothing will come in and nothing will go out without our permission. And there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying, because the world is watching us.” While there were some internal problems as the months dragged on, overall the work-in demonstrated the capacity of ordinary shipyard workers to manage their workplace effectively. The fact that the workers won their battle with the government, and secured the future of their communities and their shipyards, was their second victory.
The story of the Upper Clyde work-in is an important and inspiring example for us today, as people concerned with peace and justice face a triple challenge. We must beat back a government “austerity” programme designed to place the costs for the banker-induced economic crisis on working people. Simultaneously, we must green our economy in order to avoid climate chaos. Thirdly, if the species is to survive, we must check, and then convert, the military industrial complex. These three challenges interlock. It is the resources and skills we can liberate from war and repression that can fund and build a low-carbon, socially-constructive economy, and that can sustain and deepen the welfare state. By joining these three social forces together we can create a counterforce to rampant neoliberalism and warmongering.
There is a missing fourth piece of the puzzle as well. Ken Coates (interviewed in PN 2485) was the founder of the Institute for Workers’ Control, which came out of a series of meetings to discuss workers’ control that began in 1964. These were not gatherings of academics and detached thinkers. They were meetings of working people, thinking creatively about how their workplaces and companies could be restructured and re-directed by the workforce itself, for social use rather than private profit.
In meeting the challenges of making peace, avoiding climate chaos, and defending basic economic rights and welfare services, we must realise that success will come from a cross-class alliance based on mutual respect and a willingness to engage genuinely with each others’ concerns.