One of the most refreshing pieces I’ve heard on British politics in a long long time was Clive James’ point of view piece on Sunday morning on Radio 4…
My politics on this remain where they have always been, on the old style left. I think it is up to management and it always has been. If the management can’t manage to sort it out preferably in advance, then they ought not to be managing. But quite often they haven’t been. They’ve just been sitting there failing to recognise that the workers are arriving facing backwards, ready to walk out.
When there is dignity in labour, workers usually want to work, even if the task is a drudge. They should beware of any outrage on their behalf by false friends on the playtime left who have never done a hand’s turn. While it is a fine thing to be an artist, it is an even finer thing to be a doctor or a nurse. And it can be just as fine a thing to stack shelves or clean lavatories.
One of the few virtues of the old Soviet Union was that it respected the dignity of the workers. It also slaughtered them by the million, but that was the effect of totalitarian rule, not a sign of any innate conflict between management and labour. To the extent that there is any innate conflict, modern history has consisted largely of the long process of resolving it.
There has to be a concord of management and labour, and the lesson was taught most sharply by what happened when the Nazis brought Germany to ruin. As the great German historian Golo Mann pointed out as the division between management and labour was the crack through Hitler had got in. And when the war was over, those few labour leaders that had survived the concentration camps, emerged convinced that for industrial harmony the workers needed more than their rights and conditions, they needed a seat on the board.
The workers must feel that they are in on the planning on how the job is done. When Japan was being rebuild after that same war, the workers on the production line were rewarded for their ideas for efficiency. The idea that they should be rewarded came from American advisors who took the chance to transplant the hopes of the ‘New Deal’, free from the inflexible old capitalist orthodoxies that had hampered them at home.
But, just go and listen to the whole thing… Especially the bit towards the end about us all needing to work “except those who contrive to get paid for arguing otherwise…”