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The issue of workers’ control (which is here taken to also include the very similar concepts of industrial democracy, worker participation and worker voice) is now once more on the agenda, alongside the linked question of a state-interventionist industrial strategy - and this is not just because of its half-hearted espousal by Theresa May. The context for this renewed debate is the narrowing of economic options for the UK following the 2008 financial crash and the subsequent 2016 vote to leave the European Union. These events, among others, are evidence that we are living through a transition period, as the second of the two great post-war political eras comes to an end in Britain. The first era, running from 1940 to the Thatcher accession in 1979, reflected the Attlee-Bevin consensus: it was built on putting people first, building a National Health Service, providing free education and a welfare state, and, in the economic sphere, the pursuit of full employment and industrial intervention. The second era began with the Thatcher experiment in free market liberalisation, de-regulation, privatisation, shrinking the state and allowing free rein to market forces; this direction was continued by Major, and then adapted by the Blair and Brown governments. The banking and speculators’ crash of 2008 was a body blow for this neoliberal era, and, notwithstanding the post-crash Cameron/Osborne austerity response, the future direction of the UK economy and society is now all to be played for (though May herself appears paralysed about a decision on what direction to take, largely because of the splits in the Tory Party).

The argument in this article is that the next era must surely involve - at centre stage - the development of a productive, self-reliant economy built on manufacturing and balanced trade; and that such a strategy is indissolubly linked with the need for a much greater involvement than hitherto of workers’ representation in the running of the economy. The workers’ control debate must therefore be understood within the wider context of what sort of economy the UK wishes to develop and, in particular, the debate about rebalancing the economy and for a UK industrial strategy. (1)

(1) An analysis of the history of the debate on workers’ control by Gregor Gall for the Jimmy Reid Foundation sets out a reasonable, cogent and balanced history of the debate and the current positions of the main English parties: See also: