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More recently, campaigning for workers’ voice has been seen as an important way of bringing trade unions back into the centre of debate over the economy. In pursuit of the need for greater knowledge about workers’ control - and cognisant, perhaps, of the lack of understanding across the current UK political, trade union and workplace milieu - the TUC has in recent years carried out research into what forms of workers’ representation are practised elsewhere. Two TUC publications in 2013 considered issues of worker representation: Workers on Board: The case for workers’ voice in corporate governance; and Workers’ Voice in Corporate Governance, a European Perspective. (9) Both publications note that the Anglo-American, free-enterprise, model of capitalism prevalent within the United Kingdom for the past thirty-five to forty years tends to emphasise shareholder returns above all else. This means that the drive for short-term shareholder gain overrides the development of the company as a productive entity. Institutional investors are unlikely to get to know the company, or help grow it. In contrast to this, worker involvement in an enterprise tends to be part of a stake-holding approach that locates the firm within a conception of the wider needs of economy and society.

(9) Janet Williamson, Workers on Board: The case for workers’ voice in corporate governance; and Aline Conchon, Workers’ Voice in Corporate Governance, a European Perspective, both TUC 2013.

Workers on Board argues that countries which have worker representation within their company structures tend also to have successful economies, with higher Research & Development investment, better employment rates, stronger economic success, better pay and lower rates of poverty. Workers’ Voice in Corporate Governance looks at the different ways in which workers are involved in the management of European companies, which range from workers being a part of the highest-level executive committee to having a voice at AGMs and seats on company boards.

That the TUC has lent a degree of support to the implementation of workers’ control is encouraging, and can probably can be accounted for by the efforts of Frances O’Grady since becoming General Secretary. She has commented that:

'Achieving a true worker voice across Britain’s workplaces is at the heart of the TUC’s new campaign plan. The European experience shows that involving workers in management structures is not something for UK firms to fear. Instead it’s a concept companies should be embracing as the clamour for a more sensible, strategic approach to industrial democracy becomes ever more popular.' (10)

(10) The TUC and Social Partnership: The Way Forward - An interview with Frances O'Grady, Athol Books 2008.

This was not the first time O’Grady had spoken on industrial democracy. She has made it a key plank of her period as TUC General Secretary, and has made clear her belief that a measure of industrial democracy is highly relevant to reform of the bankrupt ‘shareholder value’ model of enterprise governance.

The TUC’s proposals are radical and wide-ranging. They argue that there should be provision for one third worker directors in firms, including those that employ as few as 100 employees - unlike the Bullock Report, whose proposals focused on large firms. The aim is that these proposals will reach deep into the UK’s regional and local economies and affect the SME sector (small and medium-sized enterprises), where low productivity and unambitious product strategy are a major problem. They also suggest revisiting Bullock’s proposals for third-party representatives on boards, jointly elected by shareholder and worker representatives, in order to give company governance a broader perspective.