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After John McDonnell’s pledges – how do we get real workers’ democracy?

This article is over 5 years, 6 months old
Issue 2623
John McDonnell
John McDonnell (Pic: Diego Sideburns/Flickr)

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has enraged the Tories and the right wing press by announcing plans to nationalise the water industry, rail and other utilities.

Speaking at Labour’s conference, he said the party was “planned, ready and prepared” for a programme of nationalisation if it won a general election.

It’s welcome that the Labour leadership is talking about nationalisation.

Taking vital services out of the clutches of profiteering bosses and putting them back into public ownership would be a good thing.

McDonnell also pledged that Labour would give workers representation on company boards.

This proposed measure, he claimed, would give local councils, workers and customers a say in how companies are run.

He added, “We’ll be proud to call that future socialism.”

But workers’ ability to make decisions would ultimately be controlled by the fact that wider society would still be organised for profit.

Real power would remain in the hands of the tiny handful of rich people.

Socialism is a more fundamental change than workers having a minority say in their exploitation.


It would see ordinary people take charge of production and society. Instead of being run to help a few make profit, society would be run to meet the needs of everyone.

Workers democratically organising their workplaces as part of a wider democracy is a key part of any future socialist society.

They already understand the best way to run a workplace and don’t need managers telling them what to do, or bosses skimming off profits.

Socialism would mean that, as part of a broader plan, education workers would decide what happens in school, NHS workers would vote on hospital decisions and so on.

McDonnell is right to argue, “It’s time to shift the balance of power in our country. It’s time to give people back control over their lives.”

But that balance of power will not be changed by a Labour government deciding so—but by ordinary people fighting for it.

Rail, water and energy bosses won’t give their companies up without a fight. They will use the media and financial scares.

Socialists need to be part of building a movement of working class people that can challenge the power of the bosses.

If workers are confident enough to run a workplace for themselves they can also think the same about wider society.

That means going beyond token measures and really controlling production.

Workers’ control and democracy would truly mean, “For the many, not the few.”

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