Workmen’s Control of Industry and the government’s draft report
Workmen’s Control of Industry and the government’s draft report
«The Economist», 12 Febbraio 1921, pp. 282-283
Rome, February 5
The debate on the bread subsidy draws slowly to an end in the Chamber of Deputies. There are rumours that a compromise has been arrived at between the Socialist party and the Government to put an end to the obstructionist manoeuvres which have hampered until now the passing of the Bill. In the meantime, the attention of trade and industry and of the labour world had been attracted by the draft of the Bill on labour control prepared by Signor Giolitti and submitted to industry and labour councils. It will be recalled that at the end of the revolutionary movement for the occupation of shops in September last, Signor Giolitti gave his promise that the Government would lay on the table a Bill for giving to workers a sort of control over industry. As time passed the promise was forgotten by many employers, so that they were struck with surprise when on Jannary 22nd the Government submitted the draft of the Bill on control to the Council of Industry. The draft read as follows: For every class of industry, excepting State-owned enterprises, new enterprises for the first four years, and enterprises with less than 60 men employed, there is created a workmen’s control. The control has for its aim 1) to make the men acquainted with industrial conditions; 2) to better the technical education and the moral and economic conditions of men; 3) to ensure the execution of social laws; 4) to improve the methods of production and to make production more economical; 5) to attain social piece between employers and employed.
The means suggested of attaining these desirable ends are the creation of a central control committee of nine members, of which six are to be elected, by national proportional representation, by the workmen, and three by overseers, clerks, and technical staff employed in a given class of industrial enterprises. There will be many control committees, but only one for each class of industrial enterprises. Presumably all committees will sit at Rome. Each committee will delegate its control functions to two or more workmen in each workshop. These local delegates will have the right to require employers to make known to them 1) the methods of buying and the price of raw materials of industry; 2) the costs of production; 3) administrative methods; 4) production methods, excepting only industrial secrets; 5) workmen’s wages; 6) the subscribed and paid-up capital of the firm or company; 7) industrial profits; 8) the manner in which social laws and by-laws are carried out, and details as to methods of recruting and dismissing workmen. When the Central Control Committee debates upon the reports of their local delegates, two delegates of the employers and one delegate of the High Council of Labour have the right to attend but not to vote. The employers will have the right to elect a committee of nine members, to which the Control Committee will make proposals for enforcing regulations deemed necessary to ensure the achievement of the aims described above. When necessary, a joint meeting of Control Committee and Employers Committee will be convened, under the presidency of a delegate of the High Council of Labour.
The draft was somewhat loosely worded. The Council of Industry, to which the draft was first submitted, criticised severely numbers 2, 3 and 4 of the catalogue of information which the local delegates had the right to demand. These points appeared to give to workmen the right to investigate the most secret affairs of the firm. Employers objected to the possibility that a new employee, without attachment to or interest in the enterprise, might acquire information which would be very interesting to competitors.
The High Council of Labour, which is composed equally of employers and employed, and is the official adviser of Government and Parliament in matters of social legislation, was then given the opportunity of advising on the control draft. After a lengthy debate, the Council ended by changing the Government proposals in many respects.
The control committees are to be instituted in the first instance only in the steel and iron, textiles, chemicals, electrical industry, land transportation, navigation and mines. Other industries may be successively subjected to control by royal decree, upon the advice of the High Council of Labour. Thus an experimental system is introduced.
The central control committees will be elected, not by all workmen and employed, but by the workshops committees which exist already, and have duties relating to labour, hours, wages, and other differences arising between employers and employed. The Central Committee will then delegate in each workshop two or more men upon a list of six members presented by workshops committees. These local delegates will not have the right to know all the things enumerated in the Government draft, but only to require, from time to time, those data which the Central Committee may desire to know on administrative and technical methods, total production in the country, costs of production, capital employed, profits obtained, and execution of social laws. The delegates will make the requests for the data, and the employers must give them. The data to be given will relate, in the main, only to past years. They are to be kept secret. The Central Committee will make yearly reports on trade and industrial conditions, on the workmen’s status, on raw material statistics, and make proposals for bettering industry and workmen’s conditions.
The employers will elect an industrial council of nine members, which will give advice on the proposals of the Control Committee. A joint council composed of the nine members of the Control Committee, the nine members of the Industrial Council, and of five umpires nominated by the High Council of Labour, the Central Cooperative Committee, and the Union of the Chambers of Commerce, will take resolutions on the advice of the two parties.
Even as amended, the draft Bill is apt to give the workmen a right to put hindrances in the way of free conduct of industrial enterprises. The High Council of Labour has done good work in eliminating much of the power of espionage which the Government Bill gave to casual delegates. There remains only a power of obtaining statistics and various interesting information. So far, so good. It will be very interesting to know what use the workmen will make of the right of inquiry thus given them.