Early 20th Century: Workers' Councils and Workers' Control in Revolution

1918-1921: The Italian factory occupations and Biennio Rosso

After the First World War, Europe’s working class went on a massive radicalisation process. Union membership exploded with strikes, demonstrations and uprisings increasing with it. Italy was no exception. Its workers were angry with the fall-out from the war and were getting increasingly militant. A perfect example of this can be found in the factory occupations of 1920.

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The Italian Factory Occupations of 1920

During the month of September, 1920, a widespread occupation of Italian factories by their workforces took place, which originated in the auto factories, steel mills and machine tool plants of the metal sector but spread out into many other industries — cotton mills and hosiery firms, lignite mines, tire factories, breweries and distilleries, and steamships and warehouses in the port towns. But this was not a sit-down strike; the workers continued production with their own in-plant organization. read more »

Marx’s Critique of Socialist Labor-Money Schemes and the Myth of Council Communism’s Proudhonism

Some left theorists have claimed that the council communist tradition actually advocated a self-managed capitalist economy, rather than a truly communist one. This essay aims to expose and dismantle that myth by examining some writings of council communists, particularly those of the Dutch Group of International Communists and Anton Pannekoek, and comparing them with Karl Marx’s own writings on post-capitalist labor-time accounting. Through this process, I hope to show that the myth about council communism is fundamentally based on a misrepresentation of Marx’s stance on these issues. read more »

Worker Management of the Barcelona Public Transit System, 1936-1939

In the years leading up to the revolution in Spain in 1936 there had been bitter struggles of the workers...such as the long but defeated streetcar strike in 1935. A number of leading activists in that strike were sent to prison. With the victory of the liberals and social-democrats in Spain's national elections in February 1936, imprisoned unionists were freed, and the workers on the Barcelona transit system began rebuilding their union, which was to play an important role in the city during the revolutionary events of 1936. read more »

Industrial collectivisation during the Spanish revolution

Although it was in the countryside where the most far-reaching anarchist socialisation took place, the revolution took place in the cities and the towns too. At that time in Spain almost 2 million out of a total population of 24 million worked in industry, 70% of which was concentrated in one area - Catalonia. There, within hours of the fascist assault, workers had seized control of 3000 enterprises. This included all public transportation services, shipping, electric and power companies, gas and water works, engineering and automobile assembly plants, mines, cement works, textile mills and paper factories, electrical and chemical concerns, glass bottle factories and perfumeries, food processing plants and breweries.  read more »

Review of 'Ours to Master and to Own: Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present'

Ours to Master and to Own is a compilation of articles offering a historical and global overview of workers’ efforts to gain control over their workplaces, the economy, and governance. It is wonderfully organized in both a chronological and thematic logic, from the nineteenth century through the early twenty-first century, while also moving from a general historical overview toward more specific explanations of how worker democracy was implemented and fought in read more »

Putting “Isms” in Their Place: A Review Essay - Mike Miller - socialpolicy

"The Roman arena was technically a level playing field. But on one side were the lions with all the weapons, and on the other the Christians with all the blood. That's not a level playing field. That's a slaughter. And so is putting people into the economy without equipping them with capital, while equipping a tiny handful of people with hundreds and thousands of times more than they can use." (Louis Kelso in A World of Ideas, by Bill Moyers; Doubleday, 1990)
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Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control from the Commune to the Present - Resolute Reader

As I write this review, tens of thousands of people are engaged in Occupy protests and occupations around the world. Most famously in Wall Street, but also on the doorstep of the London Stock Exchange and in a hundred other locations around the globe. Workplace occupations have also been part of the recent struggles - here in the UK, in the last few years at the Visteon and Vestas plants. As this book ably documents, workers control, or at least workers management has been a feature of recent class struggle, as well as in the past. read more »

"Our to Master and to Own" - Andy Piascik - zcommunications

Much recent discussion and scholarship has gone into dissecting the decline in the strength of the working class in the United States. For the most part, the emphasis has been on the steady weakening of trade unions and on excavating why union officials have been unwilling to attempt new forms of resistance. In such a context, discussions of workers control of the means of production—how it might look, what about it has succeeded and failed in the past, its relationship to revolutionary change—may seem a stretch. But maybe not. For perhaps what the U.S. working class needs as much as anything is to explore alternatives not only to neoliberalism but to traditional unionism, even that of the social movement type.

Ours to Master and to Own: Workers Control from the Commune to the Present edited by Immanuel Ness and Dario Azzellini goes a long way in assisting us in that exploration. Ness and Azzellini are well-positioned to put together such an important work; both have long radical histories as writers, teachers and activists. The result of their efforts is a rich collection of stories of workers seizing control of production in different epochs under a vast array of circumstances in numerous countries. read more »

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