Work places are communities too

As Liberal Democrats we are committed to the concept of people participating and exercising democratic rights in their communities. But we usually identify communities geographically, in the villages or the wards where we can deliver our Focuses.  During yesterday’s debate on Mutuals, Employee Ownership and Workplace Democracy (F22 in the Conference Agenda) Alan Sherwood reminded us that the workplace is also a significant community for many people. So workplace democracy is a natural extension of community politics.

In moving the motion, which derived from a policy paper, Martin Horwood went further and claimed that not only should Liberal Democrat principles of participation and partnership be put into practice in businesses, but also that employee owned firms are more robust, and therefore better for the economy. He cited John Lewis, a successful company that is owned by its employees, and where all receive the same percentage bonus, as a business  that “has not lost its soul along the way”.

The motion, which was passed overwhelmingly, called for legislation and regulations that would make mutuals, employee-owned and employee-share-owned businesses more viable options. Workers would also have participation rights in all organisations with more than 250 employees, including a right to request an employee share scheme covering at least 5% of shares. It also called for ministerial oversight of this sector.

One speaker pose an interesting question: why is the Co-operative Party not affiliated to the Liberal Democrats?

Andrew Philips spoke of the ethos in large companies today, which he described as one of “total amorality”. Ltd had come to mean limited vision and limited loyalty by the shareholders. In contrast, commitment can be found in the workforce which often has a culture and sense of community, and they must be engaged.

Gordon Lishman reminded conference that 42 years ago he had proposed (successfully) the right to take and use power.  He supported this “transformation, which is ultimate answer to Marxism” and said that it should lie at the centre of our campaigning for the future.

An amendment that called for a right to require (rather than request) a share scheme was rejected.

There is far more detail in the policy paper, and we have to thank Chris Nicholson, who chaired the working group, for helping the party to take this important step forward.



* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Matthew Donnelly 25th Sep '12 - 2:14pm

    It’s fantastic news that this motion has passed. We should be doing all we can to encourage the growth and development of mutuals, co-operatives and social enterprises. There is a growing body of evidence (forgive me, I cannot remember the correct link) that illustrates what a difference employee ownership makes in the workplace, from lower levels of absenteeism to increased levels of collegial egality.

  • Ed Shepherd 25th Sep '12 - 5:07pm

    The option to request purchasing a few shares does not constitute ownership of a company by the workforce when the controlling majority of the shares are owned by corporate investors or the company’s directors. The chance to elect a “representative” who can only speak up at meetings at risk to his/her career and who will be in a small minority compared to the directors of the company does not constitute workplace democracy. I have participated in these kind of employee forums and they are a waste of time that often makes things worse for the employees not better.

  • Matthew Donnelly 25th Sep '12 - 10:16pm

    @Ed Shepherd Caveats do of course apply, but the motion can at least be seen as a step in the right direction…

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