Thursday, 7 February 2013

Opponents of co-determination

Following on from my previous post, one of the things I'm reading currently is this book (PDF) about employee control within firms. What I'm most interested in is where opposition is to employee empowerment is likely to come from and how it it can be overcome.

In light of this, there's an interesting section on co-determination in Germany. What I found striking about this is that most of the opposition to co-determination came principally from employers and their associations (no surprise I guess), not shareholders. Here's a quote from another book featured in this section:
"The main challengers of the law were not shareholders, but companies and employers' associations made up of company executives... the main issue in the entire proceeding was not whether co-determination would dilute shareholder value, but whether it interfered with the interests of the corporation and how it was managed"
One could read a couple of things into this. First, it's an implicit acknowledgment that managers hold power in companies, not shareholders, and thus it is they who are most challenged by employee empowerment. Second, shareholders were not that bothered about ceding formal control provided that their financial interests were not damaged. Both perspectives don't really put much weight on accountability to shareholders, now such an unchallengeable and self-evidently 'good thing' in the UK corp gov microcosm.

It also suggests, to me, that for all the noise about how great our system is, and how important shareholder accountability is, if it came to a formal struggle over control rights many shareholders might not put up much of a fight. If you think about how little demand there has been from the mainstream for further shareholder rights perhaps this is another indication of the lack of desire for control. I'm also reminded of how often we hear the 'We don't want to micromanage' refrain from some investors.

What might be different in a discussion of workplace democracy in the UK now is that I suspect the business lobby would use their notional existing accountability to shareholders, as evidenced by things like the Stewardship Code, as a theoretical defence of their resistance to greater employee voice. 

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