Industrial Democracy, Ltd.

Senser, Robert A.

IS CO.DETERMINATION ONLY THE RIPPLE OF THE FUTURE? Industrial Democracy, Ltd. I I I II II ROBERT A. SENSER L AST OCTOBER when Chrysler Corporation agreed to nominate United Auto Worker...

...for speeches at seminars and meetings of all kinds, including those of employers...
...ASKED WHETHER he and his worker colleagues look any different from their business counterparts at board meet- ings, Rebhan answers: "Not really...
...Other countries became intrigued with the new German form of worker participation, and for a while in the late sixties and early seventies it seemed as though the German model would sweep Western Europe...
...After all, it is a relatively new idea and could use a longer testing period under various economic conditions...
...That's what I'm there for...
...In any case, so far there is no sign of a bandwagon behind Fraser...
...Rather, union leaders are pressing for increased access to business information and increased management consultation with labor on key decisions (particularly in the case of multina- tionals) through channels short of union presence in the corpo- rate hierarchy...
...He doesn't wear any hats...
...The idea that workers and union officials have to 'look' like work- ers is outmoded...
...Further, the experience of West Germany and its neighbors in implementing co-determination needs more study for answers to questions such as: What effect does co-determination have on productivity...
...corporation...
...It may be fortunate for the healthy development of worker participation in its various forms that the unions have not bought co-determination hook, line, and sinker...
...That has happened only in a limited way...
...Already a corporate director, Rebhan had beaten Fraser to the inner business sanctum by more than two years -- not in the U.S...
...Congratulations," said a telegram Fraser received from Switzerland...
...AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland, for one, is skeptical about the genuine influence worker repre- sentatives can have when they join the corporate hierarchy...
...And, as Rebhan recognizes, in Europe the co-determination bandwagon has stopped dead...
...Then, moving lished before 1960 by the Chicago Council on Working Life...
...They hailed this concession as a big breakthrough in the struggle for the rights of workers...
...Co-determination there became the peak of a highly structured labor relations pyramid, which includes work councils and otfier mechanisms unknown or rare in the U.S...
...During the past ten years the EC Commission has come forward with various papers proposing that co-determination be phased in throughout the Community...
...Although Holland is sometimes listed among the coun- tries having "hard hats" on corporate boards, under Dutch law workers are prohibited from serving on the boards of com- panies where they work...
...In those speeches and in press interviews, Rebhan promotes the idea of worker participation, and Co-determination in par- ticular...
...In January .1978 an electoral college chosen by the 58,000 workers of Ford Motor Company of West Germany elected Rebhan, an American of German descent, as one of their ten representatives on the Ford board...
...Workers today have higher educational achievements than their parents," he points out, "and they are not so bound by the fear that used to make workers so docile --fear of losing their job...
...Today that's gone...
...It failed to win approval of any of West Germany's three big partners in the European Community (EC) -- France, Italy, and the United Kingdom...
...Five other countries (Luxembourg, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) have adopted laws establishing co-determination, but in various forms weaker than the German model...
...Unionists like Herman Rebhan have good preliminary in- sights into such questions...
...You'll see, the same will happen with board participation by labor...
...labor scene...
...His lofty Ford connection is part-time work, carrying no salary (only travel expenses and a small allowance, plus a free German Ford sedan that he accepted after some soul-searching...
...This objection, Rebhan contends, is based on the assumption that workers' interests are diametrically opposed to those of owners and managers...
...Co-determination, he believes, is a modern response to the need of getting workers involved...
...His regular job is that of top full-time official of the 13.5 million-member International Metalworkers Federation (IMF), which has a staff of fifty-two in Geneva and in regional offices on five continents...
...Now I won't feel so lonely...
...The unions do influence the choice of some corporate di- rectors, but those so chosen are pro-labor intellectuals, not hard hats...
...But policy makers on the labor and management sides will want hard answers before being carded away by what advocates hail as the wave of industry's future...
...What are the practical benefits to ordinary workers...
...I don't wear jeans even at home...
...He was formerly the editor of Work, a monthly pub- skilled and semi-skilled workers, for example...
...Does co-determination, for example, actually increase their sense of participation in the activities of their company, How do the benefits of co-determination compare with those of other forms of worker's participation practiced in Europe and the United States...
...He feels he's the same Herman Rebhan whether he's presiding at a union meeting or sitting at the corporation president's right hand side at board meetings...
...up as a national leader, you have to reconcile still broader 12 September 1980' 489 ing it...
...And when the nine other employee representatives quickly tabbed him as chair- man of the employee group, he automatically became vice president of the second largest automaker in West Germany...
...As one of the few English-speaking practitioners of co-determination, he is in constant demand in Europe and the U.S...
...He is more than ever convinced that co-determination ought to --and will --expand beyond its present frontiers...
...that workers were moving into board rooms and getting a share in the management of business fu'ms all over Western Europe...
...He predicts that today's novelty at Chrysler will be- come tomorrow's fashion on the U.S...
...Then when you're on the local union executive board for a whole plant or a group of ROBERT A. SENSER is a Foreign Service officer who writes on labor- plants, you have to look out for broader interests: both the related topics...
...Even the EC Eco- nomic and Social Committee, which has about one-third union representation, declined to endorse the Commission propo- sals...
...They want more say on the job...
...Recalling the UAW's pioneering of the cost-of-living escalator clause, Rebhan says: "At first other unions were very skeptical about that too, but after a while they got on the bandwagon all over the country...
...Does co-determination inhibit management from taking controversial but necessary decisions...
...A big reason for the stalemate is that even West European unions have been unable to agree on the issue...
...A common question he gets is whether he doesn't feel uncomfortable wearing two hats...
...What do you want me to do...
...Worker participation" is widely accepted as a Good Thing, even by some employers, but almost everyone has a specially tailored definition of it...
...You can usually spot the intellectuals at a union convention: they're the ones who dress up to look like they've just walked off the assembly line...
...The telegram came from one of Fraser's UAW colleagues, Herman Rebhan, who works out of Geneva as general secre- tary of the International Metalworkers Federation...
...He dislikes that imagery...
...The consensus definition among unions is one less sweeping than a system of labor-capital co-management...
...So are their union representatives...
...Under what conditions...
...Wear jeans...
...I I I II II ROBERT A. SENSER L AST OCTOBER when Chrysler Corporation agreed to nominate United Auto Worker President Douglas Fraser to its board of directors, advocates of worker participation were jubilant...
...In the aftermath of World War II, Germany seized upon co-determination as a check against a new cartel-financed fascism and as a democratic alternative to the Communism on its eastern frontier...
...More significant than such limitations is the fact that cob I i determination has not expanded to any new country in the past six years...
...They have a stake in its future, and want to know how it's doing business-wise and what its plans and prospects are...
...Commonweal: 492...
...Isn't he in a conflict of interest situation, at least at times...
...Workers are more demanding...
...So did the European Parliament, and as a result the Community's decision-making body, the Council of Minis- ters, has been spared from g~tting into the controversy...
...In reality, the Com- mission's proposals have gotten nowhere...
...Isolated employers have ac- cepted labor in the board room here and there, but to become implanted as in Germany and the five smaller European coun- tries, co-determination needs the force of national legislation, and that doesn't seem to be in the cards, at least not in the early eighties...
...They worry about the health of the company where they work...
...Fraser in May became the first leader of a major union to get a seat on the board of directors of a large U.S...
...Talk about the good old work ethic all you want --part of it was a cringing fear of getting fired...
...In the publicity surrounding these papers, the distinction between a proposed policy and an approved policy became fuzzy, and the errone- ous impression grew in the U.S...
...In my factory days I always took off my work clothes after work...
...On the more important point, the role he plays, Rebhan concedes that an evolution has taken place: "When you're a steward in a part of a plant, that's your world --you see only the interest of those few workers...
...but in Germany...
...R EBHAN IS RIGHT in this sense: as industrial life becomes more complex, the demand --and the need -- for worker participation is growing, but not necessarily in the form of seats on corporate boards...
...Most workers don't accept that," he says...

Vol. 107 • September 1980 • No. 16


 
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