Works Councils

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Works Councils
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What do you think is the nature of the works councils?


Should they be considered unions, or proto-unions?


What should be the response to workers who operate in a workplace that has a works council, but not a labor union presence (official or unofficial) be?


And what should the response to workers who operate in a workplace that has a works council and a registered/recognized labor union be?


While they are common in Europe, they do exist in the US. Especially in the state-funded/run college and university system. Most state-funded and/or operated colleges and universities in the United States have a 'Classified Employees Council'- each department of workers on campus (custodial, HR, landscaping/grounds maintanence, typists & clerical workers, skilled tradesmen like plumbers and electricians, etc) elect 2 of their fellow workers from their department to represent them for 1 or 2 years through a private ballot election on the CEC. These worker-representatives have voting power on the council, which also includes non-voting observers (generally one or two people- from the schools executive officials like the president and VP, others from the state Classified Employees Council Committee) who report back to their respective offices. They handle negotiations the way a union would, including safety, changes in uniform, changes in raises or benefits, etc.


Here's a couple links to a school with a CEC, the links to their CEC documents, and a link to the state CEC Committee.


West Virginia State University:


"The purpose of the Association of Classified Employees of West Virginia State University is to promote the welfare and well-being of the classified employees of West Virginia State University by:

  • Enhancing communication among classified staff in matters pertaining to the college in general and the classified staff in particular.
  • Facilitating staff input into decisions which affect classified staff.
  • Encouraging cooperation, coordination, and communication among staff.
  • Fostering improvement of working conditions for classified staff through input into staff development programs and appointment or election of classified staff to major college committees.
  • Conveying classified staff concerns to the West Virginia Board of Directors through the Advisory Council of Classified Employees established by the West Virginia Legislature (H.B. 1230 - March 19, 1981) "

-Association Of Classified Employees Of West Virginia State University


West Virginia Advisory Council of Classified Employees

somewhat relevant quote from 

somewhat relevant quote from :

But the indispensable condition for the success of ‘peoples’ capitalism’ lay in leading the ‘Arbeitratte’ back into the Social Democratic fold. As organizations of struggle the councils had collapsed under the carefully disguised attack of the democratic constitution, and above all, as a result of the fall of the Hungarian Repub­lic of Soviets, at the hands of the French army of d’Espery. They were transformed in­to mere instruments of co-management for fixing wage rates and stimulating production.

On 15 May 1919 the Workers’ Councils were legalized, as Factory Councils, whose task was to arbitrate conflicts arising in the workplace, to ensure a smooth recovery for Austrian capitalism after the trials of war.


red flag
Workers Councils or Works Councils

I think the question of workers councils and the role they play in a revolutionary situation is critical. After all workers councils group all workers regardless of the level of class consciousness and regardless of what their job is, they are at the councils because they are workers. Not only do the workers councils group all workers but they also allow workers as a class to hold their spokespersons to account, if the spokespersons seek to betray the struggle then they can be removed by the workers themselves. Workers councils therefore are vital in ensuring that the working class has organs which challenge not only employers but also the capitalist state and the capitalist governments.

One problem however is that workers councils can not exist outside of a revolutionary period workers councils can only exist when the workers are in motion. When strikes take on a mass character and become political strikes as well as economic strikes. The organisations that devoration1 mentions may be called workers councils yet they are far removed from workers councils as understood by revolutionaries. In fact these organisations are integrated into the structure of capitalist society and is intended to neutralise any movement by workers into independent class action. In periods of upcoming struggle genuine workers councils will not only have to challenge a variety of bourgeois forces unions included but also organisations such as those devoration1 mentions.

In the present period where the bourgeoisie across the world are either preparing massive attacks or are carrying out massive attacks on workers wages and living conditions there are no signs of a move towards independent organisations of the working class.

Works Councils, not soviets

I mean organizations that in practice fulfill the purpose of American business unions (collective or shop bargaining, signing contracts, negotiating wages and benefits, etc) without being a seperate organization (works councils are organizations tied directly to the state- with silent or non-voting representatives from the company, the state, and then elected worker-delegates that vote).

In the US, these exist mainly for state/public employees, especially those who work in public schools/colleges/universities but aren't teachers/professors. The links above are for the West Virginia University works council (called 'Classified Employees Council' in the US for college/university works councils that follow the 'Mercer System'), it's website, its constitution/by-laws, and a link to the West Virginia Advisory Council of Classified Employees (the state of WV organization that oversees, coordinates with/for, the various Classified Employee's Councils in the state). For example, every state funded college/university in WV will have such a CEC, and on each of these CEC's sits one member who is a 'liason' to the WVACCE. Many other US states have the same system in place.

These organizations are much like unions, especially general business unions, in that they fulfill many of its main functions. It is also a grievance mechanism. Though it is possible to have a works council and a union at the same workplace representing the same employee's (this is more common in mainland Europe- there is a link on Libcom I believe that talks about the CNT-E and why it won't participate in works councils at jobsites where they have members).


To keep with the West Virginia examples, there is a (newly formed) state/public workers union run by UE (they have launched similar unions in the Carolinas and Virginia as well)- UE Local 170, the West Virginia Public Workers Union. If WV state university (WVU) employees decided to unionize with UE Local 170, they would most likely utilize both the CEC / works council as well as direct negotiations with the state.

I am interested in any opinions of such organizations, how to approach them, what advice anyone has for employee's who work somewhere that has such a works council. It's a topic that effects many workers globally (though many more in Europe than the US and elsewhere it seems), that I haven't seen much written about.


red flag
Class struggle

For me the question is not so much how we, as revolutionaries, approach organisations such as works councils or for that matter unions, it’s how we approach workers at their place of work and how we engage in dialogue with them. I think if we worry about how we approach organisations such as works councils then we then can easily go down the path of the leftist organisations and look at coming to some sort of accommodation to the organisations. For me workers councils are just another institutional form that ensures workers are subordinated to capitalist interests. We need to be careful that we don’t fall for the mystification that argues that workers councils are somehow more democratic and sensitive to workers interests. If that was the case the bourgeois would have abolished them a long time ago.

So if we don’t worry about the organisations of the bourgeois then we need to be sensitive in how we approach workers and how we attempt to win them over to a communist perspective. For me the question isn’t about lecturing workers it’s about listening and patiently explains the necessity of workers taking independent action in defence of their interests, it’s about once again making working class solidarity the centre of the struggle and encouraging workers to take strike action in support of other workers. It’s about arguing for workers assemblies to take control over strikes and not either trade unions or works councils. In some respects it’s easier in the current situation to argue that the action taken by unions or works councils is inadequate in defending workers interests after all in Britain the unions agree that some form of cuts to wages, jobs, services are required the only question is how deep should the cuts go?

There is no short cut in helping the development of working class consciousness that sees itself as the agent of history in irreconcilable opposition to the capitalist class globally. That the task of the global working class is to take political power through the smashing of the capitalist state.

To me it appears that 'works

To me it appears that 'works councils' in Europe are just another part of the intergration of trade unions into the state.

Perhaps an interesting side to this is the attiude of the AIT/IWA sections to this. They have basically opposed participation in works councils, which has led to splits in their organisation in Spain, France, and Italy, and perhaps in the future Germany.

I think that their position on this is certainly one of principle.


I didn't know that was the

I didn't know that was the cause of the splits. I think there are a few threads that deal with it on Libcom.

I'm in the process of finding out the position of one of the largest business unions in the US on works councils. It's an issue that doesn't come up much in the US, outside of the education industry. Due to the new industry I find myself working in, the fairly unique labor law situation where I live and the bizarre relationship between state, council, union and workforce at my job, it's been interesting trying to get the 'lay of the land'.

Weren't these first used in

Weren't these first used in the fast-disintegrating Austro-Hungarian empire? It is definitely an interesting topic, perhaps there is a document about this somewhere around here.

They seem like one of the most powerful inventions of the bourgeois to date. Certainly things like this exist in other countries where they might not be called works councils, I'm not too sure here in the UK but I saw this: Other than that it's a load of "EU Directive" crap that basically says works councils barely exist here, there are probably a few though and if they are being used in places such as Germany, where there is a relatively high level of class-struggle compared to the UK, I would imagine that they are very useful to employers.

I think it is a good idea to leave trade unions and employer-employee 'works councils' to battle it out against each other, we need not get involved in either as they are both bureaucratic institutions.

I would add that things like the "Ulster Workers Council" and all kinds of employee committees and odd worker-shareholding things (where each worker owns something stupidly small in shares in a company and goes to meetings about it) exist and have existed for a very long time as a good way of confusing workers.

Most of these actually seem quite hard to best, I have actually thought that soviets in and of themselves will face direct opposition from employer-employee associations when the class-struggle begins in some of the highly advanced capitalist nations. It could be down to a direct struggle between the two in order to assert proletarian power in a future revolutionary situation, it would make sense that the class-struggle would come down to the lowest common denominator when it is at its height..