Despite outraged cies from Britain's business, the Labor government today promised "radical" legislation this year to put workers on the boards of all large corporations.
Trade Secretary Edmund Dell told the House of Commons that the plan was an "essential ingredient" of Labor's pact with unions to hold back inflationary wage increases.
He said he would first consult employer and union leaders, but that the government is "committed . . . to a radical and sharpen labor's blunted efficiency. His tone, however, was markedly restrained and his endorsement seemed more formal than substantive.
Like other conservative members of Prime Minister James Callaghan's government. Dell almost certainly wishes that the radical project had not surfaced new. It is inflaming a business community that Callaghan is courting to enlarge investment and exports. The governments is in a bird, however. To back off from the plan would antagonize the key union chiefs, on whom Callaghan relies to keep a lid on wages.
The plan for worker directors, drawn up by a government commission under historian Alan Bullock, was made public today. It would enable unions to pick a number of directors equal to those chosen by stockholders in all firms with 2,000 or more employees. More sweeping than any existing European version of industrial democracy. It would give worker representatives a powerful voice in every major corporate decision.
Conservatives are apposing the plan, but with far more caution than the businessmen on whom they rely. The shadow trade secretary, John Nott, carefully avoided condemning the principle but struck at the plan's failure to provide representation for nonunion workers. Nonunion laborers comprise about 30 per cent of the 7 million who would be affected.
Nott called the Bullock report "unrealistic and destructive. It is a political tract which would make a mockery of genuine democracy in British industry," he said.
Giving the unions, not noted for their democratic practices, full controls over the worker directors is the plan's most vulnerable point.
Business spokesmen showed none of Nott's restraint and all but threatened to go to the barricades to bury Bullock's proposal.
The West Midlands Engineering Employers' Assn. promised to resist worker directors with every means short of breaking the law. Its president said he might call for a complete halt to investment.
The director general of the Institute of Directors, John Hildreth, said the plan has "about as much justification as the Emperor Caligula's idea of making his horse a consul."
His anger is understandable. His outfit is a trade union of directors and some would lose their jobs if the Bullock plan is adopted. Directors here, unlike those in the United States, draw substantial salaries and are made up largely of senior managers.
The Chemical Industries Assn. cried that "our foreign competitors would enjoy using our folly as a chance to grab back some of the markets we have won from them in recent years."
In fact, industry's failure to export is citedas one reason for enlivening company boards with worker directors.