We need more public ownership, but it must be democratic & decentralised

Almost every day brings fresh demands for public ownership, whether over energy infrastructure or transport (rail and water systems), banking, housing, pensions, let alone reversal of privatisation and outsourcing in health and education.   That is certainly needed, but not a reversion to the Morrisonian brand of State corporatism.   Instead it needs to be democratic and decentralised, involving not only the workforce but the participation of the public and civil society.   At present, under the current market fundamentalist regime, real economic power is increasingly concentrated in  very few hands.   An elite of CEOs and top executives decide how companies operate, what strategies they choose, what markets they operate in or products they make, and how these are made and where.   A key nexus of financial and political elites in the Treasury and City of London determine the setting of interest rates, levels of government investment and debt, and decisions about gilt and bond markets, and so on.   the workers, the public and the wider society are simply shout out.   Yet democracy isn’t just about electoral politics, it is about the accountability of power wherever it is exercised, and above all that includes the economy.

The Thatcher counter-revolution to Labour’s post-war nationalisation was the concept of a property-owning democracy, the planks of which were the sale of council housing and the privatisation of the utilities leading to the dissemination of share ownership.   It had the opposite effect – a massive shift away from individual shareholding towards corporations and multinational capital.   Individuals owned 53% of shares in 1963, but just 10% in 2012.   Foreign ownership of shares rose from 7% to 53% over the same period. Today shareholder value trumps all public interest considerations, and we have the perverse irony of foreign State-owned corporations actually using profits generated in the UK’s privatised utilities to bolster public services at home.

Abroad the push-back against privatisation is gathering pace.   Since 2000, 86 cities around the world have taken back their water systems from privatised contractors, including in the US, Paris and Berlin.   Over 100 electricity distribution networks have come back under local public ownership and 44 new municipal energy companies have been established in the past decade.   The key driver has been the determination of public authorities around the world to bring core services and infrastructure under their control after decades of poor performance, rising prices, and and failure to invest to modernise utility networks.   It has become clear that markets and private ownership are no more defenders of democracy and liberty than Soviet-style central planning.   Labour should be championing municipal ownership, consumer co-operatives, community trust companies, worker-owned enterprises, strong worker representation in the boardroom, as well as national planning and management where that is needed (transport, communications, banking regulation, environmental protection, etc.).


6 thoughts on “We need more public ownership, but it must be democratic & decentralised

  1. correct micheal thatchers way was a greedie way it sold off all our silver but getting it back will labour do so you now profits made by these so called companies doesn’t benefit the country has profits paid into offshore accounts and the worst part they pay no tax or hardly any at all while the poor pay their prices jeff3

  2. Re-nationalisation of privatised utilities, now foreign-owned, contravenes the GATS and WTO rules. TTIP, TISA, CETA etc with ISDS will tie down govts. even more. The Labour leadership will need to be very brave to challenge trade deals enshrined in international law.

  3. Slimy, very very slimy indeed; as you rightly say, “Almost every day brings fresh demands for public ownership,” but your response to this is to to advocate a model that isn’t even remotely what people are really asking you for.

    In fact what you’re advocating above, (and in your book,) is really a kind user friendly, (sin free,) capitalism, but socialism has never ever been about, “property owning democracy,” not least because of a huge number of people in the UK will never own their own property, (some of us have never even wanted to,) people who for various and diverse reason’s but too often because of poverty and other disadvantages, people who are being increasingly, marginalised, disregarded and excluded from owing property even as an aspiration.

    So once again and characteristically Nu Labour completely fails to do what it says on the box.

    People to whom you and particularly your party’s deeply unpleasant and increasingly dictatorial leader have absolutely nothing to say that is of any relevance or importance.

    People are demanding some nationalisation, (state ownership and central public control,) of the utilities, social housing, the railways, education, the NHS, etc on exactly the basis that you so glibly dismiss above, for their own security, for fairness and for the accountability that placing them under direct management and control of our elected representatives and civil service would or should bring; else what are you all there for?

    That whole piece above is completely dishonest.

    It’s nationalising Jim, but as we know it.”

    or “It socialism Jim, but not as we know it”

    Take your pick?

    In America certainly a few cities have tried the, (Co-op,) approach you’re advocating here, Denver springs to mind, for public utilities, but personally so far I find them unconvincing and unpersuasive.

  4. Also of course as pointed out above, TAFT and TIPP will pretty much stich all this up anyway.

  5. It’s also worth noting here that even the Co-operative bank, (after a decade of criminally appalling mismanagement culminating the politically driven and commercially suicidal takeover of Britannia Building Society which effectively bankrupted it,) is now owned and controlled by the America hedge funds and many those other examples you cite above turn out, on closer inspection, to be much the same.

  6. To start with we need a statement of intent that Labour, if elected in 2015,will immediately bring back into public ownership any companies such as the profitable East Coast Railways and Eurostar should the ConDems sell them off. The Tories are scoring own goal after own goal yet we hear nothing from Milliband and his party.

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