Wide screen devices may view this page better by clicking here

27 May 2020

Facebook   Twitter

Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

The 'Lucas Plan'

When workers set out an alternative to job losses by creating socially useful products and technology

The prototype of the Lucas Aerospace workers’ bus that could switch between rail and road, photo Gillett’s Crossing/CC

The prototype of the Lucas Aerospace workers’ bus that could switch between rail and road, photo Gillett’s Crossing/CC   (Click to enlarge)

Jane Nellist, Coventry Socialist Party and president of Coventry TUC (personal capacity)

The announcement by Rolls Royce of 9,000 redundancies in its aero-engine business is one of many likely threats of job losses in the coming recession.

Is there an alternative? Instead of hundreds of thousands of workers being made redundant, couldn't production instead be switched to socially useful goods?

This is not a new debate. When workers at Lucas Aerospace, a company with sites mainly in the North West and the Midlands then making electronic systems for missiles, were threatened with mass redundancies in the mid-1970s, they developed an incredible, viable, alternative plan of production. They worked out that their skills and production lines could easily be adjusted to manufacture products far more useful to humanity, and far more beneficial to their communities, than weaponry.

It is important to reexamine this period and the plan that the workers developed, especially considering Covid-19. We have urgently needed to switch production speedily to make ventilators, PPE, and other lifesaving equipment. But government and businesses in Britain have been ineffective and unwilling to meet the vital needs of our society, much to the anger of the workforce.

In the early 1980s, the 'Lucas Plan', as it has come to be known, was still being discussed widely as part of the debate on nuclear disarmament and how to protect jobs. The debates were instrumental in my political education at the time. As someone gaining a deeper understanding of socialism, it highlighted to me the ingenuity and power of the working class in planning for the needs of society, while greedy bosses put profit before people.

The Lucas Plan has an even sharper focus today. With the threat to people and our planet from the impact of climate change, we need to invoke the campaign of those engineers who produced the plan.

So, what was the Lucas Plan and what was the political landscape that gave rise to it?

In the 1970s there was a wholesale deindustrialisation of Britain. It swept away hundreds of thousands of jobs. At a stroke of a pen, companies laid off workers onto the 'dole'.

This was not the 'normal' capitalism with periodic 'booms and slumps'. This was structural deindustrialisation. Huge international 'titans' of capital sought ever greater profits, leaving in their wake communities destroyed.

Whole factories were closed with production moved to other countries. Workers were sacrificed and replaced with increasing amounts of automation and other technology.

Time and motion studies squeezed every minute of the worker's day. The stopwatch was king. The increased use of machines and automation robbed skilled workers of their pride.

Lucas Aerospace was a big conglomerate. It had 17 factories across the country with 18,000 workers, many of them skilled engineers. They produced a variety of products including guidance systems for missiles.

Defence cuts by the then Labour government threatened thousands of jobs. Lucas workers were facing 20% job losses.

While the company did not hesitate in taking decisions centrally, trade unions were organised separately at different factories and in 12 different manual and staff unions. To act in a united way required a different trade union structure (many of those unions later amalgamated to form larger, general trade unions like Unite and GMB)

To help fight back, union convenors formed the Lucas Aerospace Combine Shop Stewards Committee. Whereas before they were fragmented and could easily be picked off and set against each other, now they could speak with one voice and collectivise their concerns in a democratic way.

Nationalisation

The 'combine' of joint unions started to organise to defend jobs. With left-wing MP Tony Benn as the Labour industry minister in 1974, the workers appealed to the government for support, hoping that it might look at nationalisation.

Tony Benn suggested that they produce a plan that they could put to the government to argue their case. That is how the Lucas Plan started.

The plan they produced was ground-breaking. Over 150 ideas for socially useful products in six volumes, all with detailed technical plans for production, were published.

The main aim was, of course, to save jobs. But it was more than that. They also wanted to save human skills and add human value. As one said:

"If we don't make things that kill people, we can produce products that enhance people's lives and save lives." These were some of the best engineers who considered products that could change the lives of ordinary people, like their families.

The other challenges they set themselves were that they should not waste resources, that their work should be 'non-alienating', and organised to encourage human creativity and enthusiasm.

This is what workers' control of industry can bring and it is even more crucial in the 21st century.

One of the Lucas engineers had experience already of the intransigence of the company to look at alternative products. He had designed a cart to support the mobility of children with spina bifida. Such was the success of this design that orders for 2,000 were obtained, only to be turned down by the management as it did not meet their 'product pattern'!

The plan that was developed by the engineers was astonishing. Products were designed in detail, many with working prototypes. The ideas flowed from the team; they looked for solutions to ease the lives of the most vulnerable in society such as a heat exchange to provide cheap heating for the elderly and more deprived communities. Cold is still a big killer of older people. Just as we have seen with Covid-19, capitalism fails to protect our most at-risk communities! Portable kidney machines were designed, along with other potential life-saving medical products.

They also designed and developed a hybrid car, using a petrol engine to charge a battery. This was 1976! If it had been properly developed and produced, just think how much carbon could have been reduced over the last 40 years.

Wind turbines and solar cells, producing clean energy, and a rail bus that could switch between rail and road which worked, were also designed.

Just consider if the workers had been supported and these products had been developed. The skills and talents of workers, rather than crushed by capitalism, could actually be harnessed and used for everyone's benefit. This gives a taste of what could be achieved under socialism.

Workers' control

This plan promoted much discussion in the trade union movement about how to achieve 'workers' control'. Coventry TUC, along with three other trade union councils wrote a report on workers' control setting out the arguments and a strategy.

Another major report in 1978 from car workers at Chrysler, Vauxhall, Ford, British Leyland and Wilmott Breeden, suggested socially useful alternatives to the mass-produced car. From public service vehicles to specially adapted ones for those with disabilities, from cross-country vehicles (building on the Lucas road-rail prototype) to hybrid vehicles and alternative fuels.

These same arguments are now relevant in the discussions in trade unions around the nuclear industry and the need for a million green climate jobs.

The workers at Lucas faced a major obstacle which ultimately defeated their plan: they never collectively controlled their company. But their plan has continued to ignite ideas in a new generation, to inspire them to join the fight to win a socialist society and change the world for good!

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.

We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to click here to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation £

 

Your message: 

 


In The Socialist 27 May 2020:


What we think

Reckless lying cheats


Schools

Schools aren't safe

United action can defeat Tories' dangerous school plan


International news

Economic collapse leads to renewed protests across Lebanon

Chinese state's imposition of draconian law reignites Hong Kong protests


Coronavirus news

Care home workers suffer PPE shortage and job loss fears

More blunders and profiteering in Tory track-and-trace scheme

Eerily quiet before second wave - don't reopen schools!

Coronavirus pandemic news in brief


BAME Covid-19 deaths

Black and Asian Covid-19 deaths: an indictment of capitalist inequality


Workplace news

Strong union response needed against job cuts

No return to unsafe construction sites

Energy firm plans to make 2,600 redundant

Fight P&O's billionaire bosses' jobs cut plan

Hull Trades Council debates workers' political representation


Lessons from history

The 'Lucas Plan'

1920s Britain: A "country nearer Bolshevism than at any time since"


Obituary

Mick Cotter 21-9-57 to 20-5-20


Fighting fund

We need readers' support to fight capitalist crisis


Readers' opinion

Going viral - Socialist comments and letters


 

Home   |   The Socialist 27 May 2020   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Lucas Aerospace:

triangleThe Socialist Inbox

triangleClimate change protest in London on 12.4.19, photo Mary Finch

triangle'Lucas Plan' film tells story of workers who set out alternative to job losses

triangleNationalise to save jobs at BAE Systems

triangleWhen workers planned production: the Lucas Aerospace plan

Workers:

triangleCouncillors have a choice - don't vote for cuts

triangleBristol Water walkout

triangleMarley Tiles workers strike against bullying bosses

triangleSparks' protest in Cardiff; each week the protest has grown. Sparks are protesting nationally against the role of construction electricians being deskilled. Photo by Rachel Barwell

Technology:

triangleCryptocurrency bubble: Insanity of capitalism

triangleTechnology and AI response: Capitalists only invest for profit

triangleCan green technology and AI save capitalism?

Unions:

triangleWe will not be the lost generation

triangleLessons of the 2011 pensions strike: when workers showed their power

Jobs:

triangleNationalise Liberty Steel to save jobs

Government:

triangleBrazil: Bolsonaro regime plunges into a deeper crisis

Article dated 27 May 2020

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

MEMBER RESOURCES

Pay in Fighting Fund

Pay in paper and book sales

Leaflets

Bulk book orders

New member submission

WHAT'S ON

triangle12 Apr York Socialist Party: Don't privatise York A&E!

triangle12 Apr Oxfordshire & Aylesbury Socialist Party: Hat debate

triangle12 Apr Nottingham Socialist Party: Defend the right to protest

More...


The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party

News

Schools

Protests

Local elections

Workplace news

Childcare

Liverpool

Brixton riots

International news

Readers' opinion

Subscribespacer|spacerebook / Kindlespacer|spacerPDF versionspacer|spacerText / Printspacer|spacer1128 onlinespacer|spacerBack issuesspacer|spacer Audio files


Sparks protest in Cardiff

Sparks' protest in Cardiff; each week the protest has grown. Sparks are protesting nationally against the role of construction electricians being deskilled. Photo by Rachel Barwell

What We Stand For
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Platform setting: =

Desktop version