Back in the 1970s, with unemployment rising and British industry contracting, workers at the arms company Lucas Aerospace came up with a pioneering plan to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially-useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills. The ‘Lucas Plan’ remains one of the most radical and forward thinking attempts ever made by workers to take the steering wheel and directly drive the direction of change.
Forty years later, we are facing a convergence of crises: militarism and nuclear weapons, climate chaos and the destruction of jobs by new technologies and automation. These crises mean we have to start thinking about technology as political, as the Lucas Aerospace workers did, and reopen the debate about industrial conversion and economic democracy.
‘What so inspires me about the Lucas Plan is the democratic egalitarianism which runs through its every part – the work processes, the products and even the very technology they propose.’
This egalitarian ethic inspired Laurence Hall to make the Lucas Plan the focus of a recent national gathering of Young Quakers in Lancaster, up the line from the Trident nuclear submarine yards in Barrow. Eurig Scandrett from the Scottish Green Party made it the theme for Green Party trade unionists because ‘it is the most inspiring example of workers on the shop floor who get self-organised and demand to make what humanity needs.’
The fact that the plan was defeated has not diluted its capacity to inspire. For Eurig Scandrett, its defeat demonstrated that ‘it is the vested interests of the military-industrial machine which is the problem, and that workers liberating their collective brain is where the solution lies.’
The broad outline of the Lucas Aerospace workers’ story was familiar enough in the mid-1970s. Workers faced redundancies, got organised, resisted and insisted that their skills and machinery were not redundant. But here they went further. They drew together alternative ideas with those of supportive academics and, with the encouragement of Tony Benn (then industry secretary in the Labour government), produced their ‘Alternative Corporate Plan for Socially Useful Production’, illustrated with prototypes. Management refused to negotiate. The government, under pressure from the CBI and the City, made gestures of a willingness to talk, but would not move against management. The plan was never implemented, or even seriously considered, although commercial companies elsewhere picked up some of the ideas.
So what are the lessons we can draw from this past experience of ‘ordinary’ people organising and sharing their practical knowledge and skills to illustrate in the present the changes of which we dream? Some of the main ones are discussed below.
The raucous rattle of a low flying helicopter shakes me awake. It must be the Police. The sun hasn’t risen yet and the tent’s sides still smell of morning dew. I doubt I was the only one in this field who didn’t sleep deeply last night. Today is the day of action we have been waiting for Ende Gelände (Here and no Further) – 1500 people have pledged to enter RWE’s Garzweiler open cast coal mine, and block the gargantuan “bagger” excavators with their bodies, thus shutting down Europe’s largest source of CO2 emissions.
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But in places across Europe, communities are coming together to show that another way—a better way—is possible.
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An ecosocialist ruminates on the complex relationship between humans and the environment, taking stalk of it first hand on "the extreme edge of nature"
We wanted to feel the seasons on our skin and to work and live in such a way that the hard grey lines between us and nature dissolved. We wanted to be self-sufficient, to grow all our own food and build our own house. We wanted to leave the city for the wilds. We were two young London men who fell in love and decided to return to nature.
This conference was held under the auspices of Socialist Resistance (SR) and Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (rs21) and was a model of revolutionary cooperation on the ground. It consisted of opening and closing plenaries, with two sessions of four simultaneous workshops either side of (a rather late) lunch. There was a good variety of speakers on offer from the two sponsoring organisations, obviously, but also from the
EXCLUSIVE / Anti-tar sands demonstrations have begun outside a Spanish refinery that will receive the first major European shipment of Canada’s tar sands next week, and activists are refusing to rule out direct action to stop it. The 600,000 barrels of Western Canada Select (WCS) heavy blend crude, is being shipped by the Spanish oil company Repsol to the port of Bilbao, from where it will be taken to a nearby refinery in a heavily-populated area.
A cargo believed to be Europe's first major shipment of tar sands oil arrived in Spain this week, as European policymakers proposed scrapping the requirement that such oil be labeled as more polluting than other forms of crude. 570,000 barrels of Western Canada Select heavy blend crude, originally from Canada, arrived in Spain's port of Bilbao in the middle of this week, said a spokesman for Repsol. The shipment, which he said was a first for the Spanish oil and gas company, is part of a pilot project to test the capacity of its refineries to process the heavy grade crude.
Russia, in a "surprise move," is releasing Greenpeace's Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise ship, seized last year after a protest against Arctic oil drilling, the environmental group said Friday afternoon.
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Greenpeace reaffirmed its belief that the arrest of the ship was illegal under international law.