Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Lucas Aerospace Plan

In the 1970s workers at the Lucas Aerospace produced their own alternative "Corporate Plan" for the company's future. In doing so they attacked some of the underlying priorities of capitalism. Their proposals were radical, arguing for an end to the wasteful production of military goods and for people’s needs to be put before the owners’ profits.  This Plan evolved as a response to the threatened redundancies resulting from cuts in defence expenditure. The plan promotes the idea of workers taking decisions about organising production and discussing the products to be made, environmental problems are taken seriously, and there is a vitality and enthusiasm about the campaign which is all too often lacking in other areas of activity.

It was the product of two years planning and debate among Lucas workers at its 15 different Lucas factories.  Everyone from unionised engineers, to technicians to production workers and secretaries was involved in drawing it up. It was based on detailed information on the machinery and equipment that all Lucas sites had, as well as the type of skills that were in the company. Its central aim was to head off Lucas's planned job cuts by arguing that the concentration on military goods and markets was neither the best use of resources nor in itself desirable. It argued that if Lucas was to look away from military production it could expand into markets for "socially useful" goods. According to it Lucas could eventually wind down its military production, keeping all its present workforce. Moreover, the production of high technology equipment like kidney dialysis machines would be of far more benefit than missiles to society.

 The 70s was a time where concern about pollution, de-forestation, the oil shortage, nuclear power, etc. became heightened  into what can loosely be called the alternative technology movement  and alternative technologies/products through being labour-intensive could be the salvation for workers made redundant by capital-intensive technologies. But the problem is not technology itself but capitalism and capitalist technology. It is capitalist relations of production, distribution and exchange which bring about redundancies, oil shortages, criminal violence and starvation. Different contraceptives, irrigation schemes, abundance of oil and alternative technologies do not change the structure and effects of capitalism. It is only when we have a socialist society that real choices about alternatives recyclable products and sustainable energy sources can be made. As Dick Jones, an AUEW member in Coventry, said at a conference in 1978: “Even if the Lucas Plan was emulated in every factory, every plant, it would not bring about socialism.”

Constructive it may have been if the world was being run along different lines - ones that valued people’s need for meaningful work and put social needs above military production. For the company capitalism was the order of the day and this meant profits first and foremost. Moreover it was their right to "manage” Lucas and to decide where its resources would be used. To them the people working at Lucas had no say in these fundamental matters. Control by management, often through the marketing division, of scientific and technical work presses science more and more closely into the pursuit of profit and away form serving real social needs. The job of the scientific worker is increasingly bounded by the fear of redundancy, the process of de-skilling, control by management and the routineisation of work. In short, scientific and technical workers were being proletarianised. Some became politicised and radicalised and expressed their change in attitudes and circumstances by becoming militant trade unionists.

What later became known as the Lucas Plan aimed to shift Lucas Aerospace away from the production of military goods, mainly for NATO (an emphasis that was capital intensive and had high profit margins for Lucas's owners) and towards the production of socially useful goods (which was a labour intensive field, relying more on the skills already in the Lucas Company). Such a shift would mean the preservation of jobs at Lucas and the fulfilment of some of the more pressing needs of society. It asked basic questions like what was the real use of missiles and high technology fighter aeroplanes to society. Their production gobbled up money resources and technical inventiveness, making those who owned the Companies richer and richer but society got nothing from them.

Medical Equipment:
- Increase production of kidney dialysis machines by 40% and look into the development of a portable model.
- Build up a 'design for the disabled' unit, with the Ministry of Health, to look into things like artificial limb control systems (which could use Lucas's control engineering expertise), sight aids for the blind,  sophisticated radar systems used in modern fighter planes being used in the development of an "alternative sight" aid for blind people. Such a thing is easily within human capabilities, but is not made or even developed as a priority now. Or developing the 'Hobcart'. This vehicle was designed in the 1970s by an apprentice at Lucas to give mobility to children suffering from Spina Bifida. Lucas management had refused to develop it on the grounds that it was incompatible with their product range.
- Manufacture an improved life-support system for ambulances. An ex-Lucas engineer turned doctor had offered to help design and build a prototype for this, using a simple heat exchanger and pumping system.

Alternative Energy Techniques:
Due to the finite availability of fuels like coal and petrol, they proposed that Lucas concentrate on renewable sources of energy generation and developing more efficient methods of energy conservation from fuel sources. Up to 60% of energy is lost with traditional forms of its use (car engines etc.). Moreover this would provide a real alternative to nuclear power generation which was unsafe and damaging to the environment.
- Development and production of heat pumps which were efficient in saving waste heat. Such heat pumps would be used in new housing schemes to provide a very cheap service.
- Development and production of solar cells and fuel cells.
- Development of windmills. Lucas's experience in aerodynamics would be invaluable.
- Development of a flexible power pack, which could easily adjust to people's situations allowing for small scale electricity generation using basic raw materials. Such instruments would be invaluable in under-developed countries where electricity provision is very poor.

- The development of a road-rail public transportation vehicle which would be light-weight using pneumatic tyres on rails. Such a system would be cheaper, safer for use and more integrated. It would allow rail services to be provided in areas where they were being closed down, etc. The road-rail vehicle would be able to travel on rails mainly but also convert to road use when needed.
- A combined internal combustion engine/battery powered car which could give up to 50% fuel savings while reducing toxic emission from cars.

The Plan also proposed various other ideas in the areas of braking systems, undersea exploration technology and remote control devices. Basic needs in society are only filled inadequately, like for instance kidney dialysis machines, whose general shortage in society was then and still is a crying shame. Lucas, its workers argued, had the expertise to develop better, smaller and more mobile units which kidney sufferers were crying out for. Why shouldn't they do so? Under capitalism the world's resources and wealth is owned and used to make profit for the wealthy. Most money is invested where profit is highest. The fulfilment of human needs is always a secondary priority The Lucas Plan challenged many of the basic assumptions of capitalism: why should profits come before people? What value have military goods in a world with so many other pressing needs? As such it was important. But far more fundamentally it showed what capacity workers have to articulate their priorities and their values.

For the future it showed what enormous potential a society based on socialism could have. Such a society with real workplace democracy and the participation of all in the management of society would allow for the creative capacity of each individual to have its say while the real needs of society are met. But for this to be achieved as the Lucas workers learned, capitalism and its priorities must be overthrown. Socialists have always argued the case for alternative production in one sense: revolutionary propaganda and theory is based on the idea that in a socialist society production will be for need and not for profit. Devoting time, energy and resources to drawing up detailed plans for such production in a capitalist society will ultimately be disillusioning and demoralising at best or strengthen capitalism at worst. The Plan is subtitled “a positive alternative to recession and redundancy” – yet the only real alternative is socialism, not in one factory or every factory or even in one country but internationally. This is the task which raises the central question of dispossessing the capitalist class  –  unasked and unanswered in the Plan.

from here
Kevin Doyle of the Workers Solidarity Movementin an article first published by Workers Solidarity in 1988.
And also here International Socialism Journal

A documentary on the Lucas Plan, recorded in 1978, from the Open University's archive, is now available to watch online.

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