Saturday 26th November 2016 saw the Lucas Plan Conference in Birmingham, celebrating 40 years of it.
The Lucas Plan was an effort by workers at Lucas Aerospace to save jobs by proposing alternative, socially useful applications of the company’s technology and the workers’ skills. Lucas Aerospace was restructuring, facing increased international competition and technological change. Job cuts and site closures were becoming increasingly likely. Another concern was that around half of Lucas Aerospace output supplied military contracts.
Employees formed the Lucas Aerospace Combine Shop Stewards Committee – a representative body of staff and manual worker unions on all 15 sites across the UK. The committee functioned as a unified and coherent voice of the workforce on a variety of issues facing the workforce. In an effort to be proactive in the face of pending closures and cuts, the committee proposed 150 product alternatives.
Lucas Aerospace rejected the proposals, refusing to diversify. However, no forced redundancies were enforced during the life of the committee.
Representatives from many organisations and sectors took part in sessions and discussions to see if the legacy of The Lucas Plan could be applied to current situations. The wide ranging group took part in sessions and discussions for this end.
An example of a current situation where the ideas are relevant is North Sea Oil. Closure of and divestment from North Sea Oil is good for the environment. However, the individuals and local communities whose employment and financial stability rely on North Sea Oil are understandably less keen on the idea. It would be better to redirect the technology, skills base and work force than to close the door and cut the jobs.
Questions which came out of the conference:
- Why would you want to do this? Is there a climate concern? Is increased automation potentially causing job cuts in a particular industry? Is the company involved in armaments or nuclear power for example?
- How could you do this? Unions working together, sharing experience, guidance and expertise?
- What is appropriate or alternative technolgy? What is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’?
- What is socially useful production?
It will be interesting to see what answers come from the questions raised at the conference.