A Strategy to Rebuild Britain's Industry
We must seize the opportunity to build an industrial strategy to serve the needs of the people of Britain.
Forty years ago, the ‘Lucas Plan’ showed us the way
What kind of Britain do we want?
A combination of events is forcing us to confront that question with a new urgency. What kind of Post Covid and Post Brexit economy and society should emerge from the devastation of Covid, and the opportunities offered by freedom from the EU? Can we also confront the climate crisis?
Unprecedented times require unique and creative solutions. Now is the time to seize the moment and begin to plan for and build an economy and an industrial base that work for the people of Britain.
We need an industrial strategy guided by those who know their industries and how to build them for the future.
For many, the answer is a Green Revolution. Nearly all corporations are falling over themselves to demonstrate their green credentials. Green capitalism is now the order of the day. Labour and Tory are also vying with each other to offer a “build back better” agenda. The old neoliberal consensus has been swept aside by massive government intervention.
The virtual nationalisation of the country’s wages bill and the largest deficit since WW2, arising from government spending, has changed the economic paradigm.
The 40-year reign of neoliberalism and globalisation must come to an end. Challenges are everywhere, but who is setting the agenda in all this turmoil?
Building on our independence
The arguments for Brexit, for an independent sovereign country able to develop its own economic and social policies has been strengthened by the Covid crisis. The UK was able to produce its own vaccine and production facilities in comparison with the bureaucratic incompetence of the EU Commission.
The obvious question now is who will be determining the policies and actions which will set the agenda for a prosperous future for the British people. How will we seize the initiative and the advantages of an independent Britain to decide what we produce and how we produce it?
Over forty years ago, workers at Lucas Aerospace developed what came to be known as the Lucas Plan, a radical alternative to redundancies and the military products and the working methods of the company.
Faced with massive redundancies in 1976, shop stewards from all the Lucas plants consulted their members and produced an alternative plan which included over 150 designs for alternative products. Many of the designs were for socially useful products in contrast to the military emphasis of much of the Lucas output.
An idea from the Lucas Plan
Lucas Plan: Ideas to learn from
Included in the plan were market and economic analyses and even training programmes for producing the new products. Shop floor workers and technical designers combined to re-think new work patterns and new team working.
The proposed products fell into six categories: medical equipment, transport vehicles, improved braking systems, energy conservation, oceanics and remote-controlled machines.
In the medical sector it was proposed that there should be an expansion of production of kidney dialysis machines to meet a national shortage.
In the energy sector there were plans for developing heat pumps, solar cell technology, wind turbines and fuel cell technology. In transport, a hybrid power pack for motor vehicles was proposed, years ahead of its time. Not only would jobs have been saved but a major contribution would have been made to Britain’s technological base.
The Lucas Plan attracted huge interest across the world, and it was even proposed that it might win the Nobel Peace Prize. The idea that workers would decide what to make and build was massively attractive to many sections of the population but presented a direct challenge to the right of management and capital to make the key decisions of product development and investment.
The proposals were rejected by management and the company went on to be dismembered and parts sold off. Lucas became another example of how those in charge of British industry have betrayed their workforce and contributed to the de-industrialisation of the country.
Part of Thatcher's Destruction
The plan was also overtaken by the Thatcher government taking office in 1979 which accelerated the processes of de-industrialisation and withdrawal of government support for industry. The political climate moved dramatically against the idea of worker democracy.
The need for self-reliance
But the ideas surrounding the Lucas Plan will not die. A workforce relying on its knowledge, skills, experience and understanding to provide long term jobs and socially useful products for the communities where they live is a powerful force.
The Lucas workers were pioneers in challenging the motives of company owners and management in restructuring, automation, and redundancies in the name of profit not the needs of employees or the wider society. Ultimately, lack of government support for industry and the management strategy of compliance led to break up, sell off and an unrecognizable company to the original entity.
This has been the sad tale of British industry over the past forty years.
What lessons can we learn?
Firstly, an independent Britain must look to greater self-reliance with jobs, skills industries and technologies rooted in local areas serving the needs of localities and the wider nation. Britain can no longer afford to be an aircraft carrier for rootless foreign and domestic capital. That is the true meaning of ‘Take Back Control’.
Could there be a 21st Century Lucas Plan which embraces both workplaces and localities? It is eminently possible. In fact, it is a necessity that workers in all industries and workplaces use their skills and knowledge to build resilient industries, communities, cities, and regions capable of meeting the challenges of the climate crisis, pandemics and the demands of an independent Britain.