Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 7 December 2011

When workers planned production: the Lucas Aerospace plan

The south east region of the TUC recently showed a film about the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards' committee who, 35 years ago, produced a plan to make socially useful products instead of the weapons of mass destruction they made for their employer.

The Lucas shop stewards were facing mass redundancies and plant closures. But part of their campaign against the job cuts was an imaginative plan for socially useful products which they could use their skills to design and make. Their ideas and approach inspired many workers at the time.

The film was produced 35 years ago by the independent television company ATV.

Bill Mullins, an ex-senior shop steward at Rover Solihull, reviewed it for the Socialist.

About 200 people attended the showing and the film was followed by a question and answer session with a panel of trade unionists including an ex-convenor of Ford Dagenham and Hilary Wainwright, author of The Lucas Plan, first published in 1981.

The film was produced for a mass TV audience but in general it treated the subject with the seriousness that it deserved.

It showed the shop stewards debating among themselves about their plans to produce a range of products - from kidney dialysis machines to a rail/road vehicle that they designed in collaboration with a neighbouring polytechnic.

It also tried to show the reaction of the Lucas bosses but they refused to be filmed. Instead we heard a sound recording from the managing director, squirming as he tried to claim that that the shop stewards' plan was a non-runner.

Even now, after all this time, you can hear our 'betters' in the tone of his voice. He says "but there is no alternative" to producing what we do, ie fighter plane parts and rockets for the military.

Ahead of their time

Some of the shop stewards' ideas were far ahead of their time. For example their ideas for a hybrid car which ran on electricity as well as petrol.

The stewards' socially useful alternative products were not something thought up overnight. They were the result of four years of discussion with their members in the 13 plants that made up the Lucas Aerospace combine committee.

The film showed meetings in Burnley, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Willesden in London. It also showed other battles against redundancies, with a meeting organised by the Liverpool trades council in 1978 against the closure of the Triumph factory in Merseyside.

What stood out to me watching the film was the efforts that the shop stewards made in trying to get support for their ideas.

They met with Labour politicians and trade union officials but you could see that they did not get very far.

They got a frosty reception from Ken Gill, who later became general secretary of the trade union TASS [now part of Unite].

Maybe this was because Ken was a hard line Stalinist, while the chair of the combine committee, Mike Cooley, was a Maoist who had split from the Communist Party of Great Britain.

The stewards commented that the union officialdom demanded that they go through the official machinery ie the confederation of shipbuilding and engineering unions. To do this, the stewards said, would have meant their project was dead in the water from the beginning!

In the film the shop stewards explain how, at meetings with Labour government minsters, they were given the run-around and fobbed off to the ministers' underlings.

It should be said the first minister they met was Tony Benn and they received his support, but it was not long before he was replaced by Eric Varley, a right winger.

Benn had said that he did not have the political authority to force Lucas to listen to the shop stewards but would do his best.


In the discussion after the screening I asked if the combine had called for Lucas Aerospace to be nationalised.

I explained that this is what we did in British Leyland (BL) at about the same time. We called for BL to be put under public ownership with workers' control and management.

Hilary Wainwright, who had called the Lucas plan a "new kind of trade unionism", said that nationalisation was not enough and "hadn't worked".

The ex-Dagenham convenor disagreed, especially after a member of the audience said that you needed capitalists to invest in the first place. "Tell the National Union of Mineworkers that nationalisation didn't work, look at the health and safety of miners before and after nationalisation" he said to applause.

My personal view was that the Lucas combine did not put enough emphasis on the political question of who owns and controls Lucas Aerospace.

If they had, then the necessity of the nationalisation of the whole Lucas combine under workers' control would have been seen.

This would have included, not just the aerospace arm, but also the motor component arm as part of a programme of nationalisation of the whole motor industry.

This was something we demanded at the time of the BL crisis. The Militant pamphlet produced at around this time said it all: "no to subsidisation, yes to nationalisation of BL".

The Lucas workers' ideas resonate even more today - as was seen at the time of the Vestas factory closure on the Isle of Wight a couple of years ago.

There the workers made green and socially useful products, wind turbine blades. But the factory was still closed by the company.

The Socialist Party called then for the nationalisation of the company as part of a 'green fuel' industry run under workers' control and management.

The old saying still goes: "You can't control what you don't own and you can't own without nationalisation".

Donate to the Socialist Party

Coronavirus crisis - 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.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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 donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation


Your message: 


In The Socialist 7 December 2011:

Socialist Party feature

Con-Dems pile on the misery - 'Enough is enough'

Socialist Party editorial

Eurozone crisis - capitalists have no solution

Workplace news and analysis

Cuts and misery - it doesn't have to be like this

Socialist MEP supports public sector strike

"The genie is out of the bottle"

30 November strike: a historic day!

Building a fighting union - interview with Steve Hedley

Defend the JIB, victory to the sparks!

Reinstate Paul Kelly: Solidarity with Portsmouth RMT

Workplace news in brief

Socialist Party news and analysis

Tory sleaze is back!

Reading the riots

All in it together

Them & Us

Climate change

Climate change and extreme weather

Housing crisis

Homes Crisis: Fund housing need - not fat cat greed!

International socialist news and analysis

Portugal: Build on the general strike action

Ireland: Resist latest austerity attacks

Tamil Solidarity: Gearing up for 2012

Brazilian socialists remember Socrates

Socialist Party reviews

Theatre review

When workers planned production: the Lucas Aerospace plan


Home   |   The Socialist 7 December 2011   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


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

triangleLabour leadership contest and public ownership

triangleNo free ride for the airline bosses - nationalise Flybe now!

triangleThe private sector will never provide broadband to every home, nationalisation will

triangleLabour's manifesto: fight to transform hope into a socialist society

Shop Stewards:

triangleNational Shop Stewards Network conference

triangleOrganising to fight for workplace safety

triangleSupport Clive Walder

triangleNSSN conference 2019: at the heart of trade union struggle


triangleFilm: Greed directed by Michael Winterbottom

triangleWeinstein found guilty

triangleBrilliant Korean film exposes class inequality

Lucas Aerospace:

triangleThe 'Lucas Plan'

triangleThe Socialist Inbox


trianglePCS pay claim: Vital work unrecognised

Reviews and comments

Reviews and comments



Football in the time of coronavirus - reclaim our game!



Going viral: Socialist comments and letters


Labour Party

Socialism Today special issue: Lessons from the Corbyn experience



Going viral - Socialist comments and letters



Obituary: Rob Crabb



Going viral: letters to the editors


Upton Sinclair

The Jungle: capitalism's remorseless attack on workers' safety and conditions



Going Viral: Socialist comments and letters on the corona crisis



Going viral: Socialist comments and letters on the corona crisis



TV Review BBC Panorama: PPE shortage - how many lives will be lost?



Going viral: Socialist comments and letters



Going viral: Socialist comments and letters



Going viral: Socialist comments on the corona crisis


Socialist Party

Labour leadership election: Starmer wins but the fight for socialism goes on



Going viral

triangleMore Reviews and comments articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 07748 534 891

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041



Alphabetical listing

June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

February 2020

January 2020