Film review: The plan that came from the bottom up
‘Lucas Plan’ film tells story of workers who set out alternative to job losses by creating socially useful products and technology
Bill Mullins, Lewisham and Southwark Socialist Party
‘The plan that came from the bottom up’ is a new film about the ‘Lucas Plan’, developed by shop stewards at Lucas Aerospace in the Midlands in 1976, to make socially useful products rather than armaments used to kill people.
In the 1970s, under a Labour government, the first wave of what became the wholesale deindustrialisation of Britain swept hundreds of thousands of jobs away forever.
As the film makes clear, this wasn’t the normal result of booms and slumps – which bring periodic unemployment. This was ‘structural unemployment’.
Lucas Aerospace had a dozen different factories mainly in the Birmingham area. Its workers faced the prospect of their jobs becoming increasingly deskilled and lost as automation took over.
The shop stewards’ committee representing 18,000 workers approached the Labour government for help.
The industry minister at the time was Tony Benn, a leading figure in the Labour left, and he is seen in the film a number of times standing shoulder to shoulder with various groups of workers around the country from different industries.
Benn told the Lucas shop stewards that many other sectors facing closures and redundancies were asking for government aid and, as the film implies, they were also asking for the Labour government to nationalise them.
He suggested to the shop stewards that they come up with a plan that would help him argue their case to the Labour cabinet. That is where the film starts.
From the beginning, it is clear that it was the normal thing to do at the time – in the face of threats to jobs – for the workers of various industries to ask for nationalisation.
The film features a series of interesting shots of the struggles of workers throughout the 1970s, which give an indication of the volatile atmosphere at the time.
It includes footage from the ‘work-in’ at the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1971, and from strikes and occupations across the whole of the manufacturing sector, many of which have been forgotten in time.
In my view it would be of enormous benefit to the new generation if these films were made widely available in short segments. The film is 212 minutes long. No doubt the makers could reduce the time to more manageable proportions.
But aside from that the film is tremendously uplifting. It allows the main actors, the Lucas shop stewards themselves, to tell their story.
Former Labour MP Dave Nellist, who features in the film, says: “In one scene about the shipbuilders’ occupation a worker says ‘economics shouldn’t control men, men should control economics’. That’s what the Lucas Shop Stewards Combine tried to do.
“Instead of submitting to redundancies, or to a continual deskilling and fragmentation of their work, they tried to take control of how they worked, what they designed and what they built. To take over that power of management’s ‘right’ to manage”.
Brian Salisbury, one of the original Lucas shop stewards, says he started out as an ordinary shop steward representing members on the normal things like wages and health and safety but had to rethink how they could make the work that they do more useful to society.
They involved all their members in coming up with the Lucas Plan, which included an astounding 129 separate products that could be made for socially useful purposes using the existing machinery and workforce.
They were possibly the first to come up with the idea of a hybrid car using a petrol engine to charge the battery which in turn drove the car.
They proposed using the existing heat exchanges made by Lucas for military aircraft to instead heat blocks of flats.
They conceived of the first known wind turbines to develop electricity using the existing components made for military purposes.
There were other outstanding products. These included a railroad bus that could run on concrete rail which would be more suitable for the developing world. All these ideas they put to the management but were completely ignored. But the Lucas Plan was heard in the wider labour movement.
As one of the workers said in a question and answer session afterwards: “We wanted workers to have as much power as shareholders”.
But Dave Nellist comments: “Unfortunately, that was the problem. Shareholders collectively own a company, and can therefore set its direction. The workers at Lucas never collectively owned their company – for that it would have had to be nationalised.”
All in all a film definitely worth seeing.
- Released October 2018, see theplandocumentary.com for more details and screening information