A working paper by Adrian Smith tells the story of the ‘socially useful production’ movement in the 1970s and 80s, in particular the Lucas Plan, and its lessons for how we might think about democratising technology today.
Socially Useful Production
STEPS Working Paper 58
by Adrian Smith
An article on the Guardian’s Political Science blog introduces the story. A 1978 film about the Lucas Plan is now also available to watch online, thanks to the help of Prof Dave Elliott at the Open University and Prof David Uzzell at the University of Surrey.
More about the Lucas Plan and socially useful production
In 1976, facing the cuts of thousands of jobs, workers at the British company Lucas Aerospace published an Alternative Plan for the future of their corporation. The Lucas Plan is one of the key artefacts of the movement for socially useful production, which flourished for a brief period in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s.
Adrian Smith has also published an article on the Guardian’s Political Science blog, reflecting on the wider lessons that can be drawn from this story.
“The [Lucas] Plan became symbolic for a movement of activists committed to innovation for purposes of social use over private profit.
Of course, the world is different now. The spaces and opportunities for democratising technology have altered, and so too have the forms it might take. Nevertheless, remembering older initiatives casts enduring issues about the direction of technological development in society in a different and informative light…
Even though activism dissipated, its ideas did not disappear. Some practices had wider influence, such as in participatory design, albeit it in forms appropriated to the needs of capital rather than the intended interests of labour.”
The Lucas Plan is also examined in a 2014 article by Adrian Smith for the Journal of Peer Production, ‘Technology Networks for Socially Useful Production’.
Lucas Plan documentary
This film documents the story of the 1976 Lucas Plan, an unusual episode in British corporate history. Shop stewards from Lucas Aerospace, facing massive redundancies, developed their own plan to safeguard their jobs by moving the business into alternative technologies that would meet social needs, as well as new methods of production.
It was provided from the Open University’s archive by Prof David Uzzell at the University of Surrey, who acquired the film as part of research on Lucas (Räthzel, N., Uzzell, D., & Elliott, D. (2010) Can trade unions become environmental innovators? Soundings, 46(46), 76–87).
The film has been posted to coincide with STEPS Working Paper 58, Socially Useful Production, which examines the movement for socially useful production which flourished briefly in the UK in the 1970s and 80s.
This research is part of the STEPS Centre’s project Grassroots Innovation: historical and comparative perspectives.