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Seminar: Adrian Smith on the Lucas Plan

5th February 2014 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm


‘Recalling the Lucas Plan: what can an old movement for socially useful production tell us about democratising technology today?’

Adrian Smith, STEPS Centre/SPRU
5 February 2014
1pm, room G22, SPRU
Jubilee Building, University of Sussex

Adrian Smith will be presenting his work on the Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards Alternative Corporate Plan, also known as the Lucas Plan. This seminar coincides with the publication of his Working Paper on the movement for socially useful production.

It is thirty-eight years since a movement for ‘socially useful production’ pioneered practical approaches for more democratic technology development. Of course, the world is different now. Nevertheless, remembering older initiatives casts enduring issues about the direction of technological development in society in a different and informative light: an issue relevant today in debates as varied as industrial policy, green and solidarity economies, and grassroots digital fabrication.

It was in January 1976 that workers at Lucas Aerospace published an Alternative Plan for the future of their corporation. It was a novel response to management announcements that thousands of manufacturing jobs were to be cut in the face of industrial restructuring, international competition, and technological change. Instead of redundancy, workers argued their right to socially useful production.

Rejected by management and government, the Plan’s arguments attracted workers from other sectors, community activists, radical scientists, environmentalists, and the Left. The Plan became symbolic for a movement of activists committed to innovation for purposes of social use over private profit. With hindsight, the movement was swimming against the political and economic tide, but at the time things looked less clear-cut, and some of their ideas did prove influential. Recalling the movement now, what is striking is the importance activists attached to practical engagements in technology development as part of their politics. We will discuss the relevance today of old questions connecting tacit knowledge and participatory prototyping to the political economy of technology development.

This research is part of the STEPS Centre’s project Grassroots Innovation: historical and comparative perspectives.

Working Paper: Socially Useful Production

STEPS Working Paper 58
by Adrian Smith

A history and analysis is provided of the movement for socially useful production, which flourished for a brief period in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s. Swimming against the rising tide of neo-liberalism, activists provided both a critique of the existing institutions for innovation in society, and developed a set of practical initiatives that explored and anticipated more directly democratic processes for socially shaping technologies.

View abstract
Download the paper (pdf, 980 kb)

Lucas Plan documentary

A 1978 film made for the Open University explains how the Lucas Plan developed, and includes interviews with shop stewards, other company workers and politicians.


5th February 2014
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
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Room G22, SPRU
Jubilee Building, University of Sussex
Brighton, BN1 9SL
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