Skip to main content

The Right to Useful Work

In her article for the Guardian, Green jobs: a utopia we nearly had, Green jobs: a utopia we nearly had, Anna Karpf revisits workers' plans for their enterprises to produce socially useful goods, which unleashed much creative energy during the 1970s and continue to resonate to this day.

"Four decades ago, a green way out of recession was proposed. Lucas Aerospace, a major designer and manufacturer of combat aircraft and missile systems, planned to close a number of factories and make 20% of its 18,000-strong workforce redundant. The shop stewards combine committee, representing the 13 different trades unions in the company, decided to draw up "an alternative corporate plan for socially useful and environmentally desirable production". It sent out a questionnaire to the company's 17 plants, as well as outside experts, asking for an inventory of skills and machinery that already existed, and ideas about what they should make.

The company's workers – both blue and white collar – responded enthusiastically. Of the 150 ideas that poured in, the committee chose 12 to present in its 1976 plan, among them a portable life-support system, a safer braking system for buses and coaches, robotic devices for remote-control firefighting and mining, and hobcarts to help people with spina bifida get around. Some of the products look dated today; others, such as a hybrid car (essentially a Toyota Prius), were prescient; still others, such as a road-rail vehicle of particular use in developing countries, remain innovative.

The plan generated enormous excitement. The MP Bob Cryer described its strategy of jobs for peace instead of destruction as "one of the most important moral crusades that this country has seen in the 20th century ...
"

The Right to Useful Work, edited by Ken Coates, has a section on Shop Stewards' Alternative Industrial Plans which includes Mike Cooley's landmark essay on 'Design, Technology and Production for Social Needs'. The Institute for Worker's Control Pamphlet, Lucas: An Alternative Plan sets out how the workers proposed to change the company's operation in order to produce transport systems, braking systems and other sophisticated manufactures.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Jeremy Corbyn: Internationalist at Work

Another featured article from the latest issue of The Spokesman comes from the 2011 edition of J. A. Hobson's Imperialism. Jeremy Corbyn penned the book's foreword, which we reprint here under the title 'Internationalist at Work'.
As a separate point of interest, we also include this comparative image of the logo of publication The Week, circa 1960s, and Corbyn's recent campaign logo. Cut from the same cloth? 





Internationalist at Work
J. A. Hobson wrote his great tome at a different age. His thoughts were dominated by the zenith of the British Empire and the Boer War. The outcome of the war demonstrated Britain’s then ability in sustaining global reach, since Elizabethan times, but also its extreme vulnerability. At home the poor physique of working class soldiers led to Haldane’s investigation into working class health and living conditions. The difficulty in containing the rebellious Boers, and the huge opposition to the war, encouraged further doubts about the whol…

'Not as dumb as he looks' - Muhammad Ali on Bertrand Russell

In his autobiography The Greatest: My Own Story, Muhammad Ali recounts how Bertrand Russell got in contact with him, and their ensuing correspondence:


***
For days I was talking to people from a whole new world. People who were not even interested in sports, especially prizefighting. One in particular I will never forget: a remarkable man, seventy years older than me but with a fresh outlook which seemed fairer than that of any white man I had ever met in America.
My brother Rahaman had handed me the phone, saying, ‘Operator says a Mr. Bertrand Russell is calling Mr. Muhammad Ali.’ I took it and heard the crisp accent of an Englishman: ‘Is this Muhammad Ali?’ When I said it was, he asked if I had been quoted correctly.
I acknowledged that I had been, but wondered out loud, ‘Why does everyone want to know what I think about Viet Nam? I’m no politician, no leader. I’m just an athlete.’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘this is a war more barbaric than others, and because a mystique is built up around a cham…

Keywords: Art, Culture and Society in 1980s Britain

Tate Liverpool: Exhibition 28 February – 11 May 2014
Adult £8.80 (without donation £8) Concession £6.60 (without donation £6)
Help Tate by including the voluntary donation to enable Gift Aid

Keywords: Art, Culture and Society in 1980s Britain, is a new take on how the changes in the meaning of words reflect the cultural shifts in our society. This dynamic exhibition takes its name and focus from the seminal 1976 Raymond Williams book on the vocabulary of culture and society.
An academic and critic influenced by the New Left, Williams defined ‘Keywords’ as terms that repeatedly crop up in our discussion of culture and society. His book contains more than 130 short essays on words such as ‘violence’, ‘country’, ‘criticism’, ‘media’, ‘popular’ and ‘exploitation’ providing an account of the word’s current use, its origin and the range of meanings attached to it. Williams expressed the wish some other ‘form of presentation could be devised’ for his book, and this exhibition is one such int…