Thursday, 19 April 2018

Why Remainers Should Vote Green in the Local Elections


The local authority elections on 3 May, are the last full scale elections in England before our departure from the European Union in March 2019. Yes, it looks like we will get a transitional deal which will last for almost two further years, when to all intents and purposes nothing will change, but we will no longer be a member of the EU. So, this is the last chance to send a message to the Labour and Tory parties, whose leaderships are in favour leaving.

The Greens have consistently opposed leaving the EU, at the referendum itself and since the vote. The Greens want a referendum on the final terms negotiated by the government, before we leave the organisation. Given the lies about NHS spending, the probable breaching of spending rules during the campaign and the probable misuse of personal data now exposed, even some leave voters that I know are regretting their decision, and would like the opportunity to put it right.

The Greens recognise that environmental matters need to be dealt with internationally to be effective, and the EU has improved environmental conditions in the UK, like cleaning up coastal waters and beaches and forcing the UK government to improve air quality. The Greens also worry about the environmental effects of moving to trading with far flung countries in terms of increasing carbon emissions with long haul transportation. The Greens also have concerns over food standards and general democratic accountability that goes with all of the global trade deals in operation already. 

The Tory leadership is held hostage by probably about 70 or 80 hard line Brexiter MPs, easily enough to bring down the government in Parliament, so even if there was desire to reverse or soften the result, which I don’t think there is, the hard liners are calling the shots. Labour has generally fudged its position, but has softened its stance a little with the recent conversion to remaining in ‘a customs union’ with the EU, but wants to leave the single market, end the free movement of people, and won’t hold a referendum on the terms of exit.

Apart from the Greens the only other sizable national party in England to oppose Brexit, and want a referendum on the final terms of our leaving the EU, are the Lib Dems. But the Lib Dems are slippery in general, leaning to the right in Tory held areas and to the left in Labour held areas. You can’t really trust them to be principled about almost anything. Most of all they entered a coalition with the Tories at national level in 2010.

If the Lib Dems hadn’t propped up the minority, austerity obsessed Tory government for five years, we probably wouldn’t have even had a referendum on EU membership in 2016. Although no longer in coalition since the Tories won a small overall majority in Parliament in 2015, I think it unlikely this would have happened if the Tories were forced to be a minority government in 2010, and probably would not have lasted a full five years. The Lib Dems bear responsibility for where we have ended up today, so they should not be rewarded by Remain voters.

The Greens and Lib Dems did not do well at last year’s general election, but my bet is that many Remain voters voted Labour because they saw it as the best way to shackle the Tories who were offering the hardest version of Brexit. I think people had tired of Tory austerity too, which the Lib Dems were party to, but with the First Past The Post electoral system, anything other than voting Labour was a risk in most places.

3 May has no such risk, because we are not electing a government, only local councils with very little power. Which is not to say that these elections are unimportant, because local councillors can make a positive difference to local government. Indeed elected Greens do this all the time. Greens have defended social housing for example, against attacks from councils controlled by Labour mainly. You can see what Green councillors have achieved in local government here.

But this a golden opportunity for Remainers to send a message to The Tories and Labour, without having to sully themselves by endorsing the toxic Lib Dems. Vote Green on 3 May to proclaim you support staying in the EU.     

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Tory Immigration Narrative Caught Pandering to Racism Again



Credit to the Guardian for exposing the plight of the ‘Windrush’ generation, whose parents brought them from British Caribbean countries to the UK in the 1950s and 1960s, and who have had their lives ruined by the Home Office’s administrative cruelty. The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, was forced to apologise to Parliament and the people effected for her department’s ‘appalling’ actions. 

Some of these people may have already been deported, although they were in the UK perfectly legally, but were unable to provide the documentary proof required by the Home Office. Others still in the UK have been put into detention centres for illegal immigrants. Most came as children with parents encouraged to migrate to Britain after the second world war, to drive our buses and work on the railways, rebuilding the country.

This latest stance on immigration from the government goes back to 2013 when the Prime Minister, Theresa May was Home Secretary and announced a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants, and sent vans around areas with high ethnic populations, saying basically ‘go home.’

It was a response to the failure of the Tory government to make good their pledge to cut immigration to the ‘tens of thousands,’ when it carried on in the hundreds of thousands. It was to spin that they were doing something about immigration, because it was deemed to be electorally popular, perhaps correctly.

The law now requires employers and private landlords to check the immigration status of employees and tenants, and these people, even those still here are in a kind of limbo, where they are not allowed to claim benefits, work, get medical treatment or rent a home. Bank accounts are also often frozen. 

This in turn leads to Ministers informing senior civil servants of the government’s wishes, and the officials then try to put them into practice. The ‘hostile environment’ intention could only be interpreted in one way, to make immigrants, or those who they deemed to be immigrants, illegal in the first assessment. The burden of proof being put on the individual, when surely some official records existed, like school registers? It is much easier for government to trace these things than it is for individuals.

So, I don’t think Amber Rudd can blame this on her department’s officials entirely, when the lead signals were coming from her government on this.

This week’s news was on the back of a U-Turn by the Prime Minister, on meeting Caribbean leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in London. May turned down the request for a meeting about the fate of the Windrush generation, but has since said she will meet with these leaders.

The ‘hostile environment’ also feeds into the Brexit narrative, with Rudd suggesting after the Brexit vote that employers should publish lists of immigrant workers they employ. This was quickly dropped though as businesses objected and some likened it to wearing yellow stars. But again it was driven by the government’s desire to look tough on immigration.

The way the government has handled the issue of the status of EU nationals post Brexit, also feeds the anti-immigrant narrative. The British wanted to exclude new comers to the UK from the EU, during the transitional period once we leave the EU. The UK had to concede this as it was a EU red line for the deal. 

No guarantees have be given either on whether EU nationals will be allowed to stay in the UK, as the British government is always keen to proclaim ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ with our future arrangements with the EU. The implication being that if we don’t end up with a deal of our liking, these individuals may well be deported. No wonder EU nationals are nervous. 

And the government even treats British citizens like this too, forcing them to leave the country if they do not earn the £18,600 per year required to bring their non-EU wife or husband to live with them.

It is fifty years on from Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood speech’ about the dangers of diluting the British white race with dark skinned immigrants, which proved to be wrong as history panned out. It is clear though there is still an undercurrent of racism in this country, which unscrupulous politicians can tap into with populist rhetoric about immigration. The government should be ashamed of themselves, rather than trying to blame civil servants for this debacle.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Is Eco-Socialism Under Attack?



Many on the Scottish left are avowed eco-socialists – but what does this mean? And to what extent do we factor in environmental concerns to our ideas and proposals? Aberdeen Greens co-convener Guy Ingerson offers a short, sharp shock. First published at Conter.

Every day, the exploitation of people and ecosystems causes suffering and environmental destruction on a vast scale. We are living through – and responsible for – the sixth mass extinction event our world has seen. Species are falling like dominoes because of our careless consumer consumption. Eco-socialists argue these problems are fundamentally caused by our economic and political system: neoliberalism.

We seek to restore 'the commons', collective cultural, economic and environmental capital managed in a way that doesn’t eat our planet’s natural resources. We believe this restoration of the commons, through collective and common ownership, is how we can save species, and fundamentally ourselves, in Scotland and across the globe.

There's a perception that such an approach is only advocated by the left of the Green party, but it spans a variety of political movements. Greens co-convener Caroline Lucas, Dutch trade unionist Jesse Klaver and former French Presidential hopeful Jean-Luc Melenchon, for example, are all politicians with different outlooks and different solutions, but they all share a commitment to both workers and the environment.

For eco-socialists, both are intimately linked in a way that many of our populist left movements fail to recognise. Ecological issues are too often dismissed as concerns of the middle class – we need to build solidarity by understanding how working class communities deal with environmental degradation first-hand.

My hometown of Aberdeen tends to be seen as a typical paradox: the high-polluting fossil fuel industry is perceived to have lifted working class people to relative prosperity. But when the oil price crashed, it shook the city to its core. Our 'security' was exposed as an illusion and workers were the ones who took the hit for the market's failures. Over 100,000 jobs were lost in the oil sector – suddenly the Scottish economy's North Eastern 'behemoth' is on its last legs.

Media coverage has been tepid: local businesses and politicians delude themselves that the oil price will 'bounce back' and all will be well. But unsustainable industries like this won't bring lasting prosperity. Aberdeen just risks becoming another coal town. I had been working in the oil industry for a decade when the price crash hit and finally opened my eyes. In 2015 I left the SNP and joined the Scottish Greens – the only party in Holyrood that had a plan for life after oil.


Workers all around the world are putting these issues back on the agenda and joining movements with an eco-socialist agenda. But here, and further afield, the neo-liberal system is fighting back, and fighting hard. Environmental, social and economic empowerment is dangerous for powerful elites and their interests. And these individuals and groups aren't always recognisable to the naked eye: the actions they take are as multifarious as the faces they wear.

Murder, intimidation and corrupt legal systems are the weapons of an elite under threat. Just as workers are systemically oppressed and disincentivised from joining together to campaign for their rights, eco-socialists seeking to protect our environment are criminalised. There are many examples: Brazilian rubber tapper Chico Mendes was assassinated in 1988 for attempting to protect the Amazon rainforest. Elsewhere, Catalan Green Raul Romeva, and Turkish Green leftists Naci Sönmez and Eylem Tunceli have all been arrested for their activism over the past year.

Closer to home, Labour continues to support the renewal of Britain’s weapons of mass destruction, despite Trident’s outrageous cost diverting cash from much-needed public services. In Sheffield, Labour threatened a Green councillor with legal action for campaigning to save thousands of trees. In this context, Owen Jones’s call for Greens to affiliate with the Labour Party feels disingenuous.

And yes, the issue of Brexit is another area where eco-socialists are leading the fight. The European Union isn't perfect, but nature doesn't recognise borders. The raw facts are that the agreements that have been forged to protect our ecosystems are in jeopardy. Our Conservative government is anxious to shred regulations and worker protections, pursuing damaging trade deals and racing not just to the bottom, but through the floor.

There are still reasons for hope. Despite the divide-and-rule tactics used by neo-liberal politicians, more and more people are recognising the vital link between social and environmental issues. Progress might be slow, patchy and hard fought but it's steady. From New Zealand to right here in Scotland, we're leading change in communities and bringing some light into the dark corridors of power. People are listening to the message of sustainability, job security and the need for communities to be invested in political decisions – a message at the heart of eco-socialism.

It's why I'm inspired by the likes of Susan Rae, the once homeless Edinburgh Greens councillor, who now speaks about influencing how our common wealth is managed from the city chambers. So while eco-socialism might be under attack, there are incremental changes being made all over the place. She firmly believes such a prospectus can save her city – and I believe the same for mine.

@guy_ingerson

Saturday, 14 April 2018

UK Engages in Expensive Gesture Politics in Syria

Damage to the Syrian Scientific Research Center after it was attacked by U.S., British and French military strikes to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians, in Barzeh, near Damascus (credit NBC News).

In the early hours of Saturday the US, France and UK military forces launched a missile attack on targets in Syria, as a response to the alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian forces last week. The Pentagon says three targets were hit by more than a hundred missiles. The facilities hit were used in the production of chemical weapons according to the Pentagon and has reduced Syria’s capability to produce these weapons. Missiles were launched from aircraft and ships.

At the time of writing information is short on the extent of the damage on the ground and whether there have been any civilian casualties resulting from the strikes. It is hard to believe there were none, from what we have seen in the past when cruise missiles are used in urban areas, like Saturday’s attack. If the reports coming out of the US, France and UK are correct and these sites did indeed hold chemical weapons, then there is surely a risk of chemicals being released into the atmosphere?

For the UK’s part, official reports say that four Tornado war planes took part in the attack, launching cruise missiles while airborne, probably from outside of Syrian airspace. It costs millions of pounds to use one these missiles, so the raid will have run into approaching half a billion pounds to the UK taxpayer, when we have been told for the last eight years that the country is skint, and can’t afford decent public services. How many nurses and police officers could that pay for? Quite few, I think.

The UK prime minister, Theresa May, took the decision to authorise the attack while Parliament is still on Easter recess. MPs return on Monday when Parliament reopens, and an emergency debate will be held, in retrospect. Constitutionally, it is not entirely clear that May is allowed to take military action, without the approval of Parliament.

This is because the British constitution in general is not clear, it is not written down in any one document, like the US constitution, but rather has evolved over time and has many different feeds into what is constitutional. May will claim that she doesn’t need Parliament’s approval, and in some ways she is right. Declaring war was always a subject that attracted the Royal Prerogative, like other foreign policy issues.

But the British constitution is in many cases based on conventions. In 2003, Tony Blair to his credit, allowed a debate and vote on the UK getting involved in the invasion of Iraq, although he didn’t have to constitutionally. I think he wanted the extra cover this would provide him with, because the action was controversial in the country at large. David Cameron followed suit when he was prime minister and wanted to bomb Syria. Cameron unlike Blair lost the vote in Parliament.

What this did was to establish a convention, that when acts of war are being authorised, Parliament should have a say, and take the final decision. So, from this point of view, May’s actions are unconstitutional. This illustrates why we need a proper written down constitution, rather than the mixed bag of a one that the UK currently has.  

The attack appears to have been careful to avoid Russian military casualties, and Russia was given advance warning of the operation. The scale is also fairly limited, but is being justified as a deterrent to Syria’s president Assad using chemical weapons again. I find this unconvincing. The US bombed Syria a year ago with the same reasoning, but appear to have not deterred this latest use of chemical weapons, if they were used, which is still not fully established.

So, the assumption is that this is just an expensive gesture type of politics, which has no further justification or aims. A deadly but futile gesture. I hope MPs put the prime minister on the spot on Monday, because I can’t see what this action was meant to meaningfully achieve?  

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Half of Young Eastern European Nationals have Experienced Racism since Brexit Vote



Researchers from the Universities of Strathclyde, Plymouth and Durham, have compiled a report of a survey of 12 to18 year olds from Eastern European countries, living in the UK, entitled ‘Here to Stay?’ The study is important because it presents the first analysis since the Brexit Referendum on how current plans for Britain to leave the European Union (EU) are impacting on young Eastern Europeans’ lives.

1,100 young people were surveyed and on a range of issues including Brexit and their plans for the future. Nearly half (49.2%) said that they have personally experienced racism since the Brexit referendum in 2016. The majority (77%) of these young people said they had experienced racism because of their nationality, accent or the way that they look. For 1 in 5 young people (18.7%) these racist experiences happen ‘often’ or ‘very often.’

These experiences ranged from ‘everyday racism’ such as name calling, ‘jokes’ and friendly banter over accents, looks or country of origin, to physical attacks on young people, their family members and damage to their homes or property. These incidents included face-to-face and online attacks.

Marlyn, a 16 year old young Polish woman who took part in the survey said:

“At my house when my neighbour called my brother an immigrant (although he was born here), at school I had people telling me to fuck off back to my country, a girl throwing bricks and rocks at me and yelling racist things and more incidents.”

The Brexit Referendum has created a more divided society. These young people say that the debates on Brexit have polarised communities into pro and against Europe and European citizens. For many young people who have migrated to the UK as children, Britain is their home and social divisions make them feel unwelcome and anxious.

Many of those surveyed said that they had altered their accents to appear to be British and even the way they dress. Many now feel that their future may lie away from the UK and are studying other European languages, for when they finish their education. Dorota, an 18 year old young Polish women said:

“I don’t want to stay in a country in which I need to hide my nationality to be treated equally. I’m learning German now so that my job prospects will not be limited after I finish university and move out of Britain.”

When asked about how they felt about the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the majority said that they felt ‘uncertain’, ‘worried’ or ‘scared’ over their future, others reported feeling ‘sad’ and ‘angry.’

The UK government should have guaranteed the right to stay in this country to EU nationals immediately after the referendum result. Indeed, even a leading Brexiter, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, said at the time, that 'it was the decent thing to do.’ But it didn’t happen, the government wanted to use these people as bargaining chips in the exit negotiations with the EU.

The whole Brexit process has been a shameful exercise for the UK. By guaranteeing the right to stay here unilaterally, it would have been seen as a gesture of goodwill on the part of Britain by the EU, but the reverse has been true. These people and their parents came to this country, completely legally and in good faith. No wonder many of the young people surveyed feel worried about the future for them in the UK.

The spike in hate crimes committed against EU nationals after the referendum has left me feeling ashamed to be British (English). I reported on this blog shortly after the referendum on the extent of the almost casual racism that had emerged. This is a short quote, but there are more examples in the post.

‘In Gloucester, Max Fras said he was in a Tesco supermarket on Friday night with his young son when a white man became agitated in the queue for the checkout and began yelling: “This is England now, foreigners have 48 hours to fuck right off. Who is foreign here? Anyone foreign?”

Fras said the man began quizzing people in the queue about where they were from. “He pointed at another gentleman in front of him and said: ‘Where are you from, are you Spanish? Are you Italian? Are you Romanian?’ And he said ‘No, I’m English’,” said Fras.’

Things appear to have not improved in the nearly two years since the referendum. It is shocking that we have come to this, in a once reasonably tolerant country.

You can read more about the project at: www.migrantyouth.org

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A New Party for the Right ‘Centre’ Ground?



The Observer reported at the weekend on plans for a new centre party in UK politics. This new party will apparently have at least £50 million in funds and is backed by a network of entrepreneurs, philanthropists and donors. As The Observer says:

‘Senior figures from the worlds of business and charity are understood to be involved, as well as former supporters of the main parties, including a number of former Tory donors.’

A final decision has not yet been taken as to whether the new formation will become an electoral party or whether it will instead fund community activity to try and influence other political parties. The organisation has had full time staff working for it for the past year.

It will apparently take ideas from both the left and right of the political spectrum, and might well look something like new Labour. Tony Blair, one of the main architects of new Labour in the 1990s, stopped short of backing the new party, speaking on the BBC Today programme, but said that there is a huge gap on the centre ground in UK politics. Blair commented:

“What is most sensible is for both of the main parties to realise they can pour scorn on people who are thinking of these things, but ultimately they’ve got to understand there is a constituency in this country which is socially liberal, in favour of strong methods of social justice, but also believes in a well-run enterprising economy.”

Opinion polling suggests that most people tend to define their political views as centrist, but that can be misleading. Terms like moderate are often used to describe centrist views and words like extreme, for off centre views, of right or left. I think people like to hedge their bets a bit by saying they are in the centre politically, also.

People’s view of what the centre in politics is can vary as well, but it is likely there is political space for some kind of centrist view, but what appears to be being suggested sounds very much like a pro-EU liberal establishment type party. This type of political view has taken a bit of a battering though in recent times.

The Lib Dems, an established, self styled centrist party, pro-EU too, did poorly at last year’s general election and are only polling around 7% at the moment. They did of course blot their copybook by entering a coalition with the Tories in 2010, and bear much responsibility for the situation we find ourselves in today.

£50 million can buy you a lot of publicity but any new party needs to put down roots and inspire activists at local level. This normally takes quite a long time to achieve though.

Comparisons have quickly been made with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) of the 1980s in the UK. After a blaze of publicity in the media, they got to 50% in the opinion polls at one stage, but finished up with only 23 Parliamentary seats, in the 1983 general election. By the end of the decade they had disbanded, after coming behind the Monster Raving Loony party at a by-election, except those who joined the then Liberal party, to form the Lib Dems.

The First Past the Post electoral system in the UK makes it very difficult for new parties to win representation, which was the fate of the SDP. Inspiration it seems is being taken from Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election last year. He formed a new party, En Marche (Forward) pretty much from scratch, but he was known as a politician after serving in François Hollande's Socialist party government.

The Five Star Movement did very well in Italy’s recent general election and it was started by Beppe Grillo, a comedian only nine years ago. This party does seem to take from the left and right in terms of policies. En Marche, is basically a new Labour clone. Both these successes though have come about in more proportional electoral systems, which makes things a bit easier.

The centre of British politics shifted massively to the right when Margaret Thatcher became Tory party leader in the 1970s. The SDP manifesto for the 1983 general election was considered centrist at the time, but was similar to what the Labour party offered at last year’s general election, and was labelled ‘far left.’

My bet is that this new centrist party doesn’t get off the ground, but let’s not be fooled it is centrist only in relation to the neo-liberal consensus. In most respects, it is a right wing ideological grouping, and we have plenty of them around already.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Bringing Back the Lucas Plan - Worker Controlled Eco-centric Production



Written by Felix Holtwell and first published at Notes from Below

We got to do something now, the company are not going to do anything and we got to protect ourselves,” proclaimed a shop steward at Lucas Aerospace when filmed by a 1978 documentary by the Open University.

He was explaining the rationale behind the so-called Alternative Corporate Plan, better known as the Lucas Plan. It was proposed by shop stewards in seventies England at the factories of Lucas Aerospace. To stave off pending layoffs, a shop steward committee established a plan that outlined a range of new, socially useful technologies for Lucas to build. With it, they fundamentally challenged the capitalist conception of technology design.

Essentially, they proposed that workers establish control over the design of technology. This bottom-up attempt at design, where not management and capitalists but workers themselves decided what to build, eventually failed. It was stopped by management, sidelined by struggling trade unions and the Labour Party, and eventually washed over by neoliberalism.

The seventies were a heady time, the preceding social-democratic, fordist consensus ran into its own contradictions and died in the face of a triumphant neoliberalism. With it, experiments such as the Lucas Plan died as well. Today, however, neoliberalism is in crisis and to bury it we should look back to precisely those experiments that failed decades ago.
  
Technology’s Neoliberal Crisis

One part of the crisis of neoliberalism is the crisis of its technology. The software and information technology sector, often denoted as ‘tech’, is facing widespread criticism and attacks, with demands for reform stretching wide across society. Even an establishment publication such as The New York Times now publishes a huge feature headlining: The Case Against Google, about Google’s use of their near monopoly on search to bury competitors’ sites.

Other controversies revolve around companies such as Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter making use of insights into human psychology to make people interact with their products more often and more intensely. This involves everything from gamifying social interaction through ‘likes’ and making the notification button on Facebook red, to the ubiquity of unlimited vertical scrolling in mobile phone apps.

This has a number of consequences. Studies show that the presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity, that Facebook use is negatively associated with well-being and that preteens with no access to screens for some time show better social skills than those with screen time.

In public discourse, this combines with fears that social media might harmfully impact political processes (basically Russia buying Facebook ads).

Or, as ex-Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya stated:

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works, hearts, likes, thumbs-up. No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem – this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

Early employees and execs at Facebook and Google even created the Center for Humane Tech that will propose more humanised tech design choices. Their website states:

“Our world-class team of deeply concerned former tech insiders and CEOs intimately understands the culture, business incentives, design techniques, and organizational structures driving how technology hijacks our minds.”

Part of this are the usual worries about intergenerational change, technology and centrism starting to fall apart, but there is a core truth in the worries about social media: design of technology is political.

Technologies are designed by capitalist firms, and they do it for capitalist purposes, not for maximising human well-being. In the case of social media, it is designed to pull as much attention as possible into the platform and the ads shown on it. As Chris Marcellino, a former Apple engineer who worked on the iPhone, has said:

“It is not inherently evil to bring people back to your product, it’s capitalism.”

The Lucas Plan

This brings us back to the Lucas Plan. At a time where the design of technology is under unprecedented scrutiny, a plan that pushes for workers’ control over it might be an answer. The Plan was a truly remarkable experiment at the time. The University of Sussex’s Adrian Smith explains:

“Over the course of a year they built up their Plan on the basis of the knowledge, skills, experience, and needs of workers and the communities in which they lived. The results included designs for over 150 alternative products. The Plan included market analyses and economic argument; proposed employee training that enhanced and broadened skills; and suggested re-organising work into less hierarchical teams that bridged divisions between tacit knowledge on the shop floor and theoretical engineering knowledge in design shops.

“The Financial Times described the Lucas Plan as, ‘one of the most radical alternative plans ever drawn up by workers for their company’ (Financial Times, 23 January 1976). It was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. The New Statesman claimed (1st July 1977) ‘The philosophical and technical implications of the plan are now being discussed on average of twenty five times a week in international media’.”

The Lucas Plan eventually failed because of opposition from management, the trade union hierarchy and the government. Lucas Aerospace subsequently had to restructure and shed much of its workforce. Nevertheless, the plan provides great lessons for our current predicament.

Technology is political, yet its design is ultimately in the hands of capitalist firms. The Lucas Plan shows that workers, particularly in the more technically-oriented layers, have the skills and resources to design alternative technologies to those proposed by shareholders and management.

Workers’ control over the design of technology is thus a way to make it more ethical. Many of the problems we encounter with modern-day information technology are caused by unrestricted capitalist control over it, and workers’ control can be a necessary counterweight to push through human-centered design choices.


Composition

So, how to build a modern-day Lucas Plan? Developing a plan reminiscent of the Lucas Plan for modern times needs, first and foremost, to be based on the present-day class composition of the workers in tech.

Tech, and more precisely sectors focused on information technology and software, have a notoriously dual composition. On the one hand there are the (generally) highly paid top-end workers, mostly composed of programmers and people employed in fields such as marketing and management. On the other hand there are large armies of underpaid workers employed in functions such as moderation, electronics assembly, warehouse logistics or catering.

The first group has very peculiar characteristics. They are often taken in by the classic Silicon Valley ideology consisting of ‘lean startup’ thinking, social liberalism, and the idea that they are improving the world. Materially, they are also different from large sections of the working class. They earn extremely high wages, are often highly educated, possess specific technical skills, are given significant stock options in their employers’ companies and are highly mobile, notorious for changing jobs very easily.

Besides that, many also have an aspiration to start their own startup one day, in line with Silicon Valley ideology. This adds a certain petty-bourgeois flavour to their composition.

Yet these workers also have their grievances. They are often employed in soul-crushing jobs at large multinationals, some of which (for example Amazon or Tesla) have the reputation of making them work as much as they can and then spitting them out, often in a state of burn-out.

On the other hand, there are subaltern sections of tech workers. These people moderate offensive content on Facebook, stack Amazon boxes in their “fulfillment centres,” drive people around on Uber and Lyft, assemble electronics such as iPhones or serve lunches at Silicon Valley corporate “campuses.”

These workers are generally underpaid, but conduct the drudging work that makes tech multinationals run. Without Facebook moderators watching horrible content all day, the platform would be flooded by it (and Facebook would have no one to train their AI on); without the fleet of elderly workers manning Amazon warehouses, packages would not get delivered; without the staff on Google and Facebook campuses, they would look a lot less utopian.

This section of workers can also be highly mobile in regards to jobs, but less from possibility and more from precarity. They also have fewer ties to the tech sector specifically – whether they work at the warehouses of a self-styled tech company like Blue Apron or the warehouses of any other company matters less for them than it does for programmers.

This bifurcation holds real problems for a modern-day Lucas Plan. If we simply move the control over the design of technology from management and shareholders to a tech worker aristocracy, it might not solve so much.

Yet there are some hopeful tendencies we can build on. Tech workers in Silicon Valley have started to bridge the divide that separates them, with organisations like the Tech Workers Coalition (TWC) starting to help cafeteria workers organise.

A Guardian piece on their organising even observes some budding solidarity between these two groups arising:

“Khaleed is proud of the work he does, and deeply grateful for the union. At first, he found it difficult to talk about his anxieties with coworkers at the roundtable. But he came to find it comforting: ‘We have solidarity, now.’ A cost-of-living raise would mean more security, and a better chance of staying in the apartment where he lives. Khaleed deeply wants to be able to live near his son, and for his son to continue going to the good public school he now attends.

“When I asked Khaleed how he felt about the two TWC Facebook employees he had met with, his voice faltered. ‘I just hope that someday I can help them like they helped me.’ When I told one of the engineers, he smiled, and quoted the IWW slogan. ‘That’s the goal, right – one big union?’”

This is precisely the basis on which a modern-day Lucas Plan should be based: solidarity between both groups of tech workers and inclusion of both. The Lucas Plan of the 1970s understood this. The main authors of the Plan were predominantly to be highly-educated engineers, but the people making the products were not. Hence they tried to bridge this gap with proposals that would humanise working conditions as well as technology, and by including common workers.

A shop steward, an engineer, would declare during a public meeting after showing how company plans decided how long bathroom breaks could be:

“We say that that form of technology is unacceptable, and if that is the only way to make that technology we should be questioning whether we want to make those kinds of products in that way at all.”

Furthermore, the humanisation of work inside tech companies, and not just the end product of it, would also positively impact the work of the core tech workers. In essence, it would serve as the glue to connect both groups.

A Lucas Plan today would thus analyse the composition of tech workers at both sides of the divide, include both of them and mobilise them behind a program of humanisation of labour for themselves and humanised technology for the rest of society.

How To Do It?

The practical implementation of workers’ control over design decisions can base itself on already existing policies and experiences, mainly reformist co-determination schemes (where trade-union officials are given seats on corporate boards) or direct-action oriented tactics (where management power is challenged through workplace protest and where workers establish a degree of workplace autonomy).

The choice of these tactics would need to be based on local working class experiences. In some contexts co-determination would make more sense; in some cases direct action would take precedence. In most cases a combination of both will most likely be required.

The first option is a moderate one. Workers’ representation on the boards of companies has been common in industrialised economies, and particularly continental Europe. Even Conservative PM Theresa May proposed implementing it in 2017, before making a U-turn after business lobbying.

As Trades Union Congress (TUC) general secretary Frances O’Grady has stated:

“Workers on company boards is hardly a radical idea. They’re the norm across most of Europe – including countries with similar single-tier board structures to the UK, such as Sweden. European countries with better worker participation tend to have higher investment in research and development, higher employment rates and lower levels of inequality and poverty.”

Expanding the control of these boards to also deciding what products to produce and how to design them in technologically-oriented companies – both software and more traditional industrial companies – would radicalise the non-radical idea of workers representation on company boards.

A second, more radical option, is the establishment of workplace control through organising. A good example of this are the U.S. longshoremen who at certain times of their existence controlled their own work. As Peter Cole writes in Jacobin:

“West Coast longshoremen were ‘lords’ because they earned high wages by blue-collar standards, were paid overtime starting with the seventh hour of a shift, and had protections against laboring under dangerous conditions. They even had the right to stop working at any time if ‘health and safety’ were imperiled. Essentially, to the great consternation of employers, the union controlled much of the workplace.

“The hiring hall was the day-to-day locus of union power. Controlled by each local’s elected leadership, the hall decided who would and wouldn’t work. Crucially, under the radically egalitarian policy of ‘low man out’, the first workers to be dispatched were those who had worked the least in that quarter of the year.”

Imagine a programmer at Facebook refusing to make a button red because research shows it would not increase the well-being of users, and being backed up in this decision by a system of workplace solidarity that stretches throughout the company.

From Bees to Architects

Mike Cooley, one of the key authors behind the Lucas Plan, was fired from his job in 1981 as retaliation for union organising. Afterwards, he became a key author on humanising technology. He also worked with the Greater London Council when – during the height of Thatcherism – it was controlled by the Labour left, and where current Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell earned his spurs.

Just as McDonnell bridges the earlier, failed, resistance to neoliberalism, with our current attempts to replace it, Cooley forms an inspiration for post-neoliberal technology. In an 1980 article he concluded:

“The alternatives are stark. Either we will have a future in which human beings are reduced to a sort of bee-like behaviour, reacting to the systems and equipment specified for them; or we will have a future in which masses of people, conscious of their skills and abilities in both a political and a technical sense, decide that they are going to be the architects of a new form of technological development which will enhance human creativity and mean more freedom of choice and expression rather than less. The truth is, we shall have to make the profound decision as to whether we intend to act as architects or behave like bees.”

These words ring true today more than ever.

In real life, Felix Holtwell is a tech journalist. After dark, however, he edits the Fully Automated Luxury Communism newsletter, a newsletter about the interactions between technology and the left. You can follow him on Twitter at @AutomatedFully.