Lucas Aerospace

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12 February 1979.

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Photo of Mr Tom Litterick Mr Tom Litterick , Birmingham, Selly Oak 12:00, 12 February 1979

I entirely agree, but my hon. Friend should remember that the first stage of that development was the formation of joint shop stewards' committees within one multi-union plant, and then they extended. They discovered, as their ancestors in trade union life had discovered, a new source of strength. It was a logical response to the situation in which they found themselves, which was that their employer had many tentacles, many factories, and if he wished he could play one group of workers off against another.

That was the employers' answer. Hence their violent, total hostility, which is as strong today as it was 20 years ago, to the idea of bargaining with their workers as workers in an entire multi-plant group. The employers do not mind bargaining with trade union officials, strangely enough. The game they play is to bargain with full-time officials of the trade unions, to play them off against the trade union members. Some manage to play that game quite skilfully.

This brings me to Lucas. What the Lucas Aerospace combine committee did was not only to carry out the now well-recognised function of co-ordinating the bargaining activities of workers over wages, conditions of work, and so on where there are a number of plants, but made a great leap forward into unknown territory by, in effect, claiming of management the right to discuss with it the products that they produced. That was a claim on what management regards as its prerogative, and that is what makes the Lucas Aerospace combine committee so interesting and encouraging.

We hear on all sides—I must say "on all sides", given the events of the past three or four weeks—not to mention pulpits, that shop stewards are the enemy of civilised life as we know it, that the fabric of Christian civilisation is about to crumble, because ordinary working men have discovered means of asserting power on their own behalf. You have heard, Mr. Speaker, some people on both sides of the House who should be ashamed of themselves deploring this fact.

What these men have done is to tell their historic, traditional lords and masters "We do not think that you are very good at the job of managing. We think that we should participate in that job of managing the work that we do". That is the question which the Lucas Aerospace combine committee posed to British management and the British State. In the context of this sad story, which has been dragging on for four years, the Labour Government have not played a creditable role. They have sided with conventional wisdom.

It is asked "Who are these people who claim the right to have a say in whatever their employers produce?" I know that my hon. Friends who are here tonight have had the experience of being involved with the consultations and attempts at bringing people together. They have seen the negative attitude of the State, to put it at its most charitable, to this positive and creative initiative by working men and women. The State does not know how to handle it. It is nonplussed because this challenges a traditional historic bastion of social, economic and political power. Its social democratic ideology furnishes it with nothing that enables it to make a positive response to these creative initiatives by working men and women.

This is a large company with a sophisticated technology which commands a high level of skills in our people. It has progressively run down its labour force from 18,000 to about 11,000. It denies that. It did so at great human cost, in the pursuit of maximised profit. That is all. That has nothing to do with the interests of our country. It has nothing to do with the interests of humanity. That firm is big in the armaments business. It is in the business of accumulating capital and maximising profit. It has done well out of it.

In the seven years up to 1977 it accumulated about £250 million of profit, but paid no tax. That is the meaning of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise). It paid no tax. It received as much in grants out of my constituents' money as it paid in tax. The rest has been—as the Chancellor has it—deferred taxation. That is a complicated euphemism for letting the corporate entities of capitalism off without paying their fair whack to the community. Meanwhile, this firm goes on exporting productive capacity abroad. It denies opportunities to my constituents and to those of my hon. Friends. It continues decimating the economies of Liverpool, Bradford and Coventry at will. It does so because nobody within the State has the will to stop it. All that the State has managed so far is a pathetic effort to bribe it with my constituents' money not to do so.

Whatever else the Lucas Aerospace case study might be, it is a classic case study in how not to go about bribing capitalism to do something that is socially beneficial. Those people are apparently unbribable, no matter how much money we give them. All we succeed in doing is making life easier for them, so that they may do what is to their greatest advantage. It is to Lucas's greatest advantage to downgrade the Lucas organisation in Britain, to reduce its productive potental and to create or set up new productive potential elsewhere, at the expense of our people and our economy. It takes the money. But the bribes do not work. Nor indeed do the bribes work elsewhere.

However, the hostility towards the shop stewards continues unabated. I referred to the troubles over the past three weeks. All the latent hatreds erupted to the surface on both sides of the House. We heard what Members of Parliament think of the organised workers of Britain. You, Mr. Speaker, have heard it. You have read our newspapers, with their mendacity, malignancy and bigotry. They hate these people with a bitterness that is almost unbelievable.

What are these people doing? They are saying "All right. The traditional way of doing work is not something we can continue any longer. Our existing line of products will not serve us much longer. Therefore, we should work differently and have new products." They have said "Perhaps we should not make instruments of war." But they have also said "Perhaps there is an alternative to unemployment by making new things."

These are constructive suggestions. What is the response? Mendacity and hatred—echoed faithfully and resounded in our press, whose philistinism is equalled only by its bigotry when it comes to dealing with working people.

This has been the experience of these men and women. They have played the constructive role and the creative role. They have said "Here we have thought out creative, constructive proposals for the organisation with which we are intimately familiar and about which we know more than anyone else. But what happens? They will not even talk to us. The State will not co-operate with us. All sorts of difficulties are placed in our path." For four years they have trudged along that path to attempt to get someone with power and influence to listen to them. Only now does it seem that it is beginning to happen.

I do not say for a moment that Wednesday will be the beginning of anything. But it might be. However, until now virtually nothing has happened. The directors who have run Lucas have flatly refused to engage in any constructive conversations with these people. Indeed, they have gone out of their way to subvert these men and women. They have actually done that. But who are these people who defy their own workmates? Although managers do not think of workers as their workmates, they are so. They are fellow workers. Who are these people? They are people who will, for example, build a factory in France to make car components, rather than build a factory in Britain or use an existing factory here. They justify this by saying that that is the deal that the French company with which they are dealing has insisted upon. Never does one hear of the reverse taking place. Strangely, it is always that they have to make a deal which involves either creating new productive capacity abroad or closing down capacity in Britain, reducing employment, to the advantage of some other organisation abroad. They run down the strength of our economy.

In effect, the directors of Lucas have for more than a decade been steadily sabotaging the British economy and sabotaging the work prospects and career prospects of almost every conceivable grade of worker in the British economy. whether he is an unskilled labourer or a highly skilled scientist. The men who are directors of Lucas have undermined their lives and they say "That is business." But we say "That is capitalism." That is how capitalism works.

They ignore the other consequences of their behaviour. They always whine about the tax burden. They pay expensive public relations experts to whine in public for them, hoping that no one will notice that they pay no taxes and that they are subverting the economy. When their bluff is called, when their own fellow workers say to them "All right. We have here a set of proposals", their only response is to run away and to deny their right to implement them.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will take sides with us and with the workers of Lucas Aerospace and give us some reason to hope that the meeting on Wednesday will be not only the beginning of the road for the Lucas Aerospace combine but the beginning of an example which will set a new pattern not only for the British economy but throughout Europe.