Thirty-five years ago, workers at the Lucas Aerospace company formulated an "alternative corporate plan" to convert military production to socially useful and environmentally desirable purposes. What are the lessons for greening the world economy today?
There are moments when a radical idea quickly goes mainstream. A cause for optimism but also caution; an opportunity for a practical challenge. The "green new deal," a proposal for a green way out of recession, is such an idea. It has now been adopted in some form, in theory if not in corresponding action, by governments across the world.
In Britain, the workers' occupation of the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight--supported by green, trade union and socialist campaigners across the country--has provided a practical challenge to the government. The Vestas workers' argument is that here is an exemplary case: so intervene and save green jobs, creating a base and a beacon for further action in the same direction.
Was it just political caution, a wariness of giving legitimacy to a campaigning alliance that includes political forces New Labor considered beyond the pale? Or is there a deeper divide at stake? A divide between those who believe that reversing the destructive momentum of the present economy is mainly a matter of appealing to the interests of private business, cajoling them to invest in green technologies as new profit opportunities; and, on the other hand, those who believe that a green transition will at times conflict with the priority of profits and require a strong alliance with workers and citizens with the technical and social know-how and potential power to re-balance the economy with the needs of the public and the planet to the fore.
Vestas symbolizes how we can't rely on the motor forces of the capitalist market. Here were green products but low profits; hence, in a capitalist market, the result is closure and "rationalization." How can the passions and reflections stimulated by the Vestas campaign be turned into the strategy we need for an effective and socially just green transition?
There are serious gaps in our knowledge as to how, practically speaking, a socialized green energy industry might be achieved. Vestas remains a special case--what about the polluting industries that the majority of workers are engaged in? There's a need for some quick thinking, and the excavation of relevant lessons from the past. The words on many people's lips are "Lucas Aerospace." They are remembering the plan for socially useful and environmentally desirable products drawn up in 1975/76 by workers facing the threat of closure in a company involved in military production. They were supported by the...