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Shop Stewards Combine Committee

1976: The fight for useful work at Lucas Aerospace

by Kevin Doyle - Based on an article first published by Workers Solidarity in the Summer of 1988, Workers Solidarity Movement

In the 1970s workers at the Lucas Aerospace Company in Britain set out to defeat the bosses plans to axe jobs. They produced their own alternative "Corporate Plan" for the company's future. In doing so they attacked some of the underlying priorities of capitalism. Their proposals were radical, arguing for an end to the wasteful production of military goods and for people’s needs to be put before the owners’ profits.

Military Matters

Lucas Aerospace in the early 70s was one of Europe's largest designers and manufacturers of aircraft systems and equipment. It had over 18,000 workers on its payroll, spread over 15 factories, throughout Britain. Nearly half of its business was related to military matters - in production of combat aircraft and the Sting Ray missile system for NATO (pictured, above). But it also had small interests in medical technologies.

The company had been formed into the size it was through the take-overs and amalgamations of smaller size companies. It had been backed by the Government of the day who wanted a strong and efficient aerospace company to compete with the other European manufacturers. As part of achieving this Management planned to rationalise the whole 15-factory operation into a more integrated and streamlined company. This would mean lay-offs for at least 20% of the workforce and the closure of some areas. The prize for the owners of Lucas in doing this would be a much greater involvement in the military markets where profit rates were very high compared with other industries.

Poor Wages

The intentions of the company owners and management did not go unnoticed by the Lucas workers or their Shop Stewards Combine Committee (SSCC). The origins of the SSCC was in the strong trade union tradition at the time in Britain though particularly in the aerospace industry. Over a period of years the workers in the different unions had seen the need to co-ordinate their negotiations against a single management so as to avoid poor wage increases as one section was paid off at the expense of the others. So they formed shop stewards committees that bridged their different union memberships. As the company had grown bigger these shop steward committees from different areas also linked up to carry on the same idea of meeting the management with a single voice for all workers in any negotiations.

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