For designing and promoting the theory and practice of human-centred, socially useful production.
Mike Cooley (1934-2020) was an aerospace engineer who emerged as an innovator in the field of human-centred, socially useful production. As an active trade unionist, he dedicated his time and energy to ensuring that industrial production met the needs of people, including workers. He established networks to link community groups, universities and polytechnics in Britain to develop ecologically desirable products and systems, particularly for people with disabilities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In the early 1970s, Cooley became one of the pioneers of the now-famous Lucas workers’ Corporate Plan. Workers at the British aerospace parts manufacturer Lucas threatened strikes unless they were allowed to draw up their plan for socially useful production. They listed 150 products they and Lucas could produce, including kidney dialysis machines and heat pumps. The plan was published in 1976, and although it was eventually rejected by Lucas’s management, it had a significant impact on the workers’ movement both in the UK and abroad.
Later, Cooley became Director of the Technology Division of the Greater London Enterprise Board, which was set up to combat unemployment and became his base for getting involved with several other projects. Through his work, Cooley pioneered the concept of human-centred systems to show how to avoid misusing rapidly expanding new technologies.
Lucas Workers' Corporate Plan
Mike Cooley (1934-2020) worked for many years in the aerospace industry as a senior design engineer and was an active trade unionist.
In the early 1970s, Cooley became one of the pioneers of the now-famous Lucas Workers’ Corporate Plan, whereby Lucas workers threatened strikes unless they were allowed to draw up their plan for socially useful production. They came up with a list of 150 products that they and Lucas could produce, including kidney dialysis machines and heat pumps. The plan was published in 1976 and, while it was eventually rejected by Lucas's management, it had a great impact on the workers’ movement and other circles both in the UK and abroad.
It led to the establishment of the Centre for Alternative Industrial and Technological Systems and similar units elsewhere in Britain. It has also resulted in worker plans in other industries. Moreover, most of the technical ideas in the Plan have proved viable and have been produced, though often with less emphasis on their social usefulness than the Plan envisaged.
In 1980, Lucas sacked Cooley, alleging he spent too much time on union business or concerns of society as a whole.
Greater London Enterprise Board
After leaving Lucas, Cooley became Director of the Technology Division of the Greater London Enterprise Board (GLEB), which was set up to combat unemployment in the capital and where he organised the London Technology networks. These networks linked community groups, universities and polytechnics to develop ecologically desirable products and systems, which could then be used to establish new small businesses and cooperatives.
From his GLEB base, Cooley supported several independent but related projects. These included:
The London Innovation Trust to support the development of prototype products, particularly for the disabled and disadvantaged;
Twin Trading to promote fair and mutually supportive trade between industrial and non-industrial countries; and
ESPRIT Project 1217, which designed and produced a human-centred advanced manufacturing system that valued human skills rather than diminishing and subordinating them to machines.
Through this, Cooley pioneered the concept of human-centred systems and helped set up the International Institute for Advanced Research into Human-Centred Systems, of which he was also president. The Institute facilitated a series of books and reports that highlight the misuse of new technologies and propose constructive alternatives.
Cooley regarded unemployment as one of the most severe issues confronting societies worldwide and got involved in many job creation schemes. He set up the London Business Village, where some 1,500 new jobs were created, and he helped found a non-profit called the Product Bank (The Technology Exchange) that listed 5,000 products and services available for licensing. The Product Bank became the largest technology transfer organisation in the world, handling some 500 contracts each month in over 70 countries.
Cooley lectured worldwide and was a visiting lecturer at universities in multiple countries. He created several television and radio programmes, and his writings have been translated into over 20 languages.
Cooley passed away on September 4, 2020, following a long illness.
In 2021, the remaining members of the Lucas Aerospace Combine decided that it was time to put together a website to detail their history and key information related to the Lucas Plan campaign. This wealth of information helps inform and assist other trade unionists, activists and organisations who wish to draw upon the Plan and their experience campaigning for it.