A transformation of ownership, buried deep in the Corbyn project


From the American magazine Jacobin, a retrieval of a policy document launched in the last few months of the Corbyn-led Labour party. The document provides a range of new (and old-new) alternatives to the standard way of thinking about property and ownership.

(The work of Chris Cook on Peer-to-Here economic models, and Indy Johar's essays - both on this site - is a parallel project to this. More work from both to appear here soon). 

An excerpt from the article:

"Democratizing the economy" means challenging the most important fundamental of capitalist economics: the primacy of private ownership. In particular, private ownership of capital, of all the things — the buildings, the machines, the tools, the hardware, and the software — that we use to make other things. Without a say in how tools are used, workers themselves become passive tools. Being able to actively participate in decision-making and ownership go hand in hand. Democratizing means taking ownership.

These ideas are not new, but they have been suppressed under the decades-long advance of right-wing ideas, including within traditionally left-wing parties and movements. In the UK, one of the last major proposals for democratizing the economy was the Lucas Alternative Corporate Plan. It was put forward by unionized workers at the Lucas Aerospace in 1976 in response to imminent restructuring that would see many of them fired.

The unions at Lucas canvassed their members and produced a detailed plan for an alternative kind of restructuring that would see the company transformed: from one with half of its output going to the military, to one producing socially useful products. Expanding on existing technology, workers proposed retooling to make everything from sorely needed kidney dialysis machines to early solar cells to hybrid power drives for vehicles.

Despite a global campaign, the Alternative Plan failed without adequate government pressure on Lucas. With the election of Margaret Thatcher a few short years later, the window on any similar push for economic transformation was shut.

“Alternative Models of Ownership” is one example of the window’s reopening. Many of the document’s ideas have subsequently found their way into the Labour Party election platform. The right-wing press has used it as evidence that Corbyn would “take Britain back to the ’70s.” But they’re wrong: the plans are firmly oriented to the future.