A tribute to Mike Cooley

Co-creator of the Lucas Plan, Mike showed how the immense talent of workers could be deployed for social use rather than private profit, writes Phil Asquith

September 14, 2020 · 4 min read
Mike Cooley with Professor David Noble. Photo by Graham Cooley. All Rights Reserved.

Mike Cooley, who died 4 September 2020, was best known for his inspiring advocacy and co-creation of the Lucas Aerospace alternative plan. Challenging the assumption that technology is value neutral, he popularised the understanding that design decisions are political decisions. Mike insisted on the possibility of human-centred systems that rested on a fundamentally democratic and egalitarian belief in human capacity. He devoted his life to achieving them.

When asked whether ‘ordinary people’ could deal with the kinds of complex problems addressed in the Lucas Plan, he insisted: ‘I personally have never met an ordinary person in my life. All the people I meet are extraordinary. They’ve got all kinds of skills, abilities and talents and never are those talents used or developed or encouraged’. As a Lucas Aerospace shop steward, he demonstrated how the immense talents of workers could be deployed for social use rather than private profit.

Fellow shop steward Phil Asquith writes the following tribute to his friend, colleague, inspiration and mentor.

A tribute

‘I met Mike Cooley in 1973 at my first Lucas Aerospace Combine Shop Stewards’ Committee meeting. We were at Wortley Hall, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire, which in 1976 became the birthplace and spiritual home of the Lucas Workers Plan for Socially Useful Production (then called the ‘Alternative Corporate Plan’). The plan was accompanied by proposals for a number of other progressive initiatives, such as democratising control of the Lucas Aerospace pension funds. Driven by Mike Cooley and the Combine’s formidable secretary Ernie Scarbrow, described by fellow shop steward Brian Salisbury as ‘extremely efficient’, the committee had been meeting at Wortley since its formation in 1969.

At lunchtime, Mike went out of his way to join myself and another new staff representative from Burnley, making us feel very welcome. I realised during our conversation that Mike was a very special man. I have reflected on that day many times over the years of the Lucas Plan campaign – which continues to this day. My life was not only changed, but its future direction was set. Many of my Combine comrades have told me that Mike and the Plan changed them and enriched their lives too.

Mike has been a major influence on my life and he has been my role model and mentor (unknown to him!). We worked closely together during the Plan years, through good times and bad, and I was his union representative when Lucas Aerospace (and others) were trying to sack him.

Over the intervening forty plus years, I have spoken on the Plan at countless meetings and conferences, in the UK and abroad. At almost every event someone has stood up and either quoted Mike or heaped praise upon his far sighted work – Mike Cooley certainly made a ‘dent in the universe’. I have also listened to countless speakers and I maintain that Mike is the best, most engaging and indeed humorous speaker I have ever heard – I have often tried to emulate him but have always failed.

Mike and the Combine have given me a life which has been crammed with a rich tapestry of experiences that money just couldn’t buy. From his launch speech of the Lucas Plan in Burnley to my presentation of the Plan on Capitol Hill in Washington through to a United Nations conference in Moscow on Arms Conversion.

Mike’s work will undoubtedly live on, along with the ideas he developed with his many friends and colleagues. His family believe that this was Mike’s greatest wish. Indeed, I was quoting from what I believe is one of Mike’s greatest speeches the day before he died.

Our lives will be much poorer after the loss of Mike – the world will never be the same again. There will never be anyone to replace Mike Cooley. His idea and practical example will continue to inspire us’.

For more on the continued legacy of the Lucas Plan, see Hilary Wainwright and Andy Bowman’s article

Phil Asquith was chairman of the Lucas Aerospace joint shop stewards’ committee, Burnley; an active member of the Combine committee.

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