Film review: The Plan that Came from the Bottom Up

Steve Sprung’s retelling of the story of the Lucas Plan provides an inspiring lesson in how workers might build a sustainable future for all, writes Zareen Taj.

The Plan that Came from the Bottom Up (dir. Steve Sprung; UK 2018; 3h 32 min)

***

A journey, moving backwards and forwards through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. An adult grandson relates the content of his grandmother’s letters, questioning episodes of her past, while on the screen we see archive footage from the 1973 coup in Chile, the Portuguese revolution, and the UK postal and dockers’ strikes. We are asked to consider the powerful and the oppressed. Like the grandmother, we question the sequence of events as they unfold on the screen, as we see people-led projects crushed to serve a neoliberal vision of cities as cash-cows rather than places for communities to flourish.

The Plan That Came From The Bottom Up (2018) is a crowdfunded film directed by Steve Sprung, and endorsed by Ken Loach and CND. Now a new generation can learn the story of the Lucas Plan: how, in 1976, the Lucas Aerospace Combine Shop Steward committee struggled to protect skilled workers from losing their jobs in the arms industry by formulating a unique plan to use skills, machinery and technology to produce socially useful designs.

The engineers’ value system evolved over the course of their collaborations with workers and Polytechnic academics but stood in direct opposition to Labour and Tory governments alike. Sprung shows that their innovative ideas, in tune with community needs and the Earth’s resources, had to be destroyed for neoliberalism to flourish during the end of the post war consensus era. He highlights years with public funding cut-backs and the world careering towards ascendency of neoliberalism under Harold Wilson; a striking similarity to our recent years of austerity. The argument of the audio narration is reinforced through cheeky use of close ups, slow motion sequences and action pauses.

The letter format chosen for the two-part film allow pauses to reflect as the images flicker from black and white archive footage to a round-table discussion including members from the original shop stewards committee. The discussion moves from the politics of the 1970s to a wider consideration of our condition as a society which values economic growth even to the detriment of actual human needs.

The prescience of the Lucas Plan engineers is clear in the current era of climate catastrophe as wind farms begin to proliferate across the UK, and hybrid cars and heat source pumps are adopted as energy-saving measures. What is obvious even before watching the two films is that we should have taken the measures they were advocating to have avoided the dire situation we are in now with global warming. Production for profit and war for control of resources has prevailed over common sense destroying our fragile ecosystems.

With this film, Sprung has brought us together to remember, learn and evaluate. How people can be effective outside of the corporate-welfare system favoured by those in power. The engineers had a remarkable vision for a non-Eurocentric development of technology that would not depend on limited imported resources but would identify and use what was locally abundant around the world. They were able to see beyond their own daily troubles of negotiating fair pay and work conditions and put together serious alternative proposals for 150 products that were socially useful and environmentally sustainable.

The activists featured in the film are still invited to speak at events to inspire people but Sprung’s film will reach much further. A half hour version of the film is also available.

Do organise a viewing and Q&A in your area by contacting http://theplandocumentary.com/

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