The appearance of a series of major reviews of the Greater London Council’s London Industrial Strategy (lis) in socialist publications, notably Mike Rustin’s thoughtful article in nlr 155, reflects its impact on the wider debate among socialists about strategies to confront the economic crisis.footnote1 But socialist economic strategy, particularly one aimed at servicing and inspiring the struggle against unemployment and based on the development of demands and programmes ‘prefiguring’ an alternative socialist society, remains a seriously under-theorized subject among Marxists.

Some comment has been critical of the lis and the attempt to operate it through the glc and its job creation arm, the Greater London Enterprise Board (gleb). Such criticism is, of course, welcome to those of us who played some part in their affairs before the glc was abolished by the Thatcher government and gleb lost its vital financial and political support. The experience at the glc and gleb was both sufficiently important and sufficiently problematic to warrant sustained and detailed scrutiny, so that conclusions might be drawn about its future relevance in the Left’s struggle against mass unemployment.

At the heart of the glc Industry and Employment branch—whose director was the well-known socialist economist Robin Murray—was the Economic Policy Group. This in turn included the Popular Planning Unit, led by Hilary Wainwright, whose central remit was to work with trade unions and communities in preparing plans for resistance to redundancies and cuts in services, and in drafting proposals for alternative development. The unit provided support for communities living in London’s increasingly derelict docklands, which have fallen prey to big business and luxury property developers oblivious of the needs of local people, and more generally for the inner city communities that have been hit particularly hard by economic decline. In the past decade London has lost a third of its manufacturing and unemployment has steadily risen to the current figure of some 400,000.

The epg also investigated a range of industrial and social strategies to revive the London economy, for the most part closely involving workers’ organizations and others with an intimate knowledge of particular sectors. The lis sums up the early, research-oriented phase, and deals not just with conventional sectors but with the role of multinational capital, domestic labour, the position of women and minorities in the community and workforce, the need for democratization of the public sector and resistance to the Tory government’s ‘privatization’ of state-owned industries and public services. A parallel study, the London Financial Strategy, examines the critical role of the City and finance capital in the industrial crisis.

The Greater London Enterprise Board was set up in 1983 as the glc’s primary agency for job creation and direct industrial intervention. To minimize legal and financial constraints it was established as a separate company, with the glc as its sole shareholder and source of investment capital. A board of directors was appointed from among trade unionists, cooperators and individuals with commercial, industrial and technological expertise sympathetic to the board’s objectives. For the first two years the glc allocated £40mn to gleb, in the form of loans or, where investment was in private companies, the bulk of which was invested in the form of share capital. No financial return was demanded from gleb itself to the glc, although its investments were expected to become ‘viable’ over a variable period of time. The glc maintained a strict system of accountability to monitor gleb’s performance both financially and against its policy remit. During that period gleb set up or invested in more than a hundred enterprises, creating directly about three thousand jobs and indirectly many more (of which nearly half were within worker cooperatives). Among the ventures it supported was early work on the new labour-movement paper News on Sunday. Where possible, gleb sought to supplement its own limited resources with private capital, but on strict terms that safeguarded gleb’s social and longer-term strategic objectives.

From the beginning gleb’s aim was to create ‘high-quality, long-term’ jobs in which the workers, through their trade unions, would be given far-reaching rights to help determine the key decisions through a system of industrial democracy known as enterprise planning. Another key task was the introduction of equal opportunities for women, blacks and other specially oppressed groups. Most gleb-supported enterprises had fewer than fifty employees, although there were a very small number with more than a hundred. In some cases gleb was able to assist workers struggling against closure and redundancy without direct investment, as at Rampart Engineering, part of the international Chubb group.

A key element in the gleb organization was its Technology Division, under a director, Dr Michael Cooley, who is an internationally respected trade unionist and technologist and has played a crucial role in the Lucas Aerospace workers’ plan. The Technology Division gave particular priority to the development of human-centred technologies which would embody the labour skill and production role denied by the technologies employed in capitalist restructuring. It also established a number of Technology Networks in London to support workforces or community groups who are trying to develop socially useful products or services. By providing resources, technological expertise and some development finance, the Networks have become perhaps the most important achievement that is likely to survive the change in gleb’s political direction under its post-glc management.