Mike Cooley (engineer)

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Mike Cooley
Born Michael Cooley
Tuam, Ireland
Occupation Engineer
Known for Labor activism in the 1970s
Awards Right Livelihood Award (1981)

Mike Cooley (born 1934) is an Irish-born engineer and former trade union leader, best known for his involvement in workplace activism at the British company Lucas Aerospace in the late 1970s. In 1981, he was a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award. Cooley was born in Tuam, Ireland, and studied engineering in Germany, Switzerland and England. He has held several leadership positions in the field of computer-aided design.

Lucas Plan[edit]

Towards the end of the 1970s, Mike Cooley was a designer at Lucas Aerospace, and chaired the local branch of the technical trade union TASS. He was one of the militant activists behind the Lucas Plan,[1][2] a radical strategy to avoid workforce layoffs by converting production at Lucas from armaments to civilian products.

The vision of the plan was to replace weapons manufacture with the development of socially useful goods, like solar heating equipment, artificial kidneys, and systems for intermodal transportation. The goal was to not simply retain jobs, but to design the work so that the workers would be motivated by the social value of their activities. The proposals of the alternative plan were not accepted by Lucas management, and Cooley was dismissed in 1981,[3] allegedly because of excessive time spent upon union business or "concerns of society as a whole".[4] Following his sacking by Lucas he was appointed Technology Director with the Greater London Enterprise Board.[3]

Architect or Bee[edit]

In 1980, Cooley published a critique of the automation and computerisation of engineering work under the title Architect or Bee? The human/technology relationship. The title alludes to a comparison made by Karl Marx, on the issue of the creative achievements of human imaginative power.[5]

Since departing from Lucas, Cooley has been active as an advisor on numerous public and private sector projects. He is a founding member and president of the International Institute of Human Centred Systems. He has published over 100 scientific papers as well as fifteen books, and has been a guest lecturer at universities in Europe, Australia, the US and Japan. Cooley is an adviser to the technical periodical Artificial Intelligence and Society.

Human-centred systems[edit]

In Architect or Bee?, Cooley coined the term "human-centred systems in the context of the transition in his profession from traditional drafting at a drawing board to computer-aided design.[6] Human-centred systems, as used in economics, computing and design, aim to preserve or enhance human skills, in both manual and office work, in environments in which technology tends to undermine the skills that people use in their work.[7][8]

Subsequently, a number of projects attempted to see whether and how human-centred systems can be developed:

  • the Utopia project in Scandinavia, where a group of computer scientists, social scientists and print workers combined to design a workstation for newspaper layout[9]
  • in machine tools and computer-aided manufacture[10]
  • in clerical work[11]

The term has now largely been superseded by "human-centered computing".



  1. ^ The Lucas Plan by Hilary Wainwright Schocken Books (1981) ISBN 978-0-8052-8098-2
  2. ^ "1976: The fight for useful work at Lucas Aerospace". libcom.org. 13 September 2006. Retrieved 16 September 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Smith, Adrian (2014). "Socially Useful Production" (PDF). STEPS Working Papers. 58. Brighton: STEPS Centre: 17. Retrieved 15 October 2016. 
  4. ^ "The Right Livelihood Award website". Archived from the original on 2 October 2013. Retrieved 16 October 2013. 
  5. ^ cf Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I, On the Sanctity of Work: , "A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality."
  6. ^ Architect or Bee?, Mike Cooley, South End Press, 1982
  7. ^ Labor and Monoply Capital. The Degradation of Work in the 20th Century, John Bellamy Foster and Harry Braverman, Monthly Review Press, 1998
  8. ^ Programmers and Managers: The Routinization of Computer Programmers in the United States, Philip Kraft, 1977
  9. ^ Ehn, P. & Kyng, M. . The Collective Resource Approach to Systems Design. In Bjerknes, G., Ehn, P., & Kyng, M. (Eds.), Computers and Democracy – A Scandinavian Challenge. (pp. 17–58). Aldershot, UK: Avebury, 1987
  10. ^ Designing human-centred technology, HH Rosenbrock, Springer-Verlag, 1989
  11. ^ Gendered by Design?: Information Technology and Office Systems, Eileen Green, Jenny Owen, Den Pain, Taylor & Francis, 1993

External links[edit]