Ken Coates, a leading figure on the British left, has died aged 79.
As a teenager in the 1940s he joined the Communist Party, but came into conflict with them when he sided with Tito against Stalin in 1948. He was subsequently a strong supporter of the 1956 Hungarian revolution.
When called up for national service in 1948, he refused and worked for eight years as a miner. This left him with a strong commitment to trade unionism.
Influenced by the Belgian Trotskyist Ernest Mandel, one of the leaders of the Fourth International, Coates launched the International Group, which later evolved into the International Marxist Group.
Coates worked with many others on the left and was active in the New Left.
In the 1960s he was briefly on the editorial board of International Socialism, the magazine of the Internationalist Socialists, the forerunners of today’s SWP.
Coates led the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation during the anti-Vietnam war movement.
In 1968 he was also the key figure in the launch of the Institute for Workers’ Control. It coincided with an upsurge in rank-and-file trade union militancy.
Coates focused on achieving reforms designed to increase the role of workers in running their jobs.
The best known of these was the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards’ proposal. In 1976, the workforce at Lucas Aerospace were facing significant layoffs.
They developed the Lucas Plan to convert the company from arms to the manufacture of socially useful products, and save jobs. The plan was not put into place but associated strike action saved some jobs.
The workers’ co-ops, by trying to challenge capital on its own terms, were subject to all the pressures of competitive accumulation.
Coates was elected as a Labour MEP in 1989. He was firmly opposed to the trajectory of Labour under Tony Blair which led to him and fellow MEP Hugh Kerr being expelled from the party in 1998. They had condemmed the Labour government’s attacks on welfare benefits.