Economic direction and generational change in twentieth century Britain: the case of the Scottish coalfields

Phillips, J. (2017) Economic direction and generational change in twentieth century Britain: the case of the Scottish coalfields. English Historical Review, 132(557), pp. 885-911. (doi: 10.1093/ehr/cex199)

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Changes in economic direction in Britain in the twentieth century were incremental, rarely permanent, and strongly contested, although trends to deindustrialisation, widened inequality and the ostracism of trade unions from policy-making were clear by the mid-1980s. This followed the defeat of the striking miners in 1984–5, a decisive movement in macro-economic direction. This case study of the Scottish coalfields uses generational analysis to illuminate the contested nature of these long-running economic changes. Three distinct trade union generations are identified, each of which was linked to successive ideal-types of economic unit. Each type represented an ever-larger economy of scale and qualitative changes in coalfield employment: ‘Village Pits’, ‘New Mines’, and ‘Cosmopolitan Collieries’. The evolving organisation of production, combined with other powerful experiences in early adulthood, gave rise to different political goals for each successive generation. The first, born in the 1890s, won the primary objective of nationalisation in 1947; the second, born in the 1920s, secured important changes to the manner in which the nationalised industry operated in the 1960s, gaining greater control for the workforce and enhanced economic security for the wider community; the third, born in the 1950s, attempted to defend the social democratic elements of the nationalised order in the 1980s against changing macro-economic strategy and micro-managerial operations which threatened pits, jobs and the voice of the worker in decision-making. Nationalisation, it is shown, was a success from the perspective of the workforce, but only because trade unions compelled the National Coal Board and the UK government to preserve economic security in the coalfields. These victories of the 1960s were overturned, however, by the Conservative government in the 1980s, at enormous cost to coalfield communities and workers.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Phillips, Professor Jim
Authors: Phillips, J.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Economic and Social History
Journal Name:English Historical Review
Publisher:Oxford University Press
ISSN (Online):1477-4534
Published Online:31 July 2017
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2017 Oxford University Press
First Published:First published in English Historical Review 132(557): 885-911
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher

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