Class struggle and the spatial politics of violence: the picket line in 1970s Britain

Kelliher, D. (2021) Class struggle and the spatial politics of violence: the picket line in 1970s Britain. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 46(1), pp. 15-28. (doi: 10.1111/tran.12388)

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The late 1960s to the mid‐1980s in Britain was a period of intense industrial struggle, with strike levels at their highest since the 1920s. Concerns surrounding trade union power became central to broader anxieties about British ‘decline’ and ‘crisis’. These issues took a spatial form in conflicts around the nature of the picket line. This article discusses the picket line in 1970s Britain in the context of recent debates on the geographies of violence, particularly in relation to questions of class and property, and the mutually constitutive temporalities of structural and direct violence. Rather than the diffuse processes of an abstract capitalism, I argue for greater attention to be paid to class conflict in shaping experiences and epistemologies of violence. This article therefore places more emphasis on agency in the production of violence than has been prevalent in recent debates in geography. Drawing on extensive archival research, the article focuses on three key disputes in this period. Building on work in labour geography, it explores how the assertive working‐class presence of mass pickets were portrayed as violent through an account of the miners’ strike in 1972. It then considers a similar process in relation to flying pickets during the 1972 builders’ dispute, emphasising the threat of a politicised working‐class mobility. Finally, the article considers the coercive state response in the violent policing of the picket line during the 1976‐8 Grunwick dispute. The radical right‐wing project of neoliberalism emerged in part as a solution to the perceived threat of the labour movement; critical to its success and consolidation was challenging the ‘enemy within’ of militant trade unionism. These violent class struggles around picketing in the 1970s, I argue, are crucial for understanding the long‐term, structural violence of neoliberalism.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Kelliher, Dr Diarmaid
Authors: Kelliher, D.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Journal Name:Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
ISSN (Online):1475-5661
Published Online:26 April 2020
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2020 The Author
First Published:First published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 46(1): 15-28
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons license

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
305827British AcademyDiarmaid KelliherBritish Academy (BRITACAD)PF19\100075GES - Geography