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About this book

A balanced and richly informed survey that investigates how, why and to what degree working lives have been transformed over the last sixty years. McIvor covers themes such as gender, race, class, disability and health in his exploration of how the meaning of employment has been signified by the workers themselves.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Work occupies a central part of our lives and has multiple meanings for those engaged in it. For many, it provides a purposeful and fulfilling activity to fill time and a focus to one’s life, a vehicle to express oneself, a method of earning a living and, in many cases, supporting a family. It can be a source of lasting social relationships, of politicization, of joy and stress as well as numbing alienation. It provides ‘intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ rewards, whilst it can both enhance health and destroy it. Work has been profoundly important in people’s lives in the past and continues to be so in the present. This book explores the mutating nature and meaning of work in Britain since the Second World War, engaging with key (and often contested) debates, setting contemporary issues within their historical context and examining policy responses. Continuity and change in employment since 1945 is the core theme. However, my approach to the subject matter is somewhat unconventional. My aim here is to provide a refocused history pivoting on the personal narratives of workers themselves and how work identities and the meaning of work are articulated, perceived and signified by those who experienced it directly.
Arthur Mcivor

1. Employment Patterns and Inequalities

Abstract
Historians, sociologists and other commentators on work disagree over the extent, pace and patterning of change, arguing over the degree to which work has been transformed since 1945 and what this means for the future of work. This chapter looks more closely at the data and at changing employment patterns, divisions within the labour market and the nature of work — delineating and exploring the changing occupational profile of Britain since the Second World War. Inequalities, advantages and disadvantages are considered within what is a deeply segmented labour market, divided by social class, gender, race and disability. The data explored is drawn from a range of sources, including the decennial population Census and the Office for National Statistics (Labour Force Surveys). It indicates a series of quite fundamental changes in working lives, with the sharp decline in manufacturing and mining, the transition to a service-sector and knowledge-based economy, the information technology revolution associated with computers and the web, and the marked change in the gendering of work as an increasing proportion of women entered the paid, formal economy.
Arthur Mcivor

2. The Meanings of Work

Abstract
The meaning of work in people’s lives has been the subject of considerable debate and discussion. What has been identified as the centrality of work to life — something traditionally associated with the Protestant work ethic — has been perceived to be atrophying by scholars who see in the changing patterns of employment a seismic shift with deskilling and job insecurity loosening people’s attachment and commitment to work. This chapter explores these issues.
Arthur Mcivor

3. A Man’s World?

Abstract
In the immediate post-war period and despite the influx of women into war-related work, employment remained dominated by men. In the 1950s and 1960s, women were widely perceived to be participating in employment in a temporary and subordinate capacity before getting down to their life’s role of bearing and nurturing children. This chapter investigates the gendered nature of work and gender identities at work.
Arthur Mcivor

4. The Colour Bar

Abstract
The above are all extracts from interviews undertaken in 1966 and 1967 for the Daniel Inquiry on Racial Discrimination in England (1968). Race and ethnicity divided workers and patterned people’s experience of work in post-Second World War Britain, constituting the basis for subordination and for privilege. This chapter explores the experience of work through the lens of race and ethnicity, examining work cultures and identities and the nature of discrimination and prejudice in the post-war workplace. It focuses upon the personal and emotional experience of black and minority ethnic groups and migrants, and the responses of the ‘host’ nation, including employers and majority white workers and their collective organizations. The subaltern structural position of such marginalized workers in British labour markets is relatively well known (see Chapter 1). The aim here is to explore discourse and experience — to unpick prevailing attitudes and investigate what it was like for immigrant labour in Britain after the Second World War. This discussion is located within a literature that is dominated by the idea of segmented labour markets and which emphasizes the host nation’s jingoistic hostility towards and discrimination practised against migrant labour. Ken Lunn’s seminal work, however, has challenged this stereotypical ‘negative’ view, indicating the existence of a range of opinions towards black and minority ethnic (BME) workers, of much toleration and cross-race solidarity, significant differences within local labour markets, and the need to contextualize what he terms ‘complex encounters’ (Lunn, 1985; 1999).
Arthur Mcivor

5. Bodies

Abstract
This was how an Indian migrant to Coventry (he came over in 1956) and a Clydeside sheet metal worker expressed aspects of the embodiment and physicality of their employment and the nature of work regimes that impacted upon their bodies. There is a recognition of the central importance of the body, a sense of dehumanization and evident regret vented here (and in other such personal testimonies) that the prevailing productionist ethos had caused damage. Bodies bore the brunt of competitive pressures at work: of trauma, chronic disease, fatigue and stress. The body and emotion are largely absent from most scholarship on the history of work, though recently attention has been growing (see, for example, Wolkowitz, 2006) and there has been an important strand of research upon occupational health and safety for some time. This chapter engages with this historiography, exploring embodiment in the workplace, work-health cultures and the changing ways that work interacted with the body, both positive and negative, in Britain since the Second World War. It draws upon considerable fieldwork, including oral interviews conducted by Ronald Johnston, myself and others (Neil Rafeek; David Walker; Andrew Perchard; Angela Bartie; Susan Morrison; Hilary Young) on occupational health in the post-Second World War period.
Arthur Mcivor

6. Representation and Resistance

Abstract
This is how a retired asbestos insulation lagger who worked in the Clydeside shipyards from 1947 to the 1980s articulated his identification with a trade union. Unions were the main voluntary organizations representing workers and a key agency in the power struggle in the post-war workplace. In a similar vein a West Indian factory worker in London reflected in an interview in 1980:
Arthur Mcivor

7. Loss

Abstract
This is how one married woman in her 40s in Bolton described the experience of losing work in an interview with Jeremy Seabrook in 1981. She was made redundant in 1978 from her non-manual job as an accounts clerk and later found manual work in a textile factory. Her evocative narrative oozes with what work signified to her — both in extrinsic (the money) and intrinsic terms (job satisfaction and independence). One gets an impression of just how central fulfilling work was to this woman’s life and how diminished that life was without it. Her testimony lends support to the idea that by this time the meaning of employment differed little according to gender. Expressions such as ‘useless’, ‘burden’, ‘worthless’ and ‘waste’ combined with the deployment of the ‘scrap-heap’ metaphor — commonly recurring in unemployed workers’ narratives — indicate a profound sense of loss of self-esteem, autonomy and purpose.
Arthur Mcivor

Conclusion

Abstract
This book explores the history of work, the changing shape of employment and meaning of work in Britain from 1945 to the present. It has drawn heavily upon workers’ own narratives of their working lives to present a re-focused history of the workplace, engaging along the way with the debates and historiographies of work. What conclusions can be drawn from this exercise? What did work signify and how did it change over this period of almost seventy years since the Second World War?
Arthur Mcivor
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