Journal Article

The Untraditional Worker: Class Re-Formation in Britain 1945–65

Jack Saunders

in Twentieth Century British History

Volume 26, issue 2, pages 225-248
Published in print June 2015 | ISSN: 0955-2359
Published online October 2014 | e-ISSN: 1477-4674 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/tcbh/hwu053
The Untraditional Worker: Class Re-Formation in Britain 1945–65

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This article explores the development of shop-floor organization in the British motor industry between 1945 and 1965. Where much of the social and labour history of post-war Britain has explained rising industrial conflict from the late 1960s as a reaction to economic and political changes based on ‘traditional’ trade union cultures, this article gives greater prominence to worker activism within the factories themselves. Workplace trade unionism in the car industry in the immediate post-war period was generally weak, with limited shop-floor organization often accompanied by fatalistic attitudes and atomization. This gave way to increasingly sophisticated shop stewards’ organizations in a process of social and cultural remaking led by worker activists. This article details the ways in which workers were persuaded not just to join trade unions but also participate in a range of social practices, establishing representation and collective decision-making at shop and factory level. Parallel to this organization, we also see a change in shared values within the shop, with forms of collectivism becoming increasingly prominent and deferential attitudes in decline. The article concludes by arguing that this social organization and these solidaristic values were a necessary foundation for the industrial militancy that followed in the late 1960s, and that contrary to much of the existing historiography it neither was a simple reaction to external forces nor did it draw primarily on a ‘traditional’ working class consciousness. In post-war Britain, new solidarities and values could be forged, even as others were eroded.

Journal Article.  9738 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Contemporary History (Post 1945) ; British History

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