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Changing experiences of (steel)work: capitalism, technology and the question of skill

Stroud, Dean Allen and Fairbrother, Peter 2009. Changing experiences of (steel)work: capitalism, technology and the question of skill. Presented at: International Labour Process Conference, Edinburgh, UK, 6 - 8 April, 2009.

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The dominant form of paid work in the early twentieth century – industrial, standardised, often large scale and largely male – has been transformed in a variety of ways by, among other things, technological innovation, more varied recruitment of workforces, and the embrace of flexible forms of employment. Very few industries have been left untouched by the processes of restructuring and ‘modernisation’ that have been taking place, and which have had numerous and diverse implications for the experience of work in the twenty-first century. In this paper, we employ data on work and employment in the European steel industry to provide an account of the changing experiences of work (in a changing industry), amid the wider set of global developments that are happening. In recent years, there has been much debate about work and the changes that may be taking place. Edgell (2006), for example, in an overview of debates and evidence about work in the current moment argues that while change has taken place it remains within a framework of capitalist employment. Other discussions draw attention to processes of industrial decline and the restructuring of sectors and the economy more generally, including the prospect of the knowledge economy, the development of service industries and the re-composition of the modern capitalist society (see inter alia Nichols and Beynon, 1977; Beynon, 1985; Brown and Lauder, 2001). Nonetheless, it is also important to recall older debates, where it has been argued that the developments that were taking place in the 1960s and 1970s did so in the context of a complex combination of ‘technological, economic and social forces’ (Blauner, 1964 p. 164. See also Gallie 1978). While, overall, these diverse studies suggest that the broad contours of capitalism remain intact, there have been changes in work and employment relations. Our analysis point to the dimensions that need to be taken into account when considering the changes that are occurring in traditional industries, especially where technological innovation is used to increase productivity and output, as is the case in the European steel industry (on this aspect, see Blauner, 1964). Equally importantly, the texture and contours of the community from which a workforce is drawn are often understated (a dimension that is noted by Blauner 1964, p. 10). The intention of this paper is to extend the existing analyses by considering the way in which the quality of jobs, the organisation of work and the way in which worker mobility within and beyond the steel industry is developing (see Lloyd et al. 2008). We contend that there are numerous consequences for workforce integration and employment, industrial and social relations in the workplace – particularly in the emergence of a workforce that is polarised in a number of important ways (for example, in terms of its skill, qualification and demographic profile). Central in this respect is the emergence of new strategies for the recruitment, retention and development of the industry workforce, which, we suggest, needs to be understood through the lens of the capitalist aspect of work relations, and the persistence of these relations (Nichols and Beynon, 1977; Edwards and Wajcman, 2005). References Beynon, H. (ed) (1985) Digging Deeper: Issues in the Miners' Strike, London: Verso, Blauner, R. (1964) Alienation and Freedom: The Factory Worker and His Industry, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Brown, P. and Lauder, H. (2001) Capitalism and Social Progress: The Future of Society in a Global Economy, Baskingstoke/New York: Palgrave/Macmillan. Edgell, S. (2006) The Sociology of Work: Continuity and Change in Paid and Unpaid Work, London: Sage. Edwards, E. and Wajcman, J. (2005) The Politics of Working Life, Oxford: Oxford University Press Gallie, D. (1978) In Search of the New Working Class: Automation and Social Integration within the Capitalist Enterprise, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lloyd, C., Mason, G. and Mayhew, K. (2008) (eds) Low wage work in the UK, New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Nichols, T. and Beyon, H. (1977) Living with Capitalism: Class Relations and the Modern Factory, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
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Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 03:31

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