The shopfloor experience of regional policy: work and industrial relations at the Bathgate motor plant, c.1961-1986

Macdonald, Catriona L. (2013) The shopfloor experience of regional policy: work and industrial relations at the Bathgate motor plant, c.1961-1986. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis explores the experience of work and industrial relations at the British Motor Corporation’s commercial vehicle assembly plant at Bathgate in West Lothian, from its establishment in 1961 until its closure in 1986. The plant opened in Scotland as a result of a government regional development policy which sought to create jobs and ameliorate the rundown of heavy industry in areas of high unemployment. The thesis considers the role of such policy in shaping industrial development since 1945, and, using the oral history testimony of former Bathgate workers to examine the impact of economic and social change on Scotland’s industrial population, contributes to the regional policy literature by extending the analysis beyond questions about its efficacy and considering the experiences of the workers and communities directly affected by such initiatives.

What emerges from this study of regional policy from the perspective of the shopfloor is the extent to which the plant’s establishment on a greenfield site, in an area of high unemployment, very much on the periphery of the UK motor industry and with little tradition of mass assembly production processes, shaped the subsequent evolution of its working conditions, industrial relations, and worker attitudes, as well as its position within the Bathgate community. The Bathgate experience therefore illuminates a number of key debates in the wider historiography of Britain and Scotland since 1945, not only in relation to regional policy itself, but also with regard to the motor industry, its industrial relations, and the development, in the post-war context of relatively high wages and the increasing stability of work, of a more typically ‘affluent’ working class.

The thesis is divided into two parts. Part One explores some of the issues surrounding the plant’s establishment in West Lothian, particularly the regional policy aspects, and the plant’s position within and relationship to both the wider BMC – later British Leyland – organisation and the British motor industry more generally. Part Two draws extensively on the influential ‘affluent worker’ thesis, as well as the literature around the industrial relations of motor manufacturing, in developing and exploring questions related to the way in which work was experienced at Bathgate, and the extent to which the attitudes and behaviour of its workforce came to reflect those which typified the motor worker elsewhere. Throughout, the thesis engages with and adds nuance to debates over the role of shopfloor organisation and strike activity in damaging the performance of British motor manufacturing, and, by drawing on the oral testimony of former Bathgate workers themselves, offers a fresh perspective on the post-war experience of regional policy both in a particular, under-researched regional policy plant, and in Scotland and Britain more broadly.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: motor industry, industrial relations, labour history, twentieth century scotland, economic development, regional policy, scottish history, industrial change, deindustrialisation
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Economic and Social History
Supervisor's Name: Phillips, Dr. Jim and Annmarie, Dr. Hughes
Date of Award: 2013
Depositing User: Catriona Macdonald
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4638
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 Mar 2014 08:55
Last Modified: 17 Mar 2014 08:59

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