Working class culture: The work-in at Upper Clyde shipbuilders

Woolfson, Charles Alexander (1982) Working class culture: The work-in at Upper Clyde shipbuilders. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The thesis investigates the formation of a unified class identity among a highly sectionalised labour force, the shipbuilding workers of Clydeside. One episode is examined in detail, the work-in at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders during 1971-72, which was a protracted campaign for the 'right to work' by a. workforce whose jobs were jeopardised by the sudden bankruptcy of the company. The successive phases of the work-in are reconstructed through documents and records of the time including transcribed tape-recordings of the workers' discussions and meetings. An attempts is made to show the detailed unfolding of the workers' strategy ?nd tactics in response to the internal and external pressures upon them to abandon or modify their objective of preserving both their own employment and the shipyards as functioning entities. It is suggested that the success of the workers in securing their objectives was contingent upon the ability of the shop stewards leading the campaign to forge and maintain a cohesive solidarity among the workforce, despite divisive sectional undercurrents, The work-in itself, although largely symbolic in nature, is shown to be the focus for national and international working-class solidarity and, in addition, to command the support of other sections of the population not normally identified with workers' struggles. It is argued furthermore, that in posing certain fundamental questions 3, bout the future direction of the Scottish economy, this campaign for the right to work provided the initial focus for a broader anti-monopoly alliance to begin to take shape as well as the context for demands for Scottish devolution. It is maintained that as a result the Conservative Government reversed their decision to reduce the scale of shipbuilding on the Upper Clyde and embarked upon a fundamental change in industrial policy which became known as the U-turn of the Heath administration. The UCS campaign is pinpointed within a period of rising working class militancy in the early 1970's and it is suggested that it itself made a significant contribution to generating organised worker resistance elsewhere s not only to redundancy threats, but to the broader social and industrial policies of the government. The wider implications of the UCS campaign are examined therefore in terms of what is identified as a watershed phase in the development of post-war British capitalism. Those and subsequent developments have raised several fundamental questions about the contribution of trade union struggles to political change and strategies for Socialism in contemporary Britain. The final part of the thesis examines these issues on the basis of the UCS study. It is argued that trade union struggle can be seen as the site of regeneration for a working class culture preserving within it historical memories of class experiences of resistance to exploitation. A Leninist redefinition of working class culture is offered which identifies its core in an ideology of democracy and socialism deriving from the application of principles of solidarity, collectivism and straggle. Working class culture while based on trade union struggles is not necessarily therefore limited to purely wage militancy. Rather, it is a collective class inheritance based on resistance to exploitation which is capable of providing an essential springboard to more revolutionary challenges. As such the thesis attempts to reinstate the central importance of the struggles of the organised working-class as the leading force in the general movement for social change.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Labor relations, Labor economics
Date of Award: 1982
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1982-73735
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2019 08:56
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2019 08:56

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