After Industrial Citizenship: Adapting to Precarious Employment in the Lanarkshire Coalfield, Scotland, and Sudbury Hardrock Mining, Canada

By Condratto, Shelley; Gibbs, Ewan | Labour/Le Travail, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

After Industrial Citizenship: Adapting to Precarious Employment in the Lanarkshire Coalfield, Scotland, and Sudbury Hardrock Mining, Canada


Condratto, Shelley, Gibbs, Ewan, Labour/Le Travail


IN EUROPE AND NORTH AMERICA, mining was a significant source of industrial employment over the 19th and 20th centuries. The nature of this work has shifted in recent decades. During the mid-20th century, mining provided large-scale, full-time, and relatively stable employment for men. Mining operations were typically based in secluded localities that were often overwhelmingly reliant on the sector. This article is concerned with the erosion of industrial citizenship and its replacement by market citizenship regimes predicated on "flexible" labour. (1) In Standing's terms, industrial citizenship both reified wage labour as a commodity and placed limits on the logic of labour market forces via Keynesian economic management and collective bargaining over wages and employment conditions. (2) These were visible in mining sectors across developed economies through strong trade-union organization, employment security, and community embeddedness anchored by the promise of lifetime employment and worker dialogue with employers. This historically specific model of industrial citizenship has been eroded through sectoral restructuring entailing corporate divestment and a push for a short-term, individualized employment relations. The shift toward market citizenship has centred on worker disempowerment through the erosion of joint regulation of the workplace as well as the diminution of direct employment.

A comparative examination of the changing status of work and employment within the coal mining industry of Lanarkshire, Scotland, and the nickel mining industry of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. Although Lanarkshire and Sudbury differ legislatively and in the commodity produced through mining, both locations share similarities by which to establish a case study on adapting to the loss of industrial citizenship. Our analysis focuses on the experience of workers who have lost their status as industrial citizens. It emphasizes material losses in wages and employment stability but also challenges to personal and community identities.

This article focuses on the loss of industrial citizenship, emphasizing how former miners and their communities have adapted to increasingly liberalized labour markets. Such a comparative analysis contributes to an emergent literature concerning precarious work and market citizenship in both Canada and Britain. Our findings demonstrate that in both cases the traditional occupational identities that underpinned collective solidarities in the post-World War II era have been eroded. This has stimulated workers' adaptation to individualistic and instrumental attitudes toward employment. However, such outlooks are contested. Fragments of collectivist culture and attitudes remain within areas formerly dominated by mining employment. These conflicting attitudes are exemplified by recent conflicts over strikebreaking in Sudbury and by ongoing arguments over individual benefits and communal harm associated with opencast mining developments in South Lanarkshire.

T. H. Marshal defines industrial citizenship as a system "involving rights and duties, the 'essential duty' to work being one of them, along with the obligation 'to put one's heart' into one's job." (3) In return, industrial citizenship "provided workers with rights to self government via legislation protecting and facilitating freedom of association and collective bargaining as well as limits on commodification through labour standards and social rights." (4) These findings were recorded in a Canadian setting but accord with experiences across developed economies during the mid-20th century. Cowie refers to the experience of the period between the 1930s and 1970s in an American context as "the great exception," when "collective economic rights" held out "the illusion of permanence for many--the inevitable domestication of capitalism" before the forces that held together "labor liberalism" fragmented. (5)

The scholarly focus on declining industrial employment has shifted from the "body count" of lost jobs and resistance to closures toward a focus on "the cultural meaning of deindustrialization. …

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