Technical change and the transformation of work : the case of the British coal industry
This thesis examines the suggestion that dramatic changes are occurring in the organisation of work and production, and that these amount to the emergence of a new 'post-Fordist' industrial paradigm. In particular, the claim that introduction of new forms of microelectronic-based technologies is leading to the emergence of new forms of skilled work, and that, as a result, old forms of industrial conflict are ameliorated, is analysed. The value of this conceptualisation of contemporary workplace change is questioned. A critique of the 'post-Fordist' argument is offered. This stresses: that new tendencies in the organisation of work can be discerned but that generally these are occurring alongside enduring forms of hierarchy and control; that the new forms of work and production represent a reformulation of traditional capitalist concerns of efficiency and control through the extension of 'flow principles'; and that the pattern of change in reality is highly uneven and spatially differentiated. An examination of the pattern of workplace restructuring in contemporary Britain reveals that it owed little to the unfolding of a new, universal industrial paradigm, and more to a peculiar concern with the alleged 'restrictive practices' of labour. Significant changes in work and industrial relations are acknowledged to have occurred, but are seen as owing less to the inherent properties of new technology than to historically developed pattern of social conflict and compromise. The study then offers more substantial evidence of the nature of workplace change through a case-study of the nationalised British coal industry. The post-war process of mechanisation and the rationalisation of work and industrial relations is analysed. It is argued that in the 1970s a strategy of technical change was initiated in which microelectronic-based technologies were important. The impact of this restructuring on two coalfields - the North East and Selby - is examined. Although centrally-determined, the pattern of restructuring was highly uneven and, in each case, was overlain by a concern with alleged labour indiscipline. Thus restructuring owed as much to dominant perceptions of the British industrial problem, as did it did to the demands of new technology.