'They've took our jobs, they've took our town' : changing working men's lives in a solidaristic community
This study is focused on the relationship of a group of older working class men, both to the type of work they have performed and known through their lives, and the place they live, Thornaby in Teesside, North East England. The dominant relationship between work and place was fractured in the 1980s by the permanent closure of the town’s major employer, though Thornaby and its people have always had close links to other neighbouring Teesside based heavy industries. Redevelopment has subsequently occurred, bringing mostly office and shop based employment - jobs that, according to these men, are not for them. This project examines how these men have adapted and redefined their lives, mostly without paid work, and explores how they view the now altered town in which they live. The study employs ideas based around 'sense of place', and also Bourdieu's concept of 'habitus'. This is then positioned into the historical context in which these people’s lives have been played out. They grew up with Keynesian macro-economic management, the welfare state, and council houses for working men and their families. Subsequently, the incoming Thatcher government of 1979, promoted a different economic ideology, resulting in mass unemployment, as major employers, such as Thomaby's Head Wrightson, shut down for ever. A qualitative approach was employed, this backed up by secondary data, this helped to develop an image of the background and historical contexts of these peoples' lives. At the centre of this study was a series of formal interviews, these further backed up through simple conversations and general observations of people and their circumstances. The study concludes that people have adapted, often rationally, but not necessarily in a manner that government would want. For example, many use Incapacity Benefit as a viable alternative to low paid work. The issue of older workers without employment is not a new matter, but it has been aggravated as a consequence of the industrial policies of the Thatcher and Major governments, and the emergence into middle-age of the post-war 'baby boomers'. A shift to a supply-side approach to unemployment has enabled government to transfer the blame of unemployment onto the unemployed themselves. In the case of the North East, there is still a considerable shortage of jobs, though this appears not fully recognised by government. Until this is addressed, all policy can do is to 'plug holes and slowdown leaks' as they occur. For the older former workers, the absence of employment has meant that their old discourse - in the manner in which many of them have associated with each other since childhood - has remained mostly intact. However, redevelopments are bringing in new ways of working, along with 'up market' private housing estates. Many of these men feel under attack from different directions. Other people appear to be arriving and turning the place which these men have known since childhood into somewhere else - somewhere different from the town they recognise. For them, their own discourse is likely to continue in parallel to a changed community, until they have died out.