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Title: From commitment to control : a labour process study of workers' experiences of the transition from clerical to call centre work at British Gas
Author: Ellis, Vaughan
ISNI:       0000 0004 2683 4601
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2007
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Despite their continuing importance to the UK economy and their employment of significant numbers of workers from a range of professions, the utilities have received scant attention from critical scholars of work. This neglect represents a missed opportunity to examine the impact of nearly twenty years of privatisation and marketisation on workers, their jobs and their unions. This thesis aims to make a contribution to knowledge here by investigating, contextualising and explaining changes in the labour processes of a privatised utility in the United Kingdom. The research is informed by oral history methods and techniques, rarely adopted in industrial sociology, and here used alongside labour process theory to reconstruct past experiences of work. Drawing on qualitative data sets, from in-depth interviews with a cohort of employees who worked continuously over three decades at the research site, British Gas’s Granton House, and on extensive company and trade union documentary evidence the research demonstrates how British Gas responded to restrictive regulation and the need to deliver shareholder value by transforming pre-existing forms of work organisation through introducing call centres. The call centre provided the opportunity for management to regain control over the labour process, intensify work and reduce costs. In doing so, the study identifies the principal drivers of organisational change, documents the process of change evaluates the impact on workers’ experience. Thus, as a corrective to much recent labour process theory the research offers both an ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ account of change over an extended time. The contrast between workers’ experience of working in the clerical departments and in the call centre could not be starker. Almost every element of work from which workers derived satisfaction and purpose was abruptly dismantled. In their place workers had to endure the restrictive and controlling nature of call centre work. The relative absence of resistance to such a transformation is shown to be a consequence of failures in collective organisation, rather than the totalisation of managerial control, as the postmodernists and Foucauldians would have it.
Supervisor: Taylor, Phil ; Butts, Stewart Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Call centres ; Clerical work ; Labour process theory ; Oral history ; British Gas ; Privatisation ; Changes in the experiences of work ; Changes in the organisation of work ; Industrial sociology ; Marketisation ; Call centers Great Britain ; Public utilities Great Britain ; Privatization ; Industrial sociology ; Organizational change ; British Gas (Firm)