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Title: More life, less speed : industrial unrest at the Ford Motor Company in Britain and the politics of working-class autonomy in the long 1970s
Author: O'Cearnaigh, Eoin
ISNI:       0000 0004 8503 4719
Awarding Body: Goldsmiths, University of London
Current Institution: Goldsmiths College (University of London)
Date of Award: 2019
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Aside from contemporaneous material by activists, scant traces of the politics of working class autonomy appear in the historiography and wider literature on Ford in Britain. Focusing on the 1970s, this study reframes the firm's history in relation to these politics. Doing so highlights the role of workers' struggle at Ford, which was a key locus for more widespread unrest at a time of crisis and transition. As a work of twentieth century social and cultural history, it draws on a broad range of sources, including newly conducted oral history interviews and material from private papers not cited previously. In the USA, France and Italy, an international context linked the automobile sector to the emergence of autonomist politics, which were articulated in Britain from 1960 onwards by Solidarity, a group with links to Ford's workforce. Later that decade unrest at Ford became enmeshed with the ill-fated policies of a Labour government, leading up to the launch of the rank and file newspaper Big Flame. Influenced by Italian workerism, Big Flame became a national political organisation that intervened at Ford, where another strike confronted the subsequent Conservative administration's Industrial Relations Bill. When Labour returned to power, the further breakdown of trade-union mediation at Ford led to increased conflict and saw these politics develop further inside and outside the factory. Elements from this tendency then initiated the Ford Workers Group ("The Combine"), which took a lead in the 1978 Ford pay strike, a major blow against the government's Social Contract. Although activity continued under Margaret Thatcher's premiership, including efforts to coordinate Ford's European workforce, unrest at the firm never again had the same impact. This account reframes our understanding of this history, while also having relevance to current theoretical debates, for instance those concerning accelerationism, and recent renewed interest in the practice of workers' inquiry.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral