Responding to restructuring: The geography of trade union responses to the restructuring of local government services in Britain, 1979-89

Painter, Joseph Matthew (1991). Responding to restructuring: The geography of trade union responses to the restructuring of local government services in Britain, 1979-89. PhD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

This thesis considers the development of policies and practices by trade unions and their members in response to changes in the way services are provided by British local authorities. The research was conducted in the context of debates about the changing fortunes of the trade union movement, and these are outlined. The particular set of practices associated with public service trade unionism in the 1970s developed during the emergence of the crisis of the ‘Fordist mode of regulation’. Drawing on the French regulation school of political economy the study discusses the characteristics of the ‘neo-liberal’ path to post-Fordism adopted by the British government during the 1980s, and its implications for local government trade unions and local government services. Trade union responses to the policies which constitute this path are examined at both the national and local level, in the latter case through four detailed case studies of Newcastle, Manchester, Wandsworth and Milton Keynes. The nature of the trade unions’ response in each case is considered in terms of the idea of overlapping networks of ‘locales’ or settings for action, and the resulting uneven geographical development of new forms of trade union action is highlighted. The concept of ‘locale’ emphasises the way in which aspects of settings form part of the resources of action itself. Through a discussion of the work of David Harvey, this is considered further in an examination of the ways in which ‘place’ and ‘community’ can be sources of radicalism for the trade unions. The study concludes with a consideration of the implications of the geographical constitution and geographical expression of trade union action for the transition from the Fordist mode of regulation.

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