Historical Studies in Industrial Relations

Who Owns a Factory?: Caterpillar Tractors in Uddingston, 1956–1987

Historical Studies in Industrial Relations (2018), 39, (1), 111–137.

Abstract

This study of the Caterpillar earthmoving-equipment factory at Uddingston in Lanarkshire from its opening in 1956 to closure in 1987 contributes to debates about workforce resistance to deindustrialization. The analysis demonstrates how workers and communities asserted rights to ‘ownership’ of a valued local resource. Built on the site of a former mining village and the largest single industrial unit in Scotland during the 1960s, the factory was established with regional financial assistance. Policy-makers tacitly offered a viable future with more sustainable employment than coal mining. This promise was violated, first by the firm’s anti-union production regime which the workers overturned with a successful strike in the winter of 1960-61; and second, when the closure was announced in 1987. Workers challenged the company’s right to dispose freely of the factory and its equipment which had been developed with public money and their efforts. A 103-day occupation from January to April 1987 was led by a factory trade-union organization embedded in an extensive social infrastructure, with powerful familial ties. Moral economy claims of communal ownership of the factory were asserted by the occupiers in the face of corporate power and private property rights. Though unsuccessful the occupation represented an important attempt to resist the acceleration of deindustrialization in the 1980s.

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