Historical Studies in Industrial Relations

After the Long Boom: The Reconfiguration of Work and Labour in the Public Sector

Historical Studies in Industrial Relations (2020), 41, (1), 137–168.

Abstract

This response to Huw Beynon’s paper, ‘After the Long Boom: Living with Capitalism in the Twenty-First Century’ in HSIR 40 (2019), offers a parallel analysis of the fortunes of labour in the public sector. Among Beynon’s central observations, drawing on Karl Marx and Harry Braverman, was the continued reproduction of ‘unskilled’ and degraded labour. A parallel process, de-professionalizing occupations through the separation of conception and execution, has been a feature of the almost continual restructuring of state and local authority organizations and their work practices since the 1960s. This has accelerated in the era of governments committed to neoliberal values and policies. Despite public-sector trade unions having been largely conservative and defensive in their values and practice, a number of factors, both structural and conjunctural, have compelled them to face this new reality and make them the most likely organizations to challenge the expanding reach of neoliberalism. Recognizing these factors provides a possible remedy to the implied pessimism that follows the largely private-sector focus of Beynon’s contribution.

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Author details

Carter, Bob