Deindustrialization embodied: work, health and disability in the United Kingdom since the mid-twentieth century

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


There was an intrinsic dignity to industrial manual labour, and workers drew much value and meaning from the toil that provided their livelihoods in the mature British economy in the middle of the twentieth century. Industrial work was invariably physically demanding, dirty, dangerous, unhealthy, and, for some, precarious, demeaning, and uncertain. Nonetheless, negligible levels of unemployment, powerful trade unions, and a post-war political consensus contributed to humanizing work in a mixed economy (with substantial nationalization, including the coal mines from 1947) where basic human rights in the workplace were enshrined in a comprehensive legal labour code. The latter consisted of rights to organize, to picket during strikes, to access to a wide-ranging National Health Service, and to workplace health, safety, and welfare, including (albeit limited) financial compensation for job loss, work-related injuries, and a cluster of industrial diseases, such as (from 1942) the epidemic of pneumoconiosis prevalent in underground mining. These were the fruits of decades of intense workers’ struggles. For some, work was simply a means to an end, a necessary activity to earn a living. However, for many and probably most, as I’ve argued elsewhere, industrial work in the United Kingdom after the Second World War provided a sense of purpose, pride and identity and a source of enduring friendships and meaningful social relationships, and contributed to a vibrant if complex working-class culture. Despite the persistence of some occupational disease and the emergence of new risks on the job, the more stable employment patterns also contributed significantly to markedly improving patterns of health and well-being in the 1945-75 period, as well as the more effective inclusion of previously marginalized groups, including immigrants and the disabled.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Deindustrialized World
Subtitle of host publicationConfronting Ruination in Postindustrial Places
EditorsSteven High, Lachlan MacKinnon, Andrew Perchard
Place of PublicationVancouver
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017


  • deindustrialization
  • workers
  • workers health
  • disability


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