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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Politics, unions, and the new middle class : a study of white-collar workers in Britain Robbins, Allan R.


The thesis portrays the British white-collar worker in relation to four domains of analysis: the workplace, the trade union, the class system, and political life. Its empirical findings derive from in-depth interviews with 134 "staff employees of Midland Products", a large manufacturing corporation in Nottingham. At Midland, the broad evocation "the rise of white-collar work" obscures the cleavage in non-manual job types between light clerical positions and better-paid, highly-ranked, and supervisory positions. It also obscures a cleavage among the staff employees between women, who are more satisfied at work and less interested in promotion, and men, who are relatively dissatisfied and more ambitious. Moreover, men dominate the better, and women the most junior and poorest-paid jobs at the company. Nevertheless, women are much less likely than men voluntarily to affiliate with trade unions. Women are also more hostile to the power unions hold in British society. Midland's modal trade unionist is male, order, suggestively more senior in the hierarchy, but unlikely to subscribe to unionism's high principles. The staff employees are sharply divided by class identity; just 52% self-classifying as middle class. "Many believe themselves, and on the conventional measure are, upwardly mobile. But a middle or working class identity is a poor guide to staff employee views on workplace and social issues. Nor does it reflect the profound occupational inequalities they experience at the company. Most staff employees identify with and vote for the Conservative party. The Tory coalition includes virtually all those raised in Conservative homes, together with many raised by Liberals and Labourites. Inter-party migration is especially common among the sons and daughters of manually-employed Labourites who are subjectively mobile. Yet 30% of Midland's staff employees are Labourites, which is an important barrier to the normative coherence of the stratum. Owing primarily to the growth of non-manual Labourites, the outlook is for even more fragmentation in Britain's new middle class. Coupled with analogous changes in the industrial working class, the power of "the class dynamic" may be much attenuated in the 1980s.

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