The Moral Economy of the Scottish Coalfields: Managing Deindustrialization under Nationalization c.1947-1983

Ewan Gibbs

The nationalization of British coal mining in 1947 was met with optimism and expectation. The restructured industry was characterised by a novel form of joint regulation between management and trade unions which facilitated achieving the social goals of improved health and safety, career advancement to better paid positions or management and secure employment. The experience of mass unemployment and social injustices including the victimisation of trade unionists and neglectful safety practices during the interwar period shaped moral economy expectations of stable employment and consultation. Closures were negotiated and accompanied by the provision of suitable alternative work to preserve community cohesion. This paper analyses pit closures in the Lanarkshire coalfield, Scotland’s largest. It is based on National Coal Board (NCB) correspondence and meetings between management and trade union representatives as well as oral history interviews with respondents from mining backgrounds. The contested nature of contraction and shifting NCB practices over time are emphasised.  The dismantling of the moral economy in favour of aggressive anti-trade unionism is analysed in relation to the closure of Lanarkshire’s last colliery, Cardowan, in 1983, against community and workforce resistance, prefiguring the 1984-5 miners’ strike.

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