Workers' testimony and the sociological reification of manual / non-manual distinctions in 1960s Britain
The discussion that follows uses interview transcripts from Goldthorpe and Lockwood’s classic “Affluent Worker” study to explore a range of issues that can shed light on similarities and differences in the lives of white- and blue-collar workers in 1960s Britain. Although the original study stressed the fundamental differences in the life experiences of manual and non-manual (male) workers, it did concede that processes of “normative convergence” might be reducing those differences, especially outside work. Returning to workers’ original testimony, and particularly to the under-used non-manual sample, allows us to explore the issue of “convergence” more fully than was attempted in the original study. Many non-manual workers possessed strong family and life-course connections to (manual) working-class life, indeed many saw themselves as working class. Most embraced a very similar understanding of class and class hierarchy to shop-floor workers, identifying themselves as part of a large mass of “ordinary workers” who constituted the great bulk of the population. Clerical workers in the lowest paid occupations were especially likely to see class in these terms. It is suggested that the tendency to highlight differences rather than similarities in class experience subsequently weakened the scope for a broad-based politics organized around “workingclass” interests, especially given the sharp deindustrialization of the 1970s and 1980s.
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