Tim Strangleman, Emma
Hollywood, Huw Beynon, Katy Bennett and Ray Hudson (1999) 'Heritage
Work: Re-Representing the Work Ethic in the Coalfields'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 3, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/4/3/strangleman.html>
To cite articles published in Sociological Research Online, please reference the above information and include paragraph numbers if necessary
Received: 8/4/1999 Accepted: 23/9/1999 Published: 30/9/1999
Today, they [the miners] only inhabit our world as ghosts from a rapidly receding past, so that the near-death of the industry has freed the historian from the uncomfortable but compelling commitment to the day-to-day battle of the living (Ackers 1996 p.160).
One starting point must be an awareness that the historiography of the labour movement and especially perhaps of the miners has been distorted by stereo-types (Howell 1987 p.402).
What seems to be taking place at the very time that actual mining settlements are disappearing from the actual landscape of Britain is that their place in the political and cultural landscape is becoming fixed (Gilbert 1995 p.49).
...it was ordained that the coal miners as the archetypal proletarians and the folk heroes of their class were going to conquer...There is a long standing tradition in which the miner or collier is seen as the original and quintessential proletarian (Harrison 1979 p.2).
...a miner, virile and handsomely tousled after a hard day at the pit, smiling vacuously. A little overworked to be sure, but cleansed by his honest labours...The NCB public relations department has even produced a promotional pamphlet for recruitment which features multicoloured day-glow pits and colliers on fast motorcycles with pretty girls in tow (Douglass and Krieger 1983 p.13).
The idea was to contrast him [a Victorian collier] with the immaculate conception of a space-age miner before the banks of TV screens, directing the automatic operations of a remote face (Ibid. p.18).
Countless times I have seen the miner dressed in his pit gear leading the parade, shorts, vest, kneepads, oil lamp, helmet and boots, an exact copy in fact of what most of us do wear down the pit. The exasperating thing is when he is announced as 'an old-fashioned miner' (Ibid.).
Reasonably enough, the NCB promotes the image of a clean, streamlined, almost clinical industry in which the men are over burdened by memories of the primitive past (Ibid. p.26).
The class character of such localities, the local social institutions and their separateness from other not dissimilar places, tend to lead to frequently repeated claims of a dual experience, hardness, ugliness and danger on one side, friendliness, closeness and solidarity on the other...Further while there is clearly felt stigma in and about pit villages, there is also a sense of a shared glory and pride (Warwick and Littlejohn 1992 p.17).
Yesterday it was coal. Today it's computer chips and microtechnology. Heavy industry out. High tech manufacturing and service industries in (EDDA undated).
Much of the investment is in leading edge technologies and innovations, which means that a new and sound economic base for the future is already forming (Mansfield District Agenda for Change p11).
...a large pool of skilled and semi-skilled labour. Historically a strong work ethic runs through the people of this former mining community. They are proud and hard-working, energetic and friendly. In short Easington people are great people to work with (Easington District Council placetobe 1992 p.2) (see also
While Rhondda Cynon Taff has been taking great strides forward to meet the challenges of the future, so has its skilled and flexible workforce. Proud of their heavy industrial past, today's workers are equally proud of the way they have adapted to embrace new, diverse industries such as avionics, plastics and food processing...It has also welcomed flexible working patterns, built up excellent labour relations and shown higher than average productivity levels. It is little wonder that the local labour force has impressed so many new investors (Rhondda Cynon Taff undated) (see also
The spirit of this north Nottinghamshire town comes naturally from its people; gritty and tenacious, renowned for their guts and their appetite for hard work. It is their drive and ability to adapt by learning new skills which have put them in a position to reap the rewards of the 90s and beyond (Mansfield District Council business guide 1998 1.1) (emphasis added) (see also
Local people have a natural resilience and adaptability, and if you consider drive and determination important, you will find these resources in abundance within the district. The tradition here is to get on with the job, as borne out by the regional statistics (Mansfield District Council business guide 1998 3.1) (emphasis added).
A flexible, competitive and efficient labour market is important to achieving growth and job creation. Flexitime, overtime and shift patterns are established working practices within Mansfield (Mansfield District Council Business guide 1998 3.6).
...whilst the coalfields have gone, the people are there, there's two ways about it...I mean the culture of those people goes back, you know, certainly, a century...there is a very strong work ethic...they are very hard working people...(East Durham Taskforce interview 1998 p.21)
What we'd say, we've got it, you know, mining, workers are traditionally, you know, resilient, they've got this quite good reputation. We tend not to have industrial relations problems, you know, to the same extent as some of the other countries and certainly probably other parts of this country. So you would sell it on that basis (East Durham Taskforce interview 1998 p.20) (emphasis added).
And the people are little short of miraculous, in terms of, you know, their approach to life, and their determination. I mean, they're by no means a bowed people. I don't know how they compared specifically with other people, but I, as an outsider, have been very impressed by the approach of individuals. More impressed by the approach by individuals than by their agents, such as, local authorities and what have you. I see these squabbling hierarchies, the actual people are genuinely nuggets! And that is traded upon, in that they are presented to the potential inward investors as one of the strengths of the area. The actual people are used to team working, in very bad conditions, awkward hours, and you know, they are very co-operative. So the workforces, is low skilled, low educated but good (Mansfield 2010 interview 1998 p.18) (emphasis added).
Generally yes, they have got a pretty good reputation...the kind of attributes that they've got they are pretty flexible, they work really well in teams, and they have been used to a fair amount of change the last 20 to 30 years. They are in pretty good demand, once you get hold of the terms and conditions issue they are problematic. As I say a lot of miners would have taken anything just to get a step on the labour market. (North Nottinghamshire TEC interview 1998 p.3).
...well, traditionally, you had workforce here that's, worked on, sort of, on a shift basis, had to work under hard conditions etc so, we sell the workforce as hard working, er, you know, can sort of, work any patterns really, in that sort of sense, so that that's how we sell the sort of workforce in that sort of sense (Mansfield District Council, Economic Development unit interview 1998 p.25)
But the legacy those big companies left here, which was the work ethic, if you wish, the discipline and indeed the fact that most of them were going on a continuous shift basis and imposed that discipline as well, and people are still very interested that they had that kind of employee, an employee who is willing to be flexible is there. That has been a big help to us. Indeed I remember when that was coming through when we had the redundant miners, that certainly, if you were an underground skilled tradesman, electrician or whatever, people were beating a path to your door for those guys, because the pick was just like gold. They didn't stay unemployed for more than a day, as far as I remember (St. Helens Economic Development unit interview 1998 p.20) (emphasis original).
I certainly do! The whole thing, the discipline, the ethic. When I first came, what did they used to call it? 'A fair day's work, for a fair day's pay!'. But it is still there. In the '70's anyway, there was a problem we had to counter here, which was 'oh! you're part of Merseyside'. Both at the County level and eventually District level, you would say to prospect investors, as you brought them in, as you crossed the M57, you'd say 'this is where the culture changes. This is the cultural dividing all right! This is where the accent changes. Listen, watch...' Once you said that, they would in fact see it, and it is true. It is entirely different (St. Helens Economic Development unit interview 1998 p.21).
People have been mining coal in the same sites, where my pit was they had been mining coal there since the 16th century, so the geographically the miners have always been where the coal is so everybody who has lived there has always been part of the mining culture and tradition, not for a few decades but hundreds of years and that has to have an effect on the socialisation on the people who live there. And considering the pits didn't shut, started to shut until on a large scale in the last decade we are only ten years down the line. That social process is still having an impact and effect on the community... (CISWO North West interview 1998 p.12)
Without a doubt, without a doubt! Yes. It goes back 450 years. So I think it has left, not just the physical mark, it's in the psyche all right. (St. Helens Economic Development unit interview 1998 p.23)
...there hasn't been a great block of enterprise culture, now whether that is changing and the reason that we have said there hasn't been a great, sort of, enterprise culture. Now whether that is changing and the reason we have said that there is not a lot of people being, sort of, gone in and starting their own business...traditionally there has been a reliance on, you know, four major companies, in the Borough and everybody worked for Pilkingtons, aunties, uncles, nephews, nieces and whole families, again, we saw that with SmithKline Beecham, whole generations in there... (St. Helens Economic Development unit interview 1998 p.23).
Er, partly history. A number of elements of history. The local authority in the, at the height of the coal mining area, I mean it became, almost, an off shoot of British Coal. If you go into a coal village, it's a bit like belonging to the Military. You know, you're living in your own camp, everything is provided for, by the Coal Board, your entertainment is provided, your house is provided, your health is provided, your sport is provided, it's almost, in a coal mining community, like being signed up to the Military. 'The Military will provide'. The Coal Board, provide everything you need, including good salary and a car. And the local authority represented that, you know, it was propped up and sustained by coal miners, by shop stewards, by Coal Board money, you know, if ever they wanted to do something, they'd go to the Coal Board and say 'we'd like a new thingy here'(Mansfield 2010 interview 1998 p.10).
...in an area like Mansfield, particularly, you'd find this sort of very introspective world, that was totally self-sustaining...So you've got a lot of culture, in looking culture, that you start with, which doesn't break down very readily, it doesn't break down. (Mansfield 2010 interview 1998 p.10)
Well, obviously, with mining industry there was a lot of dependency culture...generations were coming from mining industry, and quite often once they were in, they felt there was a job for them for life. You know. And it was available at leaving school, so this dependency culture that's been built up, for everything...there is both a cultural change that is required and also, kind of, sort of, new expectations, to a certain extent, in terms of making sure that people can then link back into labour market really. So I would say that for a mining era, created dependency culture really. And now because of the changing, you know, the changing global market etc and new employment conditions, people are having to adjust to that really (Mansfield District Council, Economic Development unit interview 1998 p.9).
School- college-HE low achievement. The characteristics are always the same in coalfield communities, I could see exactly the same when I was in Barnsley and Doncaster. Presumably it was some sort of security that protected them from needing to change. In other words these are the industries that are sustainers they're there, they're going to be there we don't need to do anything else and they provide us with a pretty well reasonable standard of living, certainly compared to the rest of the industry locally. So perhaps its some sort of insularity that comes out of coalfield communities. What ever it is it's the same, my experience says its the same as other coalfield communities, the attitudes are the same. Lack of aspiration and therefore expectation. (North Nottinghamshire TEC interview 1998 p.4)
I suppose a number of reasons, its cultural I think partly...I mean traditionally people I suppose knew that they were leaving school and they would get a job down the pit. And although that hasn't happened for a number of years it's difficult to get out of that culture isn't it? (North Notts. College interview 1998 p.3).
Well inevitably I think there is a dependency culture there, if you like. The inactivity levels are very very high in all of these communities (MEP interview 1998 p.8).
Well it has grown up because of the nature of the coal industry. It leads essentially one industry one class societies, people worked in the coal industry and that was it. There was relatively full employment most of the time and if you didn't work in the industry you became a teacher or a preacher or maybe a shopkeeper. Sometimes you would leave the valleys sometimes you would stay there. But the idea of someone working outside of the public sector, it was unheard of. An antipathy towards capitalism, you know 'the world is not about making profits is it?' So I mean there is actually a cultural change require (MEP interview 1998 p.11).
Culture has turned from being something an organisation is into something an organisation has, and from being a process embedded in context to an objectified tool of management control (Wright 1994 p.4) (emphasis original).
...in essence it's an evangelical approach to changing attitudes in local communities, it appears to have some success so watch this space. With a view to having 12-15 people who act as facilitators, mentors or promoters or what ever in the area so that they will help to change the culture of the area (North Notts. College interview 1998 p.3).
The history of the mining people and their settlements is both too important to be left to uncritical mythologising, and too complicated to give unambiguous support to the new political languages of community (Gilbert 1995 47).
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