INDUSTRIAL CITIZENSHIP IN BRITAIN: ITS NEGLECT AND DECLINE
In recent debates about struggles around globalisation the issue of workers rights has been central, however, the conceptualisation of workers’ rights has been neglected.1 The discussion of rights raises the idea of citizenship, and for workers, the question of industrial citizenship. The concept of industrial citizenship was introduced by T. H. Marshall in his famous account of the relationship between citizenship and social class, originally developed around 1950.2 Citizenship in general refers to the equal membership of a national societal community, where those individual citizens are theoretically guaranteed equal rights of speech, association, etc., and equal rights of political participation. Industrial citizenship is where employees have the right to form and join unions and to engage in actions such as strikes in pursuit of higher wages and better conditions of employment.3 Industrial citizenship, then, is not to be equated with ideas of industrial democracy, although some national systems of industrial citizenship might approximate some models of industrial democracy. However, industrial citizenship in Marshall's account is largely seen as secondary to the rights of civil citizenship, and with a few exceptions4 has received little attention from subsequent commentators who have attempted to develop Marshall's account. The relative neglect of industrial citizenship is paradoxical, but understandable. Much of the subsequent work on citizenship has been to critique, extend and modify the notion in relation to various dimensions of inequality, such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and disability 5, or in relation to debates around structural social changes such as globalisation 6 and the restructuring of welfare provision7. In this intellectual and political context, where social inequalities, conflicts and issues of social justice are largely conceptualised in terms of culture, debates about citizenship, class conflict, and especially trade unions, tend to be ignored. However, the relative neglect of industrial citizenship in particular was to be found in Marshall’s account in the first instance. This partly explains much of the subsequent lack of interest in developing the concept of industrial citizenship.
This brings me the second theme of this paper. The decline of industrial citizenship in Britain during the past twenty years. This is also a paradox. Whilst industrial citizenship has been in decline in Britain, it has also been neglected by intellectuals, yet other dimensions of citizenship have arguably been extended. In the main body of the paper below I shall seek to demonstrate empirically the decline of industrial citizenship through an examination of the changes in British industrial relations legislation between 1980 and 1993. These changes have been dramatic, and thus form a key case study for thinking through the idea of industrial citizenship, and examining the way in which it is both the terrain and the outcome of organized and institutionalised class struggle. The broad context of these legislative changes were Conservative governments hostile to most forms of union activity, and a decline in union membership and strike activity linked to the economic restructuring of Britain away from manufacturing to service industries. In 1978 53 per cent of British employees were union members, by 1989 this had fallen to 39 per cent and by 1999 was just over 29 per cent.8 Strike activity shows a similar decline. In 1976 there were over 2,000 official strikes in the UK, by 1987 there were just over 1,000 and by 1999, there were just 205 strikes. Similarly worker involvement in strikes has fallen from 4.6 million in 1979, a peak year, to just 93,000 in 1998, the year with the lowest figure. In the 1970s around 1 million workers participated in strikes annually, whereas in the 1990s the typical annual total of workers involved in strike activity has been between 130, 000 and 380, 000. Part of this trend can be explained by the economic restructuring of Britain, but legislative change has also played a major if difficult to quantify role9.
The paper beings with a critical discussion of Marshall’s theory of citizenship, paying particular attention to his idea of industrial citizenship. Whilst a few authors have made use of Marshall’s ideas on industrial citizenship, they still retain his liberal-individualist assumptions. I shall argue that it is necessary to take seriously the idea of unions and employers as legal subjects through the concept of collective industrial citizenship rights. Collective rights of industrial citizenship and individual rights are inter-dependent and not reducible to each other. Later sections attempt to conceptualise how industrial citizenship has changed in Britain and to analyse the legislative changes in terms of those dimensions of change. Since the decline of industrial citizenship in the 1980s and early 1990s, however, there have been signs that it has been strengthened in favour of unions’ interests. This involves not just he election of a Labour government in 1997 and its keystone legislation in the Employment Rights Act (ERA) of 1999, but also the impact of European legislation, principally the European Works Council (EWC) directive of 1994. Whilst the ERA stengthens an individual’s right to union membership, and makes provision for legally enforceable union recognition procedures base on the US model; the EWC directive opens up a space for industrial citizenship based on German works councils for those employed in those companies that are active in more than one European country. An analysis and preliminary assessment of these developments in given in the final sections.