I am a PhD student in the Department of History at the University of Wolverhampton. My research uses oral testimony to explore how deindustrialisation in the Black Country impacts upon meanings of work and the identity that workers draw from their labour.
In my thesis I interview former steelworkers about their experiences of work and deindustrialisation in the Black Country in the 1970s. I also interview workers engaged in the work that emerged from the wreckage of deinstrialisation. Their oral testimony reveals how it continues to haunt communities in the present.
I grew up in the Black Country in the English West Midlands. My interest in deindustrialisation stems from personal experience; my father and four other members of my family worked at Bilston Steelworks until it closed in 1979.
After studying history and politics at undergraduate level and industrial relations as a postgraduate, I have worked in the British trade union movement as an organiser and negotiator. I currently work for the Public and Commercial Service (PCS) Union.
I am also interested in labour history and trade union history as well as football and music in working class culture.
My project explores the generational effects of deindustrialisation in the Black Country.
In the thesis, workers from two steelworks in the Black Country, Bilston and Round Oak, provide oral testimonies that recount their experience of work in the 1970’s. Their testimony suggests that during the 1970’s there was a deliberate management withdrawal from the post-war corporatist approach in both the public and private sector of the British steel industry. This process of retreat provoked disputes and threatened to dissolve an established moral economy in the steel industry well before closure.
I then examine how the experience of deindustrialisation in the region informs understandings of work today in the service sector jobs that emerged to replace industrial work. Poundland warehouse staff and public sector call centre workers, working on the site of the former steelworks, discuss the lingering consequences of deindustrialisation and resistance to it.
I have situated my research in the Black Country; a cluster of towns located to the north and west of Birmingham, England. The Black Country experienced rapid and intense deindustrialisation in the late 1970’s. Like in many other places, the experience was a devastating one. In the space of a decade unemployment rose from less than 1% to 25% and the region, which had enjoyed a 30 year period of relative affluence, found itself one of the poorest in the United Kingdom.
I engage with the work of Linkon, Strangleman and others who have conceptualised a ‘‘half-life’ of deindustrialisation’ to reveal its liminality and the ongoing connections between industrial and post-industrial society. My research addresses the absence of research that has examined the impact of deindustrialisation in the Black Country. It also adds to the limited historiography on the British post- war steel industry.
I would welcome the opportunity to become part of this exciting SSHRC Partnership and to learn from and collaborate with others. I am particularly keen to engage with academics, researchers and others who are undertaking work that questions the long term effects of deindustrialisation.