Roberta Garruccio, University of Milan e Fondazione ISEC on Andy Clark, Fighting Deindustrialization. Scottish Women’s Factory Occupations, 1981-1982, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press (Studies in Labour History 19), 2023, 251 pp. 


In the lead-up to DePOT’s upcoming June 2024 Glasgow conference on Deindustrialization Gender and Family, we will be publishing a series of three commissioned book reviews of Andy Clark’s Fighting Deindustrialisation: Scottish Women’s Factory Occupations, 1981-82 followed by a response by the author. In keeping with the transnational mission of DEPOT, we have invited scholars from three countries outside the UK to read and engage with the book. Our opening “May Day” entry is written by Roberta Garruccio, an economic historian at the University of Milan. Her publications include Voci del lavoro. Dagli anni settanta a oggi: globalizzazione e cambiamenti in una fabbrica Pirelli (Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2012); “Chiedi alla ruggine. Studi e storiografia della deindustrializzazione,” Meridiana 85, (2016), 35-60; (with Gilda Zazzara), “La rivoluzione deindustriale,” Passato e Presente 105, (2018), 177-203; “‘Hardly a cause for tears’, Job Insecurity and Occupational Psychology Culture in Italy. Oral Narratives from the Falck Steelworks in Sesto San Giovanni (Milan),” in Stefan Berger (ed.), Constructing Industrial Pasts: Heritage, Historical Culture and Identity in Regions Undergoing Structural Economic Transformation (Oxford: BerghahnBooks, 2020), 160-183; “Visualizing Deindustrial Ruins in an Oral History Project: Sesto San Giovanni (Milan),” in BIOS – Zeitschrift fűr Biographiesforschung, (2020).  – Steven High, DePOT’s principal investigator. 


Andy Clark’s book examines women’s occupations in three industrial sites within a small geographical area in Scotland’s central belt: Lee Jeans in Greenock, Lovable Bra in Cumbernauld, and Plessey Capacitors in Bathgate. These occupations occurred during Margaret Thatcher’s first government when the region’s deindustrialization was accelerating, unemployment was rising, and opportunities for young people to earn a living in manufacturing were diminishing. None of these factories represented central Scotland’s traditional heavy industry sectors and male-dominated workplaces. Instead, they employed predominantly female workers, focused on producing consumer goods, and were branches of multinational companies that decided to relocate their plants elsewhere between 1981 and 1982. 

Andy Clark reconstructs the women’s actions in response to the threat of their factories closing. The workers at Lee Jeans, Lovable Bra, and Plessey Capacitors raised their voices, demonstrated female leadership in the struggle, rejected shutdowns and relocations, and decided to stay in the factories to prevent closures until their demands were met. 

The historiographical operation on which the book is based rests on three pillars. Using archival documentary sources, the author traces the industrial dynamics in Scotland between the 1960s and 1980s; analyzing the newspapers of the time provides insights into the political significance and media resonance that the occupations had while they were taking place; conducting in-depth interviews with some of the women protagonists of the struggles points to understanding how they have interpreted the intervening changes of the last forty years and how their memory has been mediated over the decades.   

Considering the women workers’ resistance to capital mobility at each site and the occupations at Lee Jeans, Lovable Bra, and Plessey Capacitors together, Andy Clark sets both a broader and more specific goal. On the one hand, draws on the theory of collective action contributing to our comprehension of workers’ mobilization in deindustrialization; on the other hand, fills a gap in our knowledge because if Scottish women’s industrial activism was a media hype at the time, yet has been marginalized in the national memory and public narratives during the following decades, erased from popular representation and overlooked in academic studies concentrated on male workplace closures. 

Andy Clark argues that these occupations are crucial to labor and working-class history and identifies at least three elements of these actions that are of particular interest in the dynamics of deindustrialization: the decision to occupy the factories, a strategy less practiced than bargaining for better terms of redundancy; a successful outcome (to varying degrees in the three cases) in that the occupations prevented complete closure (though not in the long run) and sparked broad public discussion on non-contingent issues. The struggles gave workers the right to denounce the effects of state subsidies that remove governance of multinational corporations from public accountability, to expose the shifting balance of power that attributed increasing weight to capital, and to bring corporate decision-making into the political arena.  

At the same time, the occupations at Lee Jeans, Lovable Bra, and Plessey Capacitors gave workers the opportunity to show that there was a space for effective militant resistance.  

At the beginning of the book, Andy Clark positions himself in relation to his interests in deindustrialization in general and the occupation of these factories in particular. Born in Greenock in 1990, he was a child when the town’s industrial sites were cleared and some regenerated, so he is personally affected by the half-life of deindustrialization and has collected oral history sources in order to reconstruct how deindustrialization was lived locally.  

In the interviews, the respondents emphasized that the multinational corporations decided to relocate production elsewhere despite the performance of the workers, the continued demand for the goods produced, and the productivity that contributed to high-profit levels. They also pointed out that the companies falsely claimed the opposite (low productivity, obsolete facilities, lack of orders), benefited from substantial government funds, grants, and subsidies, and sold the idea of a better economic future to workers and local governments, never publicly admitting that their intention was to relocate to sites where costs were lower, and more government support was available, once the grants were exhausted. The dispute was, therefore, emerging as a battle between Scottish workers and irresponsible multinational corporations acting at the expense of workers’ livelihoods and the opportunities of their communities. For the workers, the focus of the narrative shifted to the relationship between private capital and public expenditure, between corporate greed, misuse of public funds that had encouraged a sort of “subsidy tourism”.  All this has fuelled a deep sense of injustice. 

If injustice is seen as a crucial element in mobilization theory, Andy Clark argues that in his case studies it was a necessary but not sufficient impetus. It would have been impossible to grasp the workers’ motivations for action without considering closely the gendered dynamics of workers’ mobilization. He contends that gender played a crucial role in the occupations. The interviews allow us to consider how workplace relationships developed before the closure announcements, to find evidence of latent structures of collectivism among workers, the bonds of practical solidarity that had been developed on the shop floor, the ways in which these dynamic layers of injustice and multiple grievances shaped the nature of the disputes over time, and they are re-staged by those involved, assessing their significance in the memories of activism. 

The sense of injustice surrounding the closures evolved through the struggles rather than being established at the outset and significantly impacted the nature of the actions.  

I personally appreciated how Andy Clark, drawing on the models of Lynn Abrams and Sandro Portelli and the literature on intersubjectivity, made careful use of oral sources. The research leverages the strengths of oral history: it takes the reader from the particularities of life stories to the broader history, guards against undue generalization, offers recognition and a listening ear to people who are excluded from public discourse and political visibility, and works on a relationship between the present and the past by considering the working-class as always in flux.  

The interviews collected may not be statistically significant, but they are significant in other ways, for they shed light on the various dimensions of the experience of working-class women at Lee Jeans, Lovable Bra, Plessey Capacitors: upbringing, education, family, locality; post-school careers; jobs in the production processes; post-factory work and retirement; reflections on their communities and change over the course of their lives.  

If injustice is seen as a crucial element in mobilization theory, Andy Clark argues that it was a necessary but not sufficient impetus in the case studies. The sense of injustice surrounding the closures evolved through the struggles rather than being established at the outset and influenced the nature of the actions.  

It would have been impossible to grasp the workers’ motivations for action without considering closely the gendered dynamics of workers’ mobilization.  The interviews conducted with the workers at Lee Jeans, Lovable Bra, and Plessey Capacitors allow us to consider how workplace relationships had been tightened before the closure announcements, giving evidence of bonds of kinship, solidarity and friendship that had been developed on the shop floor.  

Through the analysis of the testimonies, the book shows us how gender intersects with class and how gender elements are relevant in the conflict between capital and labor because they affect the distribution, exercise, and consequences of power.  

The interviews make it clear that gender elements (such as equal pay, subjugation, and sex-based discrimination) were not emphasized at all at the time of the occupations. What was crucial, however, was women’s interaction and sociability in the process of developing a collective identity. Precisely because, as E. P. Thompson pointed out, “class is not a thing, it is a happening.” this book reminds us that class, as an active experience oriented towards transformation, has a dynamic nature and is about how we act but also about who we act with.