The moral economy of the Scottish coalfields: managing deindustrialization under nationalization c.1947–1983

Ewan Gibbs

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This article examines conceptions of social justice and economic fairness with regard to employment. It does so through an analysis of the management of deindustrialization in the Scottish coalfields between the 1940s and 1980s. Emphasis is placed on the historical roots and social and political constitutions of labor market practices. The analysis is grounded within Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation; industrial relations within coal mining are conceived through an ongoing conflict between commodifying, liberalizing market forces and a “counter-movement” of worker and community resistance and state regulation, which works to embed markets within social and political priorities. E. P. Thompson’s moral economy provides the basis for an understanding of the formulation of communal expectations and employment practices that acted to mitigate the disruption caused by pit closures. The analysis grounds the historical roots of the moral economy within Poalnyi’s counter-movement and illuminates the operation of specific practices of a Thompsonian character within the nationalized industry, which maintained individual and collective employment stability. This is constructed utilizing interviews with former mineworkers and members of mining families. These are supplemented by archival sources that include the minutes of Colliery Consultative Committee meetings, which took place before pit closures. They reveal the moral economy was fundamentally centered on the control of resources, collieries, and the employment they provided rather than simply elements of financial compensation for those suffering from labor market instability. Resultantly procedure centering on collective consultation was fundamental in legitimating colliery closures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-152
Number of pages9
JournalEnterprise and Society
Issue number1
Early online date7 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2018


  • Moral Economy
  • Deindustrialization
  • Scotland
  • Coal
  • Activism
  • Trade union
  • Labour studies
  • Labour history
  • Class
  • Employment
  • Industrial relations


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