Clinging to collectivism? Some ethnographic shop-floor evidence from the British lock industry 1979-98

John Black*, Anne Marie Greene, Peter Ackers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Thatcher government came to power in 1979 with an agenda to transform Britain into an 'enterprise economy'. The chosen means were both legislative reform in the field of industrial relations and economic policies aimed at a labour-market 'shakeout'. In this context we consider how far the public rhetoric of 'human resource management' and 'new individualism' are reflected in the attitudes of union members in one large lock company over a fifteen-year period, revealing that, notwithstanding the harsh climate, union salience has increased. We also attempt to build upon recent work in challenging simplistic dichotomies between collectivism and individualism (Storey and Bacon, 1993). Our aim is to provide an ethnographically 'thick description' (Geertz, 1993: 6) of one workplace assailed by the external forces of 'Thatcherism' and the 'enterprise culture'. The study demonstrates the resilience of a collectivist mentality (Waddington and Whitston, 1997), under certain distinctive circumstances, and qualifies arguments that unions should move towards a more client-centred, servicing model (Cave, 1994).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)941-957
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Human Resource Management
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1999


  • Collectivism
  • Ethnographic
  • Trade union salience
  • Union strategy employee voice
  • Workplace experience

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