British Manual Workers:
From Producers to Consumers, c.19502000

Avner Offer



A large majority of the labour force were manual workers in 1960. As voters, they had electoral power to pursue collective goods. As producers they were able to disrupt production. The majority left school with no qualifications. Their human capital consisted of skills specific to particular production processes. These became obsolete with de-industrialization, and with the large rise in secondary and higher education. Educated workers relied more on individual bargaining power, and less on collective goods. Casting workers as consumers rather than citizens or producers punished those with low purchasing power, it de-legitimized producer collective action and justified low wages. Poverty increased and relative wages fell. Rising productivity was partly offset by rising house prices and longer household working hours. Council-house sales enfranchised a minority and penalized the rest. The majority continued to identify as working class, but their culture was discredited by market liberalism and consumerism.


Keywords: manual labour, human capital, skills,
consumerism, housing, market liberalism