Work, class and conflict: a comparative study of three Cork factories, incorporating oral testimony

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Cullinane, Liam
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University College Cork
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This dissertation presents a comparative study of three factories in Cork Harbour area, Sunbeam Wolsey (1927-90), Irish Steel (1939-2001) and the Ford Marina Plant (1917-84). All three factories were significant industrial employers in both a domestic (Irish) and a local (Cork) context and are broadly representative of the Irish manufacturing industry that was developed under the policies of tariff protection introduced in the 1930s and gradually phased out between the late 1950s and the mid-1980s. Sunbeam Wolsey was a textile and clothing concern located on the north side of Cork City that possessed a borderline monopoly within its economic sector and was among the largest private employers of female labour in twentieth century Ireland. Irish Steel was the country’s only steel mill, located on Haulbowline island, a brief ferry-ride from the seaside town of Cobh, and was unusual in being one of the few manufacturing concerns operated as a nationalised industry under the auspices of the state. The Ford Marina plant predated the introduction of protectionism by more than a decade and began as the centre of the Ford empire’s tractor manufacturing business, before switching to the production of private motor vehicles for the Irish market in 1932. All three industries were closed or sold off when the state withdrew support, either in the form of tariff protection (Ford, Sunbeam) or direct funding (Irish Steel). While devoting much attention to the three firms, the central concern of this dissertation is not the companies themselves (though the economic history portion of the dissertation is substantial), but the workers they employed, examining the lives of these individuals both as members of the Irish working class, and, more specifically, as employees of the three factories under consideration. The project can be best described as a comparative factory study, comparing and contrasting the three workforces, focusing primarily on industrial relation and the experience of work. This dissertation utilises both documentary evidence and a significant quantity of oral testimony, breaking new ground by making the workplace the central focus of its investigation. The principal aims of the study are: 1. To document the lives of those who worked in these factories, capturing through oral testimony their subjective experiences of social class and factory life, as well as differences among narrators in terms of gender and status. In achieving this aim, the study will provide a broader social context for its detailed analysis of work and industrial relations in each firm. 2. To analyse the three workplaces and determine how and why each developed such distinct systems of industrial relations at the factory level, as well as to compare and contrast these systems. 3. To examine the nature of work in each factory and to determine how work and industrial relations in each firm developed over time, relating these changes both to internal and external factors. Additionally, the project will provide a comparative analysis of these changes.
Cork , Sunbeam Wolsey , Irish Steel , Ford , Industrial relations , Oral history , Labour history
Cullinane, L. 2016. Work, class and conflict: a comparative study of three Cork factories, incorporating oral testimony. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.