Flexible Workers: The Politics of Homework in Postindustrial Britain

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Type
Article
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Authors
McCarthy, H 
Abstract

jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:pThis article opens up a new perspective on market liberalism's triumph in the late twentieth century through an examination of the political battles that were fought in Britain over the regulation of homework. Ubiquitous in the late Victorian era, this form of waged labor was curtailed by Edwardian wage regulations but resurged in the 1970s as a result of competition from low-wage economies abroad and fast-changing consumer tastes. Alongside growing use of homeworkers in consumer industries, new information technologies made it increasingly possible for some forms of professional work to move into the home. This article explores the debates that swirled around these different forms of homework, pitting antipoverty campaigners, feminists, and activists against ministers, employers, and civil servants. It shows how Conservative and New Labour governments failed to recognize the structural similarities between Victorian-style “sweated” labor and the emerging world of telework, freelancing, and self-employment, and how the intellectual excitement generated by Britain's transition toward a postindustrial future dovetailed with the New Right commitment to deregulation and the creation of “flexible” labor markets. A brief comparison with homework in the United States underlines the value of local, particular histories to our larger understanding of ideological change in modern societies.</jats:p>

Description
Keywords
43 History, Heritage and Archaeology, 47 Language, Communication and Culture, 4303 Historical Studies, 4705 Literary Studies, 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth
Journal Title
Journal of British Studies
Conference Name
Journal ISSN
0021-9371
1545-6986
Volume Title
61
Publisher
Cambridge University Press (CUP)