Social Inequality - Workplace Inequalities

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Social Inequality and Difference Emma Rudd
1B Workplace Inequalities
The workplace is highly unequal, it the main source of unequal financial rewards. Your position in
the labour market has a direct effect on your lifetime earnings, your living standards and your
ability to build up a pension, savings and investments. Many of the inequalities run along the lines
pf class, gender and ethnicity.
But workplace inequalities must first be placed in the context of the wider economic changes.
Britain's economy has undergone sweeping changes over the past few decades and these have
had a major impact on the workplace. As Roberts (2001) points out, economic change alters the
kind of jobs people do, as well as their opportunities to work at all.
The Changing Economy
Dramatic economic changes have transformed labour markets almost beyond recognition. The
main changes in the workplace over the last 100 years have been:
1. A decline in the number of jobs in the primary sector, mostly manual.
2. A rise followed by a decline in the number of jobs in the secondary sector, mostly manual.
3. A rise in the number of jobs in the tertiary sector.
4. A rise in the number of part time, temporary, home working and casual workers.
5. A rise in the functional flexibility expected of workers
6. A fall in the number of workers who are members of trade unions, and hence the
reduction in the power of trade unions.
7. A rise in globalisation
8. The process of embourgeoisement
9. The process of proletarianisation
10. A rise in the numbers of people who are long term unemployed
Sector Shifts
The economy consists of 3 sectors: primary (agriculture, mining), secondary (manufacturing,
construction) and tertiary (services). But Gallie (2000) shows that there have been long term
`sector shifts' which have transformed the job scene in Britain.
First the primary sector has shrunk.
Agriculture already accounted for only a tiny proportion of Britain's workforce as far back
as 1900 and mining suffered a sharp decline as the 20th century proceeded.
Second, manufacturing expanded and diversified in the first half of the 20th century but
saw a marked contraction in its workforce during the 2nd half. In 1980 28% of British jobs
were in manufacturing, but by 2000 this had fallen to 16%. But manufacturing output in
Britain remains high, even if its workforce has declined.
Third, there has been a remarkable and rapid growth in the services sector. By the end of
the 20th century, some 75% of jobs were located in the service sector, largely as a result
of the expansion of areas like finance, administration, health and education. Financial and
business services now account for about one in five jobs in the UK. But the service sector
is actually quite diverse. It also includes workers in `personal services' (e.g. hairdressers,
shop assistants, cleaners) and even security cards.
Some sociologists claim that Britain's labour market has moved from a `Fordist' to a
`PostFordist' style of operation. Fordism is the name given to the production pattern developed
by Henry Ford in the US. Ford set up large factories equipped with assembly lines to produce
motor cars on a mass scale. The product was uniform and standard. The division of labour in the
factory was clear and ridged, with each worker performing routine but highly specialised tasks.
Many of these workers could expect to have the same job all of their working life. The factory was
organised along hierarchical lines, with many layers of management between the shop floor and

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Social Inequality and Difference Emma Rudd
the board room. One of the alleged advantages of Fordism was the `economies of mass
production': if goods are manufactured on a mass scale, the costs of producing tend to drop. So
the Fordist model was quickly adopted by other industries and countries.
However in the global age there is no longer such a heavy demand for standardised goods
produced on a mass scale. Rather consumers have diverse and short lived tastes.…read more

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Social Inequality and Difference Emma Rudd
term welfare of the company and its workers. So they put pressure on companies to stay `lean'
and sack `surplus' staff.
Compared with 30 years ago, the average employee is only slightly more likely to become
unemployed. About a fifth of the workforce has ever been made redundant. But those who do
become unemployed are likely to remain so for nearly 3 times longer than in the past (Gregg and
Wadsworth, 1999).…read more

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Social Inequality and Difference Emma Rudd
This is yet another nonstandard form of work. In 2002 about 3million people were selfemployed
in Britain, almost double the figure for the 1970's. Selfemployment became more widespread in
the 1980's and 1990's, partly as a response to the high unemployment at the time. But it was also
a response to outsourcing, which created more entrepreneurial opportunities for small
Myths of Flexibility / Casualisation
Some researchers question whether the economy is quite as flexible as PostFordists suggest.…read more

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Social Inequality and Difference Emma Rudd
example a firm may decide its British workers are too expensive and so it may scale down its
operations in Britain and move production abroad. The fear that a firm may do this creates job
insecurity among employees and ensures that they moderate their wage claims.…read more




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