The ambivalent worker: A study of supervisors in the shipbuilding industry

Sloan, Maureen A. (1996) The ambivalent worker: A study of supervisors in the shipbuilding industry. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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This is a study of supervisors in the shipbuilding industry and is essentially a historical and sociological analysis. The fieldwork was undertaken at VSEL in Barrow-in-Furness in the North West of England. VSEL is a long established naval yard currently engaged in the building of Trident Nuclear Submarines. Other work undertaken can be subject to the approval of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) under the Official Secrets Act, equally all its employees and 'long term visitors' are subject to MOD clearance.
Using Roethlisberger's classic 1945 model as the supervisor as the 'man in the middle', and acknowledging the contribution of other authors (Woodward, 1958; Yanousas, 1964) who added an 'individual differences' dimension to the model, this thesis argues that these models are incomplete. It proposes that to understand supervisors in the shipbuilding industry fully a further dimension must be added; that of the history and development of the shipbuilding industry and the company itself. Only by understanding where the supervisors have come from can we appreciate where they are now and why they are there.
This 'outside boundary' to the traditional model is not a closed system and is itself shaped by and subject to political events, cultural and labour process changes within the industry and the changing nature of world markets. This thesis will argue that the critical factor for supervisors at VSEL is precisely that they are at VSEL. Any model that omits this dimension misses a critical part of understanding.
The analysis of supervisors at VSEL starts with a review of the literature around supervisory labour and explores the problems within this.
Critical to the thesis is the analysis of the development of industrial relations and particularly the development around craft identity.
The decline of the UK shipbuilding industry and a profile of VSEL provide an important context for the empirical analysis.
The empirical work is centred around two chapters, looking "through the keyhole" at management's view of supervisors at VSEL and seeing "through the looking glass" at the supervisors' perceptions of their own changing role and status.
The work is drawn in conclusion back to the original model proposed, arguing that the expanded analysis proposed in this thesis is the only way to see the full picture of these "ambivalent workers".

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