"Where Welfare Holds the Key to Prosperity"? Industrial Paternalism and Industrial Relations in the Ebbw Vale Steel Industry, 1944-1962

Bleddyn Penny


This article aims to explore the relationship between welfare capitalism and industrial relations atRichard Thomas and Baldwins’ Ebbw Vale Steelworks in the immediate post-warperiod. Whilst recognising the far-reaching historical origins of paternalisticactivities in the Welsh iron and steel industries, the central thesis of thisarticle concerns the two decades following the end of the Second World War whenthe welfarist activities of the Ebbw Vale Steelworks were at their mostcomprehensive and ambitious. This period saw the appointment of the plants’first designated welfare officer and the unprecedented creation of anorganisational body, the Ebbw Vale Works Welfare Council, solely dedicated tocoordinating the recreational and welfare activities of the plants’ employees.It will be argued that the Works’ supererogative commitment to employee welfareduring this period was part of a broader industrial relations strategy thatsought to foster a spirit of cooperation and common endeavour in industry. The supportive role of the steel union in the implementation of this welfarestrategy will also be considered and its philosophy of moderation andconciliation compared with that of Wales’ then most prominent industrial union,the National Union Mineworkers. In doing so, this article seeks to challengeprevious assumptions surrounding the nature of industrial relations, working class identity and industrial culture in South Wales during this period.

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