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Fairfield Experiment: Ahead of its time or a doomed episode in the yard?

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Fairfield Heritage, Govan

1048 Govan Road

Govan

Glasgow

G51 4XS

United Kingdom

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The Fairfield Experiment is well known to economic, business and labour historians, and yet despite the publicity and notoriety at the time, has been largely forgotten in public memory. In October 1965 The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Limited entered receivership. The closure of the yard was prevented by an experimental management team led by Sir Ian Stewart and backed by the UK Labour Government. The idea was that there would be a tripartate industrial partnership between the management, trade unions and the government, with each investing money to keep the yard open. Other objectives included increased productivity achieved through the introduction of work study and a new business organisation with a focus on personnel management. Stewart envisaged that Fairfields would be a valuable general ‘proving ground’ for improving efficiency on the Clyde as a whole, which would in turn secure the future of shipbuilding.

The experiment lasted for a short time, but in that time attracted a great deal of publicity. Sean Connery even made a documentary entitled The Bowler and the Bunnet which detailed the attempts by the new management to overcome class divisions in shipbuilding, as well as the aims of the experiment as a whole. However, the Fairfield Experiment has generally been portrayed as a failure in historical literature where it often presented as an isolated episode: idiosyncratic, eccentric, unrealistic, wrong-headed and doomed. This talk will reassess the long term consequences of the Fairfield Experiment and ask whether Stewart was too pioneering in his vision or whether the Experiment was indeed a failure.

Dr Valerie Wright is currently Research Associate on the Leverhulme Trust funded project 'Employment, politics and culture in Scotland, 1955-2015' based in Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow. She is a historian of modern Scotland with particular expertise in gender, social and political history.


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Fairfield Heritage, Govan

1048 Govan Road

Govan

Glasgow

G51 4XS

United Kingdom

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