chapter  4
18 Pages

Attempts to “Modernize”: Nationalization and the Nationalized Industries in Postwar Britain


This confusion was to lie at the heart of dilemmas over how to govern and manage nationalized industries throughout the postwar golden age, as the Attlee government launched nationalization as an economic imperative that would permit greater interventionist dirigisme. The scale of the project was enormous. Public sector employment rose from 2 million before the war to 7 million after it; and from 10% to 30% of the workforce. The nationalized industries’ output was £980m in 1950, and the sector accounted for 20% of gross domestic capital formation (Hogwood 1992, 129-130). Civil aviation, inland transport in the form of railways, long distance road haulage and canals, electricity, gas, iron and steel, and the coal industry became, respectively, the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), and then British Airways in 1974; the Transport Commission, incorporating rail and road haulage (though the latter was re-privatized from 1953); British Waterways; the Central Electricity Generating Boards

and the regional suppliers; the 12 Area Gas Boards; the Iron and Steel Board, privatized in 1953 but re-nationalized as British Steel in 1967; and the National Coal Board. The Bank of England was also nationalized in 1946. Some areas in which Labour’s party conference called for nationalization remained immune: large-scale builders and retail banks, to name but two. But, in general, Labour’s rank-and-fi le and leaders believed that they had indeed seized the ‘commanding heights’ of the industrial economy (Saville 1993, 37, 43).