Individualism and Inequality

Individualism and Inequality

The Future of Work and Politics

Ralph Fevre

A belief in individual self-determination powered the development of universal human rights and inspired social movements from anti-slavery to socialism and feminism. At the same time, every attempt to embed individualism in systems of education and employment has eventually led to increased social inequality. Across the globe individualism has been transformed from a revolutionary force into an explanation for increasingly unequal societies where dissent is largely silent. This book explores the possibility of rediscovering the original, transformative potential of individualism.

Chapter 12: The apotheosis of individualism at work

Ralph Fevre

Subjects: business and management, critical management studies, economics and finance, labour economics, politics and public policy, human rights, public policy, social policy and sociology, labour policy


The previous chapter suggested that it was difficult for anyone who trusted capitalist companies, governments and supporting organizations to serve as the guardians of individualism to reach the conclusion that class might be a cause of inequality. This chapter will add some very reliable and robust statistical confirmation that such trust is widespread. The British research it summarizes was very expensive to undertake and comparable data for other countries are not widely available. Nevertheless, the research shows that, in one country at least, employees’ faith in their employers’ devotion to individualism is strong and cognitive individualism continues to make inroads in the workplace. Chapter 10 described the UK’s individualized employment rights framework as a keystone of neoliberalism. Trade union members are in a minority and mostly concentrated in the public sector and the majority of employees are apparently reliant on a host of employment rights covering recruitment and dismissal and a great deal in-between. Are they content to do without the help and protection of the trade unions? While managers would much rather deal directly with employees, it is by no means certain that public opinion agrees with them. A 2013 British poll showed 8 out of 10 adults still thought trade unions were essential to protect workers’ interests. Whereas in the years before and after the election of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives in 1979 most believed the unions had too much power, in 2013 only a third did so (Ipsos MORI 2013).

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