The decline of Dundee's jute industry is used here to throw fresh light on the much broader discussion of the ‘management of decline’ of the great staple industries – a key part of the historical political economy of twentieth-century Britain. The competitive pressures on jute are analysed, and the ways in which the industry responded to these. There is a particular focus on government-industry relations around the issue of protection, but also assessment of the overall employers’ response to market pressures. The experience of jute is compared with that of cotton, its closest comparator. The article suggests that decline was managed with some success until the 1970s, but that thereafter changes in the policy environment coupled with technological change led to the jute industry's rapid demise.