1c: Change and challenge in the workplace: Industrial relations, 1939-79

The war years, 1939-45

  • Through the 1939 Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, Ernest Bevin had almost complete control over the British workforce - Bevin repeatedly preached moderation & cooperation, hoping that workers & bosses could find compromises between themselves.
  • 1940 - gov banned strikes & lockouts through introducing Defence Regulation 58AA.
  • 1942 - miners at Betteshanger in Kent went on strike illegally → gov took over the running of the coal industry from its private owners & fined 1,050 miners between £1 - £3, however when miners in other pits joined in solidarity, the Home Secretary was forced to drop the charges & improve wages.
  • 'Bevin Boys' often went on strike because they were angry about the lower rates of pay they received compared to the older & more experienced mine workers.
  • In the spring of 1944, 100,000 Welsh miners went on unofficial strike for better wages (average wage was £5 per day, compared to £6.10 for manufacturing workers) - gov quickly gave in to their demands & miners realised that the war presented opportunities for improved pay that peacetime had not offered.
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Industrial relations, 1945-51

  • Throughout the war, union leaders had been appointed to numerous gov bodies on wages, industry & social policy, & this continued after 1945 - union leaders had more access to decision making than at any other time & their views were frequently heard within gov.
  • In 1939, union leaders sat on 12 gov committees → by 1949 they sat on 60.
  • In 1945, 120 Labour MPs were sponsored directly by the unions - 26 of these became ministers & 6 sat in the cabinet, inc. Ernest Bevin.
  • Between 1945-51, the TUC & Labour shared similar views on economic & social priorities.
  • After the General Strike, Labour repealed the 1927 Trades Dispute Act, restoring the union movement much of its power in industrial disputes.
  • In 1947 the Conservatives carried out a review of its policies & published the Industrial Charter - clear indication that the party recognised that growing union membership & widespread desire for a welfare state meant they had to adopt Labour's pro-union approach.
  • The Charter expressed the Conservatives' desire to see large unions that democratically represented the will of their members.
  • Conservatives argued a 'human relations' approach to dealing w/ workplace disputes was better than strike action - believed discontent could be avoided by considering the opinions of workers.
  • A paternalist approach to running businesses would assure that the interests of all parts of industry could be protected.
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Industrial relations, 1951-64

  • 1950s was an era of high employment & high trade union membership, & union membership grew throughout the 1960s & 1970s.
  • TUC general secretaries (e.g. Vic Feather & Len Murray) lived comfortable, affluent lives, although they worked long hours in the interests of their members.
  • Both Feather & Murray had begun their union careers in the 1930s & 1940s, during periods of depression, war & austerity, & they had not been heavily influenced by post-war materialism whereas many younger union members were keen to participate in the consumer boom of the 1950s & wanted the wage rises that would enable this to happen.
  • Many members had more in common w/ the unpaid & more militant shop stewards - some stewards were able to build power bases within certain factories & called strike action long before a decision had been made by senior union management.
  • The stewards had no constitutional right to call strikes & often staged walkouts before any negotiation w/ management could be arranged.
  • The growth in the power of the stewards led to more aggressive, confrontational unions in the 1960s & 1970s - this new attitude was a product of the success of the new consumerism & WC people wanted pay rises in order to participate in the consumer boom & they were less content to ask politely for this due to a decline in deferential attitudes throughout the period.
  • By mid-1960s, no. of strikes called without a national ballot was rising, & by 1970, 10m working days were lost to strike action.
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Industrial relations, 1951-64

  • Conservative minister of labour (Walter Monckton) attempted a conciliatory policy w/ the unions but relations between the TUC & Conservatives deteriorated.
  • Between 1945-54 there were approx. 1,751 strikes per year, involving just over 500,000 workers, & between 1955-64 there were approx. 2,521 strikes, involving 1.1m workers.
  • Unions were often blamed by MC observers and newspapers like The Times for Britain's relatively weak economic performance during the boom of the 1960s, but figures suggest this was not entirely fair - unions became a convenient excuse for deeper economic troubles & a source of resentment to many MC.
  • There was a growing perception among the public of unionised men being lazy, obstructive & too powerful.
  • I'm Alright Jack - in 1959 the comedy film became the most successful movie of the year. It satirised British industrial relations by presenting a union shop steward as a pompous, incompetent bully who forced the factory that employed him to go on strike over the tiniest issues. The popularity of the film suggests that this was familiar to the British viewers.
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Industrial relations, 1964-69

  • Throughout the 1960s, wildcat strikes increased steadily - Wilson was reluctant to intervene but the image of the pompous shop steward was becoming associated w/ the wider union movement as a whole, which was a serious political problem for Labour, who were sympathetic towards unions.
  • On average 3m days were lost to strikes each year throughout the 1960s, & this jumped to 4.7m in 1968, causing The Times to call it 'the year of the strike'.
  • 1968 Girling Brake strike - wildcat strike which stopped the manufacture of brakes for the British car industry, leading to 5,000 workers across the industry being temporarily laid off & millions of £s in orders being lost.
  • Increased militancy was the result of rising inflation throughout the 1960s & the growth of affluence throughout the decade only benefited the professions that were rewarded with above-inflation pay increases.
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'In Place of Strife'

  • 1968 - Conservative opposition proposed union reform  Wilson created his own policy in 1969 called 'In Place of Strife' (created by Barbara Castle) which proposed that:
  • Gov could order a strike ballot before official industrial action took place if a strike was deemed to threaten the economy - Castle knew the majority of workers would prefer to remain at work in most situations & a ballot would reduce the power of the union bosses
  • Workers in unofficial strikes led by militant shop stewards could be ordered back to work by the secretary of state for employment for a 28-day 'cooling off' period
  • When unions fought one another in the workplace the dispute would go to an industrial board who would hand down a legally binding verdict
  • A strike that broke these rules could be declared illegal & the union could face stiff fines & its members could be imprisoned
  • The White Paper received widespread public support however the unions were opposed to it.
  • The Labour Party was divided & when James Callaghan (home secretary) opposed it, Wilson feared for his job & the legislation was scrapped - this was a victory for the unions.
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Industrial relations, 1970-74

  • Heath's 1971 Industrial Relations Act tried to introduce all measures Castle had proposed but this legislation was ineffective because TUC refused to cooperate & threatened expulsion for any union that did.
  • Miners were underpaid & undervalued throughout the 1960s - they had been excluded from the nation's prosperity & rising prices due to inflation made strike action more likely as the miners saw their living standards decline.
  • Throughout the 1960s, the NCB had closed 400+ pits & 420,000 miners made redundant - only way the NUM could keep pits in poor areas open was by making low wage claims.
  • 1970 - NUM voted for a 33% wage increase & strike action - just over 50% agreed to strike however a 2/3 majority was required → wave of unofficial strikes broke out across North England & South Wales.
  • Heath's gov had imposed a pay policy that restricted pay rises to 8% & in December 1971 a second ballot was successful & a strike began in Jan 1972 (NUM rules had changed by this point & the ballot only needed a 55% majority).
  • NUM called a second strike in the winter of 1973-74, as they realised the oil crisis of 1973 left the country dependent on coal so saw it as an opportunity to gain pay increases from the gov - power stations began to run short on coal supplies leading to power cuts gov declared state of emergency & ordered a 3-day working week between Jan-March 1974 as businesses were supplied w/ electricity for 3 days a week.
  • 1974 - Heath adopted the slogan 'Who governs Britain?' - Conservatives defeat shows public had no confidence in their ability to deal w/ unions.
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Arthur Scargill

  • Most high-profile union member during the dispute - leader of the Barnsley Area Strike Committee & was on the left of the NUM.
  • Was a Marxist trade unionist & believed the struggle against the gov was an attack on the capitalist system as well as a fight for better wages - popular among many WC people during the dispute however became a more divisive figure during the 1980s.
  • Scargill developed a tactic of 'flying pickets' where he used a group of 1,000 miners to quickly blockade power stations & coal depots - in 1972 this reduced electricity output to 25%.
  • Scargill had 40,000 miners picketing 500 sites across the country & Heath feared widespread violence & loss of life if the striking miners were confronted directly.
  • Heath had not sufficiently planned for the strike & had no way to beat it - when Scargill succeeded in shutting down the Saltley coke depot in Birmingham, the gov offered a 27% pay rise.
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Industrial relations, 1974-79

  • New Labour gov repealed Heath's Industrial Relations Act & negotiated a new 'social contract' w/ the unions - voluntary code to prevent the need for a formal incomes policy & rested on the assumption that union bosses could persuade their members to accept pay restraint.
  • Union bosses were becoming less influential than union shop stewards & it was difficult to ask their members to stick to 6% pay rises during a period of 27% inflation.
  • 1975 - TUC agreed to pay increases of £6 a week to workers earning <£8,500 - TUC accepted further limits in 1976 & rejected motion at the 1976 TUC conference to end the social contract.
  • Callaghan & Denis Healey made inflation a more important economic priority than former Labour leaders - by 1977, Healey believed inflation was being brought back under control & that free bargaining could return, but warned against 'greedy' unions demanding too much.
  • In 1978 inflation soared once again & Healey enforced a strict 5% increase for low-paid workers - resulted in the winter of discontent in 1978-79.
  • Ford attempted to enforce the gov's pay policy  15,000 auto workers went on strike on 22 Sept 1978 - was unofficial at first but by 5 Oct the TGWU had endorsed it & other Ford workers struck - total no. of workers on strike rose to 57,000. Ford offered a 17% pay rise, meaning they incurred gov penalties, however showed the social contract was unenforceable.
  • Left of Labour party also sabotaged the social contract - voted through a motion at party conference in Oct 1978 that the gov stop intervening in pay negotiations.
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Industrial relations, 1974-79

  • Gov now had no way of enforcing pay restraint & unions seized opportunity to gain pay raises.
  • Dec 1978 - lorry drivers began an overtime ban & demanded a 40% pay rise - Callaghan was reluctant to call a state of emergency like Heath had done, even though it would enable the Army to drive lorries & oil tankers. The TGWU picketed oil refineries, meaning petrol could not reach petrol stations & heating oil could not reach schools, hospitals & homes & the situation was worsened by one of the longest, coldest winters since 1947.
  • 22 Jan 1979 - millions of low-paid public employees went on strike as public sector unions tried to ensure their members got the same pay rises as employees in the private sector.
  • >33% of public sector employees earned £40 a week & the unions demanded it rise to £60 & the Royal College of Nursing demanded a 25% wage rise for nurses.
  • Public sector unions began to lose control over their members, who declared strike action in vital services e.g. ambulances & 999 telephone lines & the British press reported that cancer patients had to use the London Underground to get to hospital appointments.
  • Jan 1979 - grave diggers in Liverpool went on strike & the press printed full-page stories of mortuaries filling w/ dead bodies.
  • Mountains of rubbish began to form in city centres caused by refuse collectors striking.
  • Gov offered public sector strikers 11% pay raise & attempted to negotiate w/ unions however realised the unions had lost control over their members.
  • 1969 - 60% of people had positive views of unions, 1979 - 20% did.
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