History - Britain 1951-2007

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Trade Unions

Successive British governments were unable to manage the trade unions effectively. 

What constitutes effective management between governments and trade unions is a controversial issued and is subject to individual interpretation. In this essay the term 'effectively' will be dealt with in relation to the number of working days lost due to strike action. In addition, if governments were able to conduct reasonable negotiations when the disputes arose, thereby ensuring minimal impact on the economy. It could be argued tht the 1970s and early 1980s were a period of poor management due to the high number of strikes that occured. An alternative argument, that is similar to my own view is that the unions were not dealt with effectively until the 1980s and it was only during this period that coherent acts were implementated and adhered to.

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Trade Unions

The period 1951-68 can be views as one of having an appeasing attitude towards the unions. so Concillitory was Churchill's Minister of Labour, Monckton that he was mockingly called the Minister for labour and this theme was largely continued throughout this period. The number of working days lost due to strike action increased largely over this period, c1.6m in 1951, almost doubling to 3m in 1961, and by 1968 this figure was c.4.7m, thus highlighting the lack of effective management during this time in regards to tackling the trade unions. To further highlight this, there was also a number of concessions made during this time; Macmillan in 1958 when 50,000 Bus workers went on strike and the dockers were able to twice affect the volume of British exports in 1966 and 1967. It must, however, be noted that the Seamen were defeated when they went on strike in 1966, but one achievement cannot erase the others. Therefore, I would argue that the early period under both Conservatives and Labour was essentially unsuccessful and manged ineffectively.

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Trade Unions

Both Wilson and Heath governments sought to effectively manage the trade unions. In 1969 an attempt was made to tame them via the publication of the White paper, 'In place of strife' although it was never implicated due to party divisions and also the trade unions embittered reaction. Heath's government did go a step further that the 1969 paper, in that they enacted the 1971 Industrial relations Act, although arguably this was just as effective; 32 unions failed to register with the Act. Heath did attempt to enforce the act shown the imprisonment of 5 dockers whom refused to comply. However, this then lead to a Nation Dock Strke and over 5 days, 250,000 workers came out on strike to protest. The dockers were soon released by the Law Lords and it was evident that Heath had little control over the unions. The number of working days lost also appear to show the mismanagement of Wilson, Heath and Callaghan during this time. In 1972 there was c.23.9m working days lost, but this appears only minimal when looking at the c.29.5 million working days lost in 1979. Callaghan attempted to control the wage increase allowance, limiting it to 5%, despite inflation being at 10%. This resulted in the winter of discontent, perhaps the pinnacle moment when union power truly dominanted the government. There was, however, on act during this time that proved effective; the 1975 Employment protect Act that in it's first year alone resolved 2,500 disputes. Nonetheless, this act is not enough to rectify the failure of the governments during this period to manage to the trade unions effectively.

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Trade Unions

It seems clear that it was the 1980s which saw an improvement in the management of trad eunions. When Margaret Thatcher came to office, she had the aim of 'defeating the enemy within,' and I would argue that she was largely successful in her achievements, depite her early years in office seeing strikes, concessions and a high number of working days lost. The average number of stoppages in the 1980s was 1129 and in 1980 she gave into the Steelmen who were on strike, granting a 15% wage increase. The miners strike 1984-85 caused widespread disruption with c.27million working days lost in 1984, and the print unions also felt brave enough to challenge Murdoch.Nonetheless, both the print unions and miners were defeated by Thatcher's new legislation. The employment Acts 1980, 1982, 1988, 1990, in addition to the Trade Union Act 1984 allowed the government and employees to take back control. Restrictions were seen on lawful picketing and the closed shop; by 1990 all forms of secondary picketing and the closed shop were finally banned. It was the 1984 Trade Union Act that allowed Thatcher to defeat the Trade Unions; it became illegal to strike without holding a ballot and as the NUM were not given the chance to vote on whether or not they should strike they were not entitled to state benefits. Furthermore, Labour, once the Trade Union's ally, came out in 1989 in support of Thatcher's policies announcing it too would not support the 

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Trade Unions

closed shop. In 1990 c.1..9m working days were lost, and it became evident that the 1974 and 1979 election defeats were a thing of the past. The number of strikes did not increase in the following decade, in 2007 there was 142 stoppages, decreased from 273 being the average in the 1990s.Therefore, it seems ovbious to me that Thatcher took down the miners, and as Jefferys suggests "she relished the fight," paving th way for future government, bot Major and Blair who carried through her legislation.

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Trade Unions

In conclusion, it is clear to my that successive governments did mismanage the trade unions until the 1980s. The legal acts implemeted under Thatcher ensured that the unions were regulated, and this is evident through the decreasing working days lost in the 1980s and 1990s and 2000s....

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