History - Margaret Thatcher and the Unions

Was it deliberate provocation or gradual evolution?

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Employment Acts, 1980, '82, '84

Remember, the majority happened during her FIRST TERM, pre-Falklands. There is no need to know the ins and outs of the acts.  

  • Trade Unions (TUs) could be sued by employers for damages caused by disruption.
  • Secret ballots must be taken before strike action:
    • Get rid of Wild Cat Strikes. 
    • Democratising the Unions. 
  • Ending of closed shop policy. 
    • Ended: "You cannot work here unless you're part of the Union."
    • Removing this would result in a contraction of the Unions. 
  • Therefore, removing close shop policy would make it easier for employers to dismiss employees. 
  • The acts controlled picketing, stopping flying pickets. 
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Impact of the Employment Acts

  • 'New Trade Unionism' emerged which accepted Thatcherism. 
  • Signing of 'No-Strike' agreements.
  • TUs became more democratic.
  • By 1990s, more workers owned shares than were union members. 
  • Decline in strike days:
    • 1979 - 29.5m
    • 1990 - 1.9m
  • Union membership hit by unemployment in manufacturing. 
  • Union leaders were marginalised (relegated to the fringe of society)
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Debate: Deliberate provocation

  • TUs were unpopular with voters - what with the impression they had left on the country: Gravediggers Strike, 3-Day week. 
  • Reform promised in '79 manifesto. 
  • Control of TUs was central to Conservative ideology and vital to economic development. 
    • TUs were seen as a cause of economic decline. 
  • Heath's downfall - this allowed for opposition to Trade Unionism to be mounted as Heath struggled to overcome militant unionism. 
  • The Employment Acts of her first term. 
  • Ian MacGregor's 'Mac the knife' reputation. Arthur Scargill had branded him a surgeon to which MacGregor replied that he was a plastic surgeon, attempting to salvage what he could.
    • He was inflammatory. 
    • Carried out Thatcher's desire to create an efficient industry. 
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Debate: Gradual Evolution

  • 1979 shows a moderate approach to the Unions. 
  • Government intervened on the side of the miners against the National Coal Board cuts. 
  • Success over the Falklands War and subsequent victory in the 1983 General Election increased the Government and Thatcher's confidence. 
  • Ian MacGregor responding to gov't demands to rationalise the coal industry:
    • Seeking to create only a modern, efficient industry. 
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