Trade Unions since the Second World War In 1926 the General Strike failed. Unions lost much of their power and influence during the Great Depression in the 1930s when millions faced unemployment and poverty as the economy collapsed. The economy recovered after the Second World War and Unions regained much their strength. It helped that the Labour Party won the 1945 election and workers gained many rights that they had demanded for decades. However, many politicians and employers began to see Unions as having too much power and being bad for Britain. By the 1960s and 1970s strikes became more common and this added to the criticism. Many strikes were due to job cuts and wages but some were caused by employers trying to change what they saw as old fashioned and harmful restrictive practices by Unions: Overmanning Trade Unions resisted new technology in order to keep workers in jobs e.g. robots in car factories Demarcation Apprentice Disputes Unions insisted only certain workers could do certain jobs e.g. carpenters work on certain kinds of wood and joiners work on other types of wood – more workers needed to be employed. Workers did not want new apprentices taken on in so that there would be fewer highly skilled workers and therefore higher wages. The Labour governments of the 1960s did not dare to challenge their ‘friends’ in the Unions. In the 1970s, the Conservatives tried but were faced with strikes, for example, by coal miners, which led to a three day week in 1974. Under a Labour Government in 1979 there were more strikes. This was known as the Winter of Discontent. It seemed that the government was being told how to run the country by Unions. Questions 1. Why did Unions gain in strength after 1945? 2. Why did some people criticise Trade Unions? 3. Explain what the following were: Restrictive Practices Overmanning Demarcation Apprentices Disputes The Conservatives, who were elected in 1979 Picketing and had Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister A protest challenged the Unions head on. They placed outside a place restrictions on certain types of picketing and of work that is insisted that workers have a secret ballot on strike before going on strike. They also tried to close inefficient coal mines. In 1984, a huge miners’ strike hit the country. Its defeat resulted in a decline in Trade Union membership. The government had beaten the Unions. In the 1970s, a Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath had asked ‘who runs Britain?’ meaning the Unions or government. Thatcher had proved it was the government. Secret Ballot Secret vote on whether to go on strike. Source A is a speech by Prime Minister Margret Thatcher in 1984 I must tell you that what we have got is an attempt to change the rule of the mob for the rule of the proper law, and it must not succeed. It must not succeed. There are strikers who are using violence and intimidation to impose their will on others who do not want it. The rule of law must prevail over the rule of the mob. Source B is a speech by miner’s Union leader Arthur Scargill We've had riot shields, we've had riot gear, we've had police on horseback charging into strikers. We've had people hit with truncheons and people kicked to the ground. The intimidation and the brutality have been like Nazi Germany. Questions 1. What happened when the Conservative Government tried to challenge the Unions over this? 2. What was the major strike in 1979 called? 3. Why do you think the government wanted to Unions to have a secret ballot before going on strike? 4. Describe what happened during the miners’ strike in 1984. 5. How useful is source A as evidence of what happened during the miner’s strike? 6. How far do sources A and B agree about the Miners Strike?