Trade Unions since the Second World War

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:
Trade Unions resisted
new technology in order
to keep workers in jobs
e.g. robots in car
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.
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
Apprentices Disputes
The Conservatives, who were elected in 1979
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
Source A is a speech by Prime Minister Margret Thatcher in
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.
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
6. How far do sources A and B agree about the Miners Strike?