Crisis? What crisis?

The Callaghan government and the British ‘winter of discontent’

John Shepherd
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This book examines the causes, character and impact of the 'winter of discontent' in British politics, particularly the strikes of 1978–1979 and the role of the government in managing industrial relations. It examines how the media reported the industrial strife, the significance of the 'winter of discontent' in the history of the Conservative Party and its impact on the 1979 general election. The role of the media coverage of the British 'winter of discontent' raises a number of interesting historical and methodological questions. The book focuses on how the media including the national and local press, television and radio, reported the causes, character and impact of 'winter of discontent' in Britain. Press hostility towards the unions was particularly unrestrained during the industrial unrest of September 1978 to March 1979, at a time when trade union membership peaked at 13 million. Currently, the cultural, economic, social and political histories of the 1970s are being subjected to increasingly detailed scrutiny by historians and social scientists. From September 1978 to March 1979, the Callaghan government appeared to be swept by a wave of strikes, go-slows and industrial stoppages. The 'winter of discontent' has now become coded shorthand for poor economic performance, over-mighty union barons, industrial anarchy and an ailing Labour administration that, according to its political opponents, made Britain 'the sick man of Europe'.

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