Philip Begley
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Industrial relations
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Trade unions, their practices, and their political and economic impact were important issues throughout the 1970s. According to different interpretations, this was either the period which marked the highpoint of trade unionism in Britain, or the moment of victory for neoliberal critiques and the beginning of the end for traditional industrial relations. The Conservative Party was at the heart of these debates and many important changes during this period. Influenced by wider neoliberal ideology, a number of Conservative politicians like Sir Keith Joseph were often outspoken and particularly animated by the Grunwick dispute, the subject of an instructive case study in this chapter. However, the Conservatives as a whole moved only gradually and partially in this direction. There were important developments and the party did devise new policies around the closed shop, picketing and trade union elections, whilst more serious and controversial reforms to the welfare payments made to strikers were also contemplated, but these were in line with long-standing Conservative concerns and often a response to events as they unfolded. The Conservatives did not necessarily have detailed plans for trade union reform worked out prior to 1979.

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The making of Thatcherism

The Conservative Party in opposition, 1974–79


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