The trade unions’ implacable hostility
in Comrades in conflict
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This chapter explains the reasons for the trade unions’ strong opposition to the proposed industrial relations legislation, an opposition which Castle and Wilson clearly underestimated. We highlight the trade unions' strong commitment to voluntarism and ‘free (from State interference) collective bargaining’, which has long characterised British trade unionism. The unions' hostility to the 'penal clauses' therefore vastly outweighed any support they might otherwise have extended to the more positive or beneficial measures. The chapter also highlights the trade unions’ anger at the implication that it was they who were responsible for poor industrial relations, as manifested in the incidence of strikes, when the real cause, they insisted, was often arbitrary or precipitate decisions by management. One further important factor emphasised in this chapter is the limited authority which the TUC, via its General Council, exercised over its affiliated members. This had serious ramifications for the efforts of Barbara Castle and Harold Wilson to ensure that the TUC took greater responsibility for tackling strikes among its members. It also served to confirm the view of many union leaders that, due to their backgrounds, the two senior Ministers had no real understanding of trade unionism or life in industry.

Comrades in conflict

Labour, the trade unions and 1969’s In Place of Strife

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