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Labour, the trade unions and 1969’s In Place of Strife
Author: Peter Dorey

This book examines the 1969 attempt by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government to enact legislation to reform industrial relations. There was a particular concern to curb strikes by the trade unions. Published in the 50th anniversary of this ill-fated episode, this scholarly study makes extensive use of primary sources, many of them previously unpublished, most notably the archives of the Labour Party, the left-wing Tribune Group, the TUC, and the personal papers of the three key political figures involved, namely Harold Wilson, Barbara Castle and James Callaghan. The chapters are organised both thematically and chronologically, each one focusing on a particular aspect of the events leading to the proposed Industrial Relations Bill, and its subsequent abandonment. The book commences with an examination of the key economic and industrial developments of the early 1960s, to indicate how the ‘trade union problem’ was initially identified and defined. This led the Labour Government, elected in 1964, to establish a Royal Commission to examine industrial relations, but its report, published in 1968, was a cautious document, and therefore a deep disappointment to Harold Wilson and his Employment Secretary, Barbara Castle. They thus pursued their own industrial relations legislation, via a White Paper called In Place of Strife, but were overwhelmed by the scale and strength of opposition this aroused, and which eventually compelled them to abandon the legislation via a humiliating climb-down.

Modernisation abandoned
Peter Dorey

Upon becoming Conservative leader in December 2005, David Cameron spoke passionately about the need for the Party to move on from Thatcherism. In so doing, he alluded to the need for a more compassionate and constructive Conservatism, one which was more sympathetic to the poor, and which also wanted to foster a partnership with professionals in the public sector. However, following the 2008 financial crash, the Conservative Party's policies became increasingly hostile both to welfare recipients and the public sector, whereupon the need to cut public spending was repeatedly invoked to justify major cuts in welfare provision and further marketisation or privatisation of the public sector. Regardless of Cameron's initially emollient rhetoric and allusions to One Nation Toryism, the trajectory of key Conservative policies since 2010 has remained firmly within a Thatcherite paradigm. Conservative modernisation has quietly been abandoned.

in David Cameron and Conservative renewal
Peter Dorey

The Conservative Party encountered considerable difficulty in crafting a coherent package of policies once in opposition after the 1997 election defeat. This chapter examines Conservative policies in seven main areas: the economy, 'tax and spend', law and order, the family and sexual politics, welfare reform and pensions, asylum seekers, and rural affairs. William Hague's Conservative Party faced a particularly difficult task in developing a coherent and popular raft of policies in opposition after the 1997 election defeat. The party's uncertainty and lack of agreement over the most appropriate ideological response to New Labour's landslide victory at the polls was itself a major inhibition in developing consistent policies. Hence the Conservative Party oscillated between advocacy of more tolerant and 'socially inclusive' policies at some junctures, before resorting to more authoritarian populist measures at others.

in The Conservatives in Crisis
Peter Dorey

Margaret Thatcher was undoubtedly one of the most charismatic and controversial party leaders and Prime Ministers in British political history. Two particular characteristics strongly impacted upon her oratorical style and rhetoric: her personal background (the grocer’s daughter from provincial Grantham), and her ideological beliefs (albeit often presented by her as ‘common sense’) or particular interpretation of Conservative philosophy. In terms of ethos, Thatcher was readily able to invoke her lower-middle class family background to establish a connection with her audience. This in turn underpinned much of her pathos, whereby Thatcher’s speeches established a sense of shared identity and common experience with her audience, in terms of belief in the importance of ‘family values’, hard work, individual liberty, personal responsibility, sobriety and thrift. Thatcher also appealed to a much wider audience by virtue of her logos, whereby she was adept at using both philosophical premises and empirical examples to attack her political opponents, while also reducing political choices to a series of binary opposites.

in Conservative orators from Baldwin to Cameron
Abstract only
Peter Dorey

The Introduction outlines the significance of the study, and provides a clear justification for its publication, namely the paucity of academic texts on this major episode in British labour history. It also emphasises the book’s originality by highlighting its extensive utilisation of primary and archival sources, many of which have only recently become publicly available. In view of both the virtual absence of other books on this topic, with the notable exception of Peter Jenkins’ Battle of Downing Street, and the originality of the sources used, the Introduction emphasises the importance of this text in breaking new ground, and filling a major gap in the literature on this topic. The Introduction also outlines the structure of the book, and highlights the issues which will be addressed.

in Comrades in conflict
Peter Dorey

This chapter provides background and context to the emergence of ‘the trade union problem’ in the 1960s. It emphasises how four discrete factors fuelled growing concern about industrial relations in Britain, and the conduct of trade unions, namely: emerging evidence of Britain's relative economic decline; the changing structure of the British economy, through industrial centralisation and the growth of oligopolies; new data about the incidence of unofficial and unconstitutional strikes; the recourse to incomes policies to secure wage restraint and curb inflation, and the additional problems which accrued from these policies, such as the phenomenon of ‘wage drift’. In addition, the chapter draws attention to the political significance of a landmark judicial decision in 1964, Rookes v Barnard, which fuelled demands for a formal inquiry into the law pertaining to trade unionism. By this time, a growing number of senior politicians and civil servants were becoming convinced of the necessity of legislation to reform industrial relations and curb strikes, particularly as the increasingly inter-connected character of British industry and the economy meant that even a small strike, involving just a handful of workers, could cause widespread disruption.

in Comrades in conflict
Peter Dorey

This chapter explains how the establishment of a Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations, chaired by Lord Donovan, was a response by the Labour Government, narrowly elected in October 1964, to the problems and issues delineated in chapter one. However, it was also a quid pro quo for passing the 1965 Trade Disputes Act to restore the unions’ legal position following Rookes v Barnard. Prime Minister Harold Wilson had hoped that the Royal Commission would put forward radical and far-reaching proposals for reforming industrial relations and trade unionism, whereupon the Government could mollify trade union hostility by offering a rather more modest package of legislative reforms. However, the chapter notes that the Donovan Report, published in 1968, was strongly influenced by the Oxford School of industrial relations, and therefore proposed a strengthening of ‘voluntarism’, rather than placing collective bargaining within a clear legal framework. This was a deep disappointment to Wilson, who resolved, along with Barbara Castle, that the Labour Government would need to invoke comprehensive industrial relations legislation which went rather further than Donovan’s proposals, especially in order to tackle unofficial strikes.

in Comrades in conflict
Peter Dorey

This chapter explains how disappointment with the conservatism of the Donovan Report prompted Barbara Castle, with Harold Wilson’s full support, to develop her own proposals for industrial relations reform, culminating in the 1969 White Paper In Place of Strife. In addition to her own conviction of the need for a more orderly system of industrial relations and collective bargaining, which she considered integral to a planned Socialist society, we examine how support for industrial relations legislation had recently increased in her Department, due to the changing attitudes of some senior civil servants. It is not that Castle was persuaded by these mandarins to adopt a more legalistic approach to industrial relations, but that the changing Departmental ethos vindicated and emboldened her, and ensured that her senior officials broadly supported her approach, rather than trying to dissuade her from ambition or radicalism. This chapter also highlights the importance of a weekend seminar which Castle chaired at the civil service training college in Berkshire, in November 1968. This seminar discussed options for industrial relations reform, and played a major role in crystallising Castle’s ideas and proposals, for within six weeks the draft White Paper had been written.

in Comrades in conflict
Peter Dorey

This chapter examines how and why the publication of In Place of Strife, which proposed comprehensive industrial relations legislation, immediately prompted disagreements and divisions in the Cabinet. These differing perspectives did not simply or solely reflect Labour's traditional ideological divisions between the Party's left and right, but were shaped by other factors which resulted in the White Paper receiving a mixed welcome. A major issue concerned what became known as the 'penal clauses', which some Ministers opposed either as a matter of principle, or because they doubted their likely efficacy and enforceability. The chapter also highlights the divergent views about the proposed timescale; how much time should be allocated to consultation with the trade unions between publishing In Place of Strife and introducing legislation? Also highlighted is a further source of intra-Cabinet division, between those Ministers with a background in trade unionism, most notably James Callaghan, who opposed the proposed industrial relations legislation, and some of their pro-legislation Cabinet colleagues who were deemed to be middle class ‘academics’ who had little understanding or experience of life in industry, and thus the causes of conflicts between workers and bosses.

in Comrades in conflict
Peter Dorey

In this chapter, we examine the opposition which In Place of Strife aroused among many of the Labour Government’s backbench MPs. Initially, this emanated from two discrete sections of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), the first of which was the left-wing Tribune Group, who resented the assumption that workers and unions were to blame for the problems intrinsic to capitalism, and therefore needed to be subjected to statutory curbs which never applied to the conduct of big business or employers. The second source of intra-Party opposition emanated from Labour MPs sponsored by trade unions. Although some of these were also members of the Tribune Group, the clear majority were not, and as such, opposition to industrial relations legislation spanned the PLP ideologically; it was not confined solely to ‘the usual suspects’ on the left. We also explain how PLP opposition increased further when Wilson and Castle decided, in April 1969, that an interim Industrial Relations Bill was needed; some previously supportive MPs resented being ‘bounced’ in this manner, particularly as a new, ostensibly more disciplinarian, Chief Whip was appointed, leading to complaints of heavy-handed tactics to enforce compliance.

in Comrades in conflict