Comrades in conflict

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of this ill-fated episode, this scholarly study makes extensive use of primary sources, many of them previously unpublished, most notably the archives of the Labour Party, the left-wing Tribune Group, the TUC, and the personal papers of the three key political figures involved,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.

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