As the Tories again attack the right to strike, remember how 1970s Britain beat the Anti-Union Laws

In the 70s, a law intended to hobble Britain’s trade unions was defeated with a wave of popular anger. Today, as the Tories again attack the right to strike, that history should be remembered.

…trade unionists were to have their fundamental right to strike controlled and curtailed. The Tories’ Industrial Relations Bill became law in 1971, establishing a National Industrial Relations Court (NIRC) with the power to call for ballots in key industries, recommend ‘cooling off’ periods to pause disputes, and the ability to fine trade unions for ‘unfair’ practices. The rights of the closed shop were severely curtailed, with a new emphasis placed on individual choice. On top of that, trade unions would be required to register with the new Register of Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations.

Opposition to this plan was decisive and swift….

To say workers are channelling the spirit of fifty years ago might be getting ahead of ourselves. But once more, a government is responding to an assertive trade union movement with an attempt to clamp down on the bodies that represent them—an attempt that this time might render the right to strike ineffective altogether. It’s up to us to make sure that once more, the fightback is more than they bargained for.

Read this article by Edda Nicolson on the struggle in the 1970s in this week’s Tribune at Edda is a lecturer and specialist in trade union history at Wolverhampton University.


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