Winter of Discontent Again?

Updated on December 30, 2016
James Callaghan Prime Minister at time of massive strikes in 1979
James Callaghan Prime Minister at time of massive strikes in 1979 | Source
Margaret Thatcher who became Prime Minister in 1979 in general election of that year
Margaret Thatcher who became Prime Minister in 1979 in general election of that year | Source
Theresa May current British Prime Minister could be facing repeat of 1979 strikes
Theresa May current British Prime Minister could be facing repeat of 1979 strikes | Source
Will current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn exploit strikes for his own advantage to undermine Theresa May?
Will current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn exploit strikes for his own advantage to undermine Theresa May? | Source
Firebrand Union leader Len McCluskey
Firebrand Union leader Len McCluskey | Source

As a lad growing up in the late 70's and early 80's I just about remember the widespread strikes that brought down the Callaghan government in the general election of 1979 and brought to power Margaret Thatcher.

The strikes were large in number and effective too with rubbish piling in the streets not being collected, food shortages, power cuts and other actions in defiance of the then Labour government. Unions back then were powerful and these strikes echoed workers anger and frustration with the then government with 29 million working days lost and 4.6 million workers on strike.

Margaret Thatcher when in power set about controlling the unions and union power has never really been the same since. However some pundits and historians have seen echoes of those days now where postal workers, cabin crew and airport workers have all been striking out of anger at the policies of Theresa May. May seemed to promise something new outside of 10 Downing Street when she succeeded David Cameron after the Brexit vote but it seems there may have been a change of leadership at the top but it seems May is continuing the same cuts and austerity policies that Cameron was known for.

There are fewer jobs around with high wages and inflation making many people suffer as well as the continued cuts to services, benefits, the NHS and other things the ordinary people of the UK need to survive and on top of that there is Brexit. It is no wonder then that unions are telling their members to strike and it seems more and more union members are not afraid to come out and strike in defiance of May.

The public however it seems in general does not support the unions coming out on strike and this can be explained by the fact that union membership is not as widespread as it once was. Having said that strike action is still a weapon that unions can use as in the recent cabin crew and airport workers strike which ended in favour of said workers.

Union leaders like Len McCluskey seem to be a growing trend in the world of UK unions where left wing militancy is back and whether current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has the inclination or even the awareness to take advantage of this to undermine Theresa May remains to be seen. Labour has traditionally always been the party of the working man and woman in this country and the unions always fund Labour but with Corbyn's pro - immigration credentials many Labour voters have fled to UKIP.

The unions may not have the power or membership or public support they once had but they can still give the current Prime Minister and her cronies a bloody nose if they so desire.


Strikers like these helped to make Callaghan unpopular in 1978 - 79
Strikers like these helped to make Callaghan unpopular in 1978 - 79 | Source

Short bio of James Callaghan

1) James Callaghan was the 20th British Prime Minister

2) Held four offices of state

3) Grew up in poverty in the 1930's

4) Could not afford the tuition fees at university so went into Inland Revenue and founded Association of Officers of Taxes and Trade Unions

5) Spent time during WW II in the Royal British Navy

6) Callaghan was elected Member of Parliament in 1945 for the seat of Cardiff South

7) Succeeded Prime Minister Harold Wilson who had been a long standing Prime Minister

8) During Callaghan's time as Prime Minister in the mid to later 70's British economy performed badly

9) Massive strikes happened under his watch known as 'The Winter of Discontent' to borrow from William Shakespeare

10) Motion of no confidence was passed against him by opposition parties and some of his own MP's in Parliament

11) Lost general election of 1979 which saw the rise to power of Margaret Thatcher who was to dominate British politics from 1979 - 1990

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