Updated date:

A Brief History of UK's Labour Disputes: Another Winter of Discontent?

Bishop has been writing for many years about articles ranging from sports to the Middle East and everything in between.

The Strikes of 1979

As a lad growing up in the late 1970s and early 80s, I 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 government, with 29 million working days lost and 4.6 million workers on strike.

From Thatcher to May

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

Labour Strikes Today

Today, there are fewer jobs 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. 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, does not seem to support the unions' strikes, and this lack of support can be explained by the fact that union membership is not as widespread as it once was. Still, strike action continues to be a weapon that unions can use effectively, as in the recent cabin crew and airport workers' strike which ended in favour of said workers.

UK Unions

Union leaders like Len McCluskey seem to be a growing trend in the world of UK unions where left wing militancy is back. 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 men and women 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

Short Bio of James Callaghan

  • James Callaghan was the 20th British Prime Minister.
  • He held four offices of state.
  • He grew up in poverty in the 1930s.
  • He could not afford the tuition fees at university, so he went into Inland Revenue and founded the Association of Officers of Taxes and Trade Unions.
  • He spent time during WW II in the Royal British Navy.
  • Callaghan was elected Member of Parliament in 1945 for the seat of Cardiff South. He succeeded Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who had been a long standing Prime Minister.
  • During Callaghan's time as Prime Minister in the mid to late 70s, the British economy performed badly.
  • Massive strikes happened under Callaghan's watch, and it was known as 'The Winter of Discontent' (from William Shakespeare).
  • A motion of no confidence was passed against him by opposition parties and some of his own MPs in Parliament.
  • He lost the general election of 1979, which saw the rise to power of Margaret Thatcher who was to dominate British politics from 1979 to 1990.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

Related Articles