British Trade Unions since 1933

British Trade Unions since 1933

British Trade Unions since 1933

British Trade Unions since 1933

Synopsis

This 2002 textbook reviews major issues concerning the history of British trade unions in the last two-thirds of the twentieth century. Even with the decline in membership of the 1980s and 1990s, trade unions in Britain have remained the largest voluntary organisations in the country and the total membership has remained larger than in most other countries. The book discusses many major aspects of trade unionism and many controversies concerning it, including strikes (sometimes seen as a peculiarly 'British disease'). Trade union presence in the labour market has been deemed a cause of higher unemployment and lower productivity. The trade unions have been accused of being insensitive on gender and ethnicity. They have also been accused of being corporatist, unelected partners in government (especially in the 1940–79 period). Overall, this book gives students a lucid and up-to-date introduction to the recent history of British trade unionism.

Excerpt

In Britain both the fortunes and the public standing of the trade unions fluctuated markedly in the final two-thirds of the twentieth century. The trade unions gained much kudos in the 1940s for their role in helping to mobilise the British economy for war and for post-war economic recovery. There after, as the British economy performed relatively poorly among industrialised nations, the trade unions received much blame for numerous economic ‘British diseases’, including a proneness to strike and low productivity.

Other than during the First and Second World Wars and their immediate aftermaths, British industrial relations, from at least the late nineteenth century to the 1970s, were based primarily on a willingness of employers and working people’s representatives to settle differences on a voluntary basis. The two world wars boosted the spread of collective bargaining and, especially, national collective bargaining. Where major industrial confrontations occurred, or seemed likely, the government (through the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Labour and its successors) could intervene, if both parties were agreeable, and offer suggested solutions to disputes. Such action was authorised under the Conciliation Act, 1896 and the Industrial Courts Act, 1919. Compared with other countries, Britain’s peacetime system of industrial relations until the 1970s was untrammelled by legal constraints, the Trade Disputes Act, 1906 having given trade unions immunity from legal actions for damages and strengthened their rights to peaceful picketing.

The British trade union movement, which had been steeped in Liberalism until the late nineteenth century and beyond, was overwhelmingly against interference with free collective bargaining. For its leaders this was a principle clearly won through past struggles . . .

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