The Industrial Relations Bill
1970 Industrial Relations Bill was seen as the beginning of a systematic
government attack on the growing strength and confidence of the
trade union movement. The Bill sought to introduce legal controls
by the compulsory 'registration' of trade unions and the regulation
of union/employer agreements, enforceable by fines or imprisonment.
In a wider context, the Bill could be seen as an early reaction
by the state against the growing militancy of community groups
prepared to take direct action outside the formal democratic structures.
The reaction of the national TUC's General
Council to the Bill revealed a classic dilemma. On one hand they
were faced by calls for direct action by their militant grass-root
members. On the other hand they felt constrained to play their
traditional role within the establishment's rules. They sought
to resolve this dilemma by mounting a campaign against the Bill
which called for traditional protests (petitions and demonstrations)
but which carefully avoided calls for direct action such as strikes
It fell to individual trades union branches
and Trades Union Councils to act in a more direct manner.
It was perhaps due to this divided opposition
that the campaign against the Bill failed. It was passed by parliament
largely unamended, and became an Act in 1971.
In July 1972 five dockers were jailed for picketing
offences under the Act. They were released when (in an act of unaccustomed
militancy) the TUC called a one day general strike. This marked
the end of effective implementation of the Act - and reinforced
trade union confidence in direct action.
Although the 1971 Act was largely ineffective,
trade union fears of future government action proved prescient.
The Thatcher government was to enact many repressive measures that
the Heath government introduced but failed to make effective. These
still remain largely in place although the current Blair government
has sought to redress the worker/employer balance by ameliorating
some of the more draconian measures.
The political pendulum has not yet stopped