Britain: British Society 1951-1979 - Employment And Labour Relations

As part of GCSE History students will look at British society at different times including the period from 1951 to 1979. One aspect that they will study is employment and labour relations at the time.

The world of employment and industrial relations was a volatile one between 1951 and 1979. Britain was heavily unionised during the period, and trade unions accordingly wielded considerable power. By the 1960s, however, relations between unions and governments deteriorated - even between the unions and their traditional allies, the Labour party. When a new Tory administration emerged in 1979, this tension was likely to come to a head.

Find out more about employment and labour relations in Britain between 1951 and 1979 by playing this quiz.

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  1. During Harold Wilson's first premiership (1964-70) the Minister of Labour, Barbara Castle, issued a white paper that proposed curbing the right to strike in an attempt to deal with "wildcat strikes" (i.e. those led suddenly by local union figures). What was Castle's white paper called?
    Castle failed to secure the support of the TUC leadership for her plan, but the ensuing Tory government issued very similar proposals in 1971
  2. Shortly after his re-election in 1966 Wilson faced a six week strike by one group of workers, whom he had described as "a tight-knit group of politically motivated men". To which union was he referring?
    As a Labour leader Wilson was generally sympathetic to the unions, but occasionally one union or another would annoy him
  3. In 1972 and again in 1974 the miners' union struck for more pay. Who was the union's president at this time?
    A miners' strike was a serious matter, for coal was still much relied upon for fuel and power
  4. Heath's Tory government from 1970 to 1974 introduced a bill in 1971 to curb trade unions' activities. What was this measure called?
    This measure seemed to many to bear an uncanny resemblance to the proposals that the Wilson cabinet contemplated bringing In three or four years before
  5. In December 1973 Heath shut down industry for a period of the week to save fuel. How long was the new (temporary) working week?
    The fuel shortage was made worse by the Arab oil embargo, announced in late 1973 following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War
  6. Unions had especially important influence in framing the Labour Party's policy. Union leaders could deploy the votes (in elections to decide Labour policy) of all of their members who paid the political levy, as they wished. What is this system called?
    This practice could lead to wide swings of opinion, as some unions could cast a million votes or more - one way or another. A key example of this is the 2 votes taken on the question of unilateral nuclear disarmament: one in favour in 1960, and one against in 1961
  7. Unions traditionally tried to enforce strike action by picketing - i.e. by stationing a number of their members at the entrance to strike-bound premises, who would peacefully attempt to persuade union members attending for work not to cross. Tactics of mass picketing were dramatically used in the 1970s at a premises in North London, where NUM pickets were deployed in large numbers in a dispute where they had no direct involvement. What was this dispute called?
    Mass picketing was a recognised problem in the 1970's, but no legislative solution to the practice evolved until much later
  8. In February 1974 Wilson returned to power and moved swiftly to solve the dispute with the miners. Who was the new Minister of Employment?
    An immediate solution to the current miners' strike was swiftly found
  9. During the long period of Tory government, 1951 to 1964, the Conservatives tried to establish an industrial partnership with the unions, assisted by rising living standards. Harold MacMillan, prime minister from 1956 to 1963, even asserted at the 1959 general election: "You've never had it so good". What word was used to describe this wealth?
    This prosperity was not to last. When governments began to urge wage restraint, unions were likely to be wary
  10. In late 1978 the Callaghan government was faced by serious strikes, called mainly by public sector unions. Some of these spilled over into 1979. What name was given to the whole period?
    A Labour government was faced with a major challenge from its ostensible friends and allies

Author: Edward Towne

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