Volume Five 1974 - 1992
To Zenith to Nadir?
Mrs Thatcher as Leader from 1975 of the Conservative Party and then as Prime Minister from May 1979 to November 1990, haunts this period as Harbinger and then as the Hammer for Neo-liberalism – a term unknown at that time to most socialists.
Trade union membership accelerated in the late 60’s through to the very early 80’s. The TGWU boasted 2.2 million members in 1980 up from 1.7 million in 1974: by 1992 TGWU membership had declined to just over 1 million.
The springboards of two victorious miners’ strikes, two Labour successes in the General Elections of 1974, and the innovative and successful Upper Clyde Shipbuilders ‘work-in’ created a confidence in the organised working class, which had come to believe that socialist change was just around the corner.
Events in September the eleventh (9/11) 1973 in Chile had yet to really register. Labour Governments in the mid 70’s responded to Global crises by taking a begging bowl to the International Monetary Fund; thus jettisoning the Left’s ‘Alternative Economic Strategy’.
Repealing the genuinely vicious legal attacks on Trade Unionism and the creation of Health and Safety Legislation (which was the most radical in the world), were insufficient to sustain the “Social Contract” between the Labour Government and the Trade Unions in the late 1970’s – leading to the ‘Winter of Discontent’.
Thatcher, ‘Neo-liberalism’, salami - sliced legal enactments against unions and cruel tool of unemployment created the economic and political conditions to decimate trade union membership. Defensive trade union struggles could not stop the domino- effect on steelworkers, automotive workers, miners, printers and dockers. The corpses of collective organisations, especially trade unions, littered the 1980’s.
The big industrial unions managed decline, using mergers to preserve numbers in individual unions, but could not disguise the dramatic loss in overall TUC membership.
Nevertheless, fight backs were common place and heartening in the Local Authorities, on the streets, ‘People’s March for Jobs’ and of course the Poll Tax.