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Weakening the trade unions, one step at a time: the Thatcher governments' strategy for the reform of trade union law, 1979-1984.

Dorey, Peter 2016. Weakening the trade unions, one step at a time: the Thatcher governments' strategy for the reform of trade union law, 1979-1984. Historical Studies in Industrial Relations 37 , pp. 169-200. 10.3828/hsir.2016.37.6

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Abstract

This article examines the significance of the three industrial relations and trade union laws passed by the Thatcher Governments’ between 1979 and 1984, and the discourse which was invoked to define the ‘problem, and thereby legitimise the legislation enacted. In so doing, it makes use of government papers only recently released by the National Archives, which reveal the thinking and the debates which occurred between ministers over the trade union ‘problem. The article notes that while James Prior favoured a minimalist approach, this was unacceptable to Thatcher and her closest colleagues, including Sir John Hoskyns. Once Prior had been replaced by Norman Tebbit, an incremental approach was maintained, but the content of the laws had profound implications for the unions and their ability to engage in industrial action. In particular, the 1982 Employment Act significantly narrowed the definition of a trade dispute, and exposed trade-union funds to tort action (damages) for industrial action which was deemed to exceed this new definition. In so doing, reference was routinely made to the 1906 Trade Disputes Act, which was deemed to have placed the unions above the law, by granting them immunity from civil action for damages incurred during an industrial dispute. Hence the discourse of union ‘privileges’, and the need to place them back under the rule of law, just like any other individual or corporate body.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Department of Politics and International Relations (POLIR)
Subjects: J Political Science > JF Political institutions (General)
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
ISSN: 1362-1572
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2019 12:49
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/94925

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