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Winter of discontent (1978–9)

Subject History

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631209379.1999.x


The time when the trade unions in Britain brought the Labour government to its knees. Harold wilson and Jim callaghan had pursued an incomes policy, with the cooperation of the TUC (Trades Union Congress), since 1975 but this had led to a reduction in the standard of living of many workers. When Callaghan announced in 1978 that there would be a further stage in which the rise in incomes would be limited to 5 per cent (inflation was running at 8 per cent) the TUC would not accept it. In November 1978 a strike by Ford workers, the pace‐setters, began and lasted for nine weeks until they accepted a 17 per cent pay rise. Petrol tanker and long‐distance lorry drivers went on strike in the New Year and settled for 17–20 per cent on 19 January, but the most serious and damaging strikes were those of the lowest paid workers in the public sector. Over a million local government manual workers went on strike, closing hospitals, schools and social services. Most of these events were shortlived and in limited areas (gravediggers went on strike in Liverpool) but they received national attention on television and in the newspapers. As rubbish piled up in the streets, the media portrayed the strikers as callous and selfish. The government appeared paralysed and took no initiative. Public opinion turned against the trade unions and the government: a Gallup poll in February 1979 put the conservative ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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