During the 1950s trade unions became stronger as the British economy boomed. As a result unions were able to push for better wages and working conditions for their members. Inevitably this led to strikes but many were avoided by co-operation between government, employers and unions.
This two-page extract from the cabinet papers shows that although there were problems with industrial relations in the early 1960s, some elements of consensus also remained.
4. The Cabinet had before them a memorandum by the Minister of Labour (C. (61) 64) about current problems of industrial relations.
The Minister of Labour said that the major problem of industrial relations in recent years was the prevalence of unofficial strikes, frequently arising out of petty grievances, particularly in four industries-coal mining, shipbuilding and repairing, motor manufacturing and the docks. There was little scope for the Ministry of Labour to exercise its conciliatory functions openly in unofficial disputes. Legislation against strikes would be undesirable, since it would be strongly opposed by the trades unions and would do serious damage to industrial relations generally. Moreover there would be great practical difficulties of definition and enforcement. The best approach was to seek to strengthen the authority of the responsible elements in the trade union movement, and to encourage better industrial relations at all levels, by improved management and greater co-operation from labour, especially in the strike-prone industries.
This policy was already achieving encouraging results. Following discussions with the motor industry there were indications that the unions were prepared to exercise their authority in unofficial strikes. In shipbuilding the recommendations of the Shipbuilding Advisory Council's Sub-Committee on Prospects should be pursued, and the Employers' Federation were at present working out proposals for securing improved relations in the industry. As regards the docks, the employers would shortly formulate a plan to provide greater continuity of employment, which would facilitate better relations; and steps were being taken to improve the organisation and the quality of the officials of the unions concerned. In coal mining, it would be appropriate to seek the views of the new chairman of the National Coal Board on industrial relations in the industry.