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British Economics and Trade Union politics 1973-1974


British Economics and Trade Union politics 1973-1974



14 January 1973

Heath and his Cabinet worked out the final detail of the anti-inflation White Paper and Bill in Chequers. The bill was given its third reading with a majority of 79.

1 May 1973

1.6 million workers staged a strike in support of the TUC's call for a 'day of national protest and stoppage' in protest at the Government's pay restraint policy and price rises. This action followed numerous strikes in the first few months of the New Year. In February 290,000 civil servants and 47,000 gas workers called strikes against the Government's pay freeze as did 7,000 London dockers on 2 April.

8 October 1973

Heath announced Government proposals for Phase III of its counter inflationary policy, including limiting pay raises to 7%, and paying £10 to pensioners before Christmas, at a cost of £80 million. This was to be paid for by a 9p increase in employers' National Insurance contributions.

10 October 1973

Sir John Donaldson, President of the National Industrial Relations Court, ordered £100,000 of assets to be seized from Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (AUEW), for contempt of an order to halt striking action at a factory in Surrey. On 22 October the Court fined AUEW £75,000. On 5 November, AUEW members staged a one-day strike in protest at the fine.

26 October 1973

Glasgow firemen staged unofficial strike action following a pay dispute. Troops were drafted in to run the fire stations.

31 October 1973

Report of Royal Commission on the Constitution was published – recommendations included separate assemblies for Scotland and Wales and advisory regional councils for England. A minority report advocated self-governing assemblies for five English regions.

2 November 1973

Consumer Credit Bill was published which would make 'truth in lending' a legal requirement and disclosure of full cost mandatory in all types of credit transaction.

8 November 1973

Compensation of £146 million to be paid to three nationalised industries to cover losses resulting from the Government's price restraint policies.

12 November 1973

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) began an overtime ban.

13 November 1973

The Government proclaimed a state of emergency following a ban on overtime by electricity and coal workers.

19 November 1973

Walker, Secretary of Trade and Industry, announced that petrol and fuel deliveries would be reduced by 10% to conserve supply following cutbacks in production by Arab states and the effect of the coal miners' ban on overtime. Motorists were asked to observe a voluntary 50 mph speed limit.

26 November 1973

More than 1,000 miners at Northern coal fields were sent home without pay when production was halted because of lack of weekend maintenance.

28 November 1973

Heath met miners' representatives at Downing Street but the miners continued with their overtime ban.

2 December 1973

Heath re-organised his government. He made 10 changes including moving Willie Whitelaw from the Northern Ireland Office to become Secretary of State for Employment.

5 December 1973

The Government introduced a 50 mph speed limit on all roads, lighting was curtailed in shops, offices and streets and heating was restricted in commercial premises.

13 December 1973

Heath announced stringent measures to conserve electricity – from 17 December industrial and commercial users were to be limited to a total of 5 days' consumption during the fortnight ending 30 December. From 31 December they would be limited to three specified consecutive days each week and prohibited from working longer hours on those days. Workers on a 3-day week would be entitled to one day's unemployment benefit in the second week and two days' benefit in subsequent weeks. Essential services (restaurants, food shops and newspapers) were exempt.

27 December 1973

Talks were held between NUM and the National Coal Board but no agreement was reached on the pay dispute. 400,000 workers in England and Wales had been laid off because of the fuel crisis.

2 January 1974

The Pay Board rejected a submission by the National Coal Board, which might have given the miners between 40p and 70p more each week additional to the current offer.

7 January 1974

The three-day week for industry officially began. 885,000 people registered for unemployment benefit, the worse hit area being the Midlands with 320,000 temporarily unemployed workers.

8 January 1974

British Rail stopped paying ASLEF men who disobeyed reasonable orders and requests to drive trains after ASLEF executive refused to modify its policy.

9 January 1974

The Chancellor of the Exchequer rejected TUC proposals for solving the miners' dispute and ending the three-day week. TUC leaders promised that if the Government accepted that the miners were a distinctive and exceptional case they would ensure that other unions would not cite any settlement in consideration of their own claims. The Chancellor made it clear that the Government would not accept any settlement outside of Phase III.


Employment secretary Willie Whitelaw had further talks with the NUM and again unsuccessfully urged acceptance of the National Coal Board's offer.

10 January 1974

TUC leaders met at Downing Street again to discuss the miners' dispute and arranged to hold another meeting to clarify TUC proposals.

The executive of NUM decided unanimously to continue the overtime ban. Joe Gormley, the NUM's President, denied that its dispute was politically motivated.

11 January 1974

Heath met leaders of the CBI to review the effects of the three-day week on industry.

14 January 1974

Heath and leaders of the TUC failed to reach agreement on the TUC formula to settle the miners' dispute. Talks between the two parties at Downing Street broke down again on 21 January.

23 January 1974

The TUC's General Council discussed the failure of talks with the Government on the miners. NUM leaders met to discuss their next move.

24 January 1974

Miners' leaders rejected an appeal by the Prime Minister in a letter to their President to accept the National Coal Board pay offer, return to normal working and then discuss improvements. NUM's executive instead decided by 16 votes to 10 to seek approval through a ballot for a national strike.


Department of Employment figures showed the number of people registered for unemployment benefit in the UK in January had risen to 2,294,448 including over 1.5 million registered as unemployed as a result of the three-day working week.


The Government decided not to relax the three-day working week because of the threat of a pit strike following a ballot of NUM members.

27 January 1974

Lord Carrington spoke of a two-day or a 2.5-day working week. In response, Mick McGahey, Communist Vice President of the NUM, declared that if necessary he would appeal to troops to assist and aid the miners.


Heath verbally attacked McGahey on television, declaring that the Government would not yield to the 'brute force of industrial power'. McGahey's speech about involving troops provoked an adverse reaction amongst some miners and sections of the Labour party. McGahey later retracted his call for troops to disobey orders.

4 February 1974

Another meeting between Heath and the TUC to avoid a national miners' strike was unproductive. The miners voted in favour of a strike, which would begin at midnight on 9 February. NUM rejected Whitelaw's invitation for talks.

7 February 1974

Heath appealed to the miners to suspend their national strike for the duration of the general election campaign. He offered to set up immediately an examining body on pay and relative claims based on the existing machinery of the Pay Board, with the miners' case as its first task and that any recommendations would be backdated to 1 March. Gormley rejected this.

8 February 1974

Whitelaw referred to the Pay Board the miners' claim for additional money as the new case under the new relatives procedure.

9 February 1974

The miners' strike began.

12 February 1974

The NUM executive unanimously rejected an offer by a group of industrialists headed by Mr Godfrey Bradman, a merchant banker, to pay miners between £1.50 and £2 a week on top of the NCB's offer if they ended their strike and resumed normal working pending the Pay Board's report on relativity.

6 March 1974

The NCB and the NUM reached agreement on settling the four-week-old national miners' strike after the new Labour Government's Employment Secretary Michael Foot intervened to allow negotiations to take place outside of Phase III. The settlement, costing £113 million, added about 30% to the industry's wage bill. The NUM executive accepted the offer by 25 votes to 2. The Pay Board in its report on relative pay of mineworkers recommended an extra £57.5 million in wages, mainly to men operating underground.

7 March 1974

The new Energy Secretary, Eric Varley, ordered a return at midnight to a five-day working week but retained restrictions on the use of electricity.

11 March 1974

The miners returned to work. The NCB announced increased prices of coal to industry because of its settlement.

14 March 1974

Pay Board figures showed the number of workers reaching pay settlements within Phase III guidelines had risen to nearly 9 million at the time of the 28 February general election.

18 July 1974

The abolition of the Pay Board with its statutory control over incomes policy was approved.