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1969 Cabinet conclusion on declining industrial relations

Cabinet Conclusion 23 October 1969. Industrial Affairs
Cabinet Conclusion 23 October 1969. Industrial Affairs
CAB 128/44        CC 51 (69) 3

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By the late 1960s the political consensus of earlier times was breaking down. At the same time, and partly as a cause of this, Britain's economy was experiencing difficulties and working practices in British industries were changing. In many cases unions resisted new working methods, and sometimes workers resisted them against the advice of their unions. This extract gives some sense of the scale of the problem of industrial relations. The government at the time was a Labour government.

Questions to consider

  1. Why was the Liverpool strike causing concern?
  2. Is there anything significant about the phrase 'in order to demonstrate that unofficial action did not always pay'?
  3. How would you describe the attitude of the report towards the TUC and other unions?
  4. How would you describe the attitude shown towards the workers?
  5. The government at this time was a Labour government. Does that surprise you?
  6. What does this source suggest about the power of workers and unions in 1969?


The First Secretary of State said that the unofficial strike at Standard-Triumph's Liverpool factory gave cause for serious concern. The strike did not arise from any failure on the management's part to operate procedures speedily; and it was not due primarily to the militancy of shop stewards. The indications were that it simply reflected a mood of near-anarchy on the shop floor. The Chairman of British Leyland Motors, Lord Stokes, with whom she had discussed the matter earlier in the day, was disposed to stand firm until the men went back to work in order to demonstrate that unofficial action did not always pay. She had not tried to discourage him in this; but she had emphasised that it might involve a prolonged stoppage and had suggested that before deciding to adopt this policy the company should be quite clear how long they could afford to go on with it. If they were not prepared to stand a long strike it might be better to make concessions now, in which case a Court of Inquiry might have a helpful part to play. In the face of opposition from the Transport and General Workers' Union and the Amalgamated Engineering and Foundry Workers' Union, whose officials had made no real effort to get the men back to work, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) could do little to help: though if the strike were prolonged the mood of the other unions represented on the General Council might change. Moreover, experience showed that the TUC, if they did intervene, would almost certainly try to conciliate instead of simply fulfilling their undertaking to get the men back to work so that negotiations could be resumed under the agreed procedures.

In discussion general concern was expressed at the deteriorating condition of industrial relations, which amounted in some industries to a total abdication of responsibility on the part of individual workers. This was not confined to manufacturing industry or to the private sector. The success achieved by the dustmen in their recent unofficial action had been noted by many other sections of the community which had no history of militancy, including nurses, firemen, teachers and industrial workers in the Civil Service. Pay was not the only issue involved; in some cases considerations of status, morale and conditions of work were equally important. The causes of unrest among these and other groups were complex. They included dissatisfaction with the operation of incomes policy which many people in the public services considered inequitable; and a widespread feeling that in many occupations family men who did a conscientious job of work were only marginally better off than those who preferred to remain unemployed. These considerations might seem to point to some relaxation in incomes policy, especially as it affected the relevant groups in the public service; but the serious

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