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Clement Attlee and union links

Labour and reform

The Labour Party won the general election in July 1945 under Clement Attlee. Labour had a clear programme for economic planning and social welfare reform. The Party's links with the trade union movement had become closer during the war and, from 1945, they developed further. The unions had enjoyed a wartime increase in membership that enhanced their political legitimacy. It appeared in the post-war period that government and the union movement were bound together in a 'new corporate order'.

This cooperative spirit was manifest in Attlee's appointment of George Isaacs, chairman of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), as Minister of Labour, replacing Ernest Bevin (also with strong union connections) who became Foreign Secretary. Many other leading trade unionists took up official posts and one of Labour's first pieces of legislation was the repeal of the much-hated Trade Disputes and Trade Union Act of 1927, passed by the Conservatives after the General Strike. This reintroduced a 'contracting out' system for the political levy to Labour. Union members no longer needed to take a positive decision for the union to pay on their behalf, thus boosting Labour's funds. Civil service unions were again allowed to join the TUC. Isaacs also resisted some pressure from within the Cabinet to institute centralised planning and negotiation of wages, so maintaining the system of voluntary collective bargaining that was favoured by the Unions.