Asked by JamesHistory ๐Ÿ•Œ

What kinds of concerns do labour unions represent and what happened between Thatcher's government and the trade unions?

Sarah Terris

UCL Graduate in Pharmaceutics with 3 years of tutoring experience

Hours and Overtime: Labour unions often lobby for their members to work specific hours. For example, a union might attempt to limit the number of overtime hours workers are required to work or might request higher overtime pay Labour union members occasionally engage in strikes, during which they refuse to work, if they feel working conditions are unfair, and union members might strike over excessive hours, weekend work and other time-related issues. Working Conditions: Working conditions are a significant issue for many labour unions. Workers may protest, negotiate or strike over dangerous conditions, problems with supervision or difficulties meeting workplace goals. Wages: Wages are a common issue with labour unions. Unions often use their collective bargaining ability to negotiate for higher wages. -- During Conservative Edward Heath's government in the early 1970s, the country was facing a high inflation problem. One government measure intended to fight this was a cap on public-sector pay. This increased tensions with the U.K.'s miners' unions, who argued that wage rises were not keeping pace with price rises. The National Union of Mineworkers encouraged their workers to "work-to-rule" โ€” to do no more than the basic requirement of their jobs โ€” which in turn led to the U.K.'s fuel supplies dwindling. In response, the British government imposed a 3-day week for commercial users of electricity. From 1 January until 7 March these users were only allowed to use electricity for 3 consecutive days and could not work late on the days they had electricity. However, by the time the next general election rolled around in 1979, the Labour government had faced its own backlash from the unions. The winter of 1978-1979 became known as the "Winter of Discontent," with many of the country's unions striking over plans to limit pay rises due to inflation. The strikes had a dramatic effect in the U.K., with trash piling on street corners during one of the coldest winters in years. Things turned macabre in Liverpool, where even grave-diggers went on strike. Labour's own difficulty with U.K.'s unions led to an opportunity for the Conservative government and their new, virulently anti-union leader: Margaret Thatcher. Looking back today, it's clear that British unions lost a huge amount of power during Thatcher's time in office. By beating the miners' strike in 1985, her government further demoralized millions of union members. Additionally, economic policies stripped unions of their major strength: numbers. According to the BBC, Union membership fell from a peak of 12 million in the late '70s to almost half that by the late '80s. They've never recovered.

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