• Short Summary

    Britain's new Conservative government, which won the June election after seven years of Labour rule, is tackling the problem of strikes in British industry.

  • Description

    Britain's new Conservative government, which won the June election after seven years of Labour rule, is tackling the problem of strikes in British industry.

    For several years Britain has been among the industrial nations with the highest rate of working days lost through strikes, and the situation is getting worse. In the first eight months of this year the strike record is almost as bad as the whole of 1969.

    On Monday (5 October) Minister of Labour Mr. Robert Carr announced his government's proposals for a new legal framework of labour relations, aimed in particular against unofficial strikes.

    The unions, however, insist on voluntary methods. The leaders of the most powerful Transport and Engineering unions have pledged tooth-and-nail resistance against legal restraints.

    The many strikes in support of high wage claims have been attributed in large measure to the prices and incomes policy of the Labour government in the late sixties. A 3 1/2% limit on wage increases was introduced and prices rises minimised. Strikers claimed, however, that whereas their wages had been kept down, the cost of living had increased considerably. When the pay freeze was relaxed at the end of 1969 pay claims ranging from 8 to over 60% were lodged.

    A list of proposals published by the Labour government in February 1969 had virtually the same aims as the present proposals of the Conservatives; to reduce the number of strikes.

    Despite the special links of the Labour party with the trade unions, Prime Minister Mr. Harold Wilson and Employment and Productivity Minister Mrs. Barbara Castle failed to impose checks on Britain's 25 million workers. Britain's labour forces feel their claims for, among other things, more money, to be quite justified.

    The unofficial actions of the London dockers in 1967 was dismissed by the then Minister of Labour Mr. Ray Gunter as "communist-inspired". And the reasons for the unrest remained.

    In June 1968 the British transport system was badly hit by strikes. In the space of a fortnight British Rail services were almost non-existent; and BOAC faced a strike by 1,000 pilots.

    Less than a year later, in February 1969, production at the Ford plants in Britain came to a standstill when 28,000 Ford workers struck for more pay.

    The threat to the British economy was clear. The Ford strike caused the loss of an order from Europe's biggest car-hire firm and brought the threat that unless delivery dates were met further orders would be placed with foreign competitors.

    The failure of the Labour government attempt to introduce legislation against unofficial action by workers was further driven home in October 1969. In this one month 100,000 miners were joined in unrelated unofficial strikes by bakers, train guards and dustmen.

    Then began the extended teacher's strike. Spot strikes were held at different times at different places throughout Britain. Mass meeting were held by thousands of disgruntled, underpaid teachers. In London 1,000 schools were closed.

    On July 16 of this year the first national dock strike since the 1926 General Strike took place. More than 47,000 dockers walked out and Britain's ports were full of undelivered consignments for clients abroad.

    On the first evening of the strike a national State of Emergency was proclaimed by Queen Elizabeth, giving the government the right to bring in troops to do the work of the strikers. The conflict was resolved, however, before this became necessary.

    This same move is being considered today. The strike by local government employees, including dustmen and sewage workers threatens to spread disease through the country.

    While his government deals with this latest strike crisis Mr. Robert Carr published his proposals for a legal framework for industrial relations, aimed at making the sue of strikes a last resort rather than an automatic weapons. In an interview Mr. Carr assured the unions that his government had no wish to limit their freedom.

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