The litmus test of the Conservative Government’s objective of curbing the power of trade unions was strikes. Overpowerful unions were, in the eyes of the Conservative Party, too ready to use strikes to get their way: ‘strikes are too often a weapon of first rather than last resort’ (Conservative Party Manifesto, 1979). In the Party’s demonology stood the miners’ strike of 1974 which had challenged, and some would say brought down, a Conservative Government. Moreover, the general election of 1979, which the Party had won with a majority of 43 seats over all other parties in the House of Commons, had taken place in the shadow of the Winter of Discontent and extensive strikes among public service workers. Strikes had become for the Conservative Party, the symbol of the abuse of their power by trade unions. This dedication to using the law to curb strikes persisted after the strikes had withered away. The Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993 was the sixth piece of legislation since 1980 to make provisions on strike action, and its passage coincided with the smallest annual number of strikes ever recorded. The Labour Government elected in May 1997 was not committed to any change in the legislation about strikes apart from some protection against the dismissal of strikers.
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.