Trade Unionism and the Struggle for Municipal Socialism — Progressive Practice in Reactionary Times
Experienced trade union activists amongst social workers found the early 1980s to be a more difficult period than the preceding decade. They looked back on the 1970s as a period in which they had enjoyed early success and in which they had been able to make a major impact on NALGO. They had built much of the early trade union activity on the enthusiasm and commitment of field social workers and had used union militancy to turn the glare of publicity on to their employers. Making sense of social work trade unionism under Thatcherism, however, means that two points about the historical legacy of the 1970s must be understood. Firstly, the social workers did have a major impact on NALGO and the union was changed permanently as a result. The effects of this impact will be seen when we look at the residential workers’ dispute which occurred in 1982. NALGO had not been known for its militancy, but its increased involvement in strike activity in the 1970s, in which social workers took a prominent role, led to a different attitude to industrial action on the part of the union leadership. Secondly, the experienced activists in social services learned lessons from the disputes of the 1970s which led them to reappraise the strategy of sectional militancy.
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