Step by Step Reform: An Outline of the Process

  • Charles G. Hanson


Between 1979 and late 1989 five Bills to reform trade union law were presented to Parliament`. But it would be quite wrong to suppose that they were all part of a major long-term strategy which had been completely thought through before the 1979 election victory. On the contrary, the failure of the mammoth 1971 Industrial Relations Act meant that the Conservatives were unwilling to think in terms of a comprehensive package of reforms, even if it was spread out. Perhaps it is fair to suggest that four main principles lay behind their approach to trade union reform early in 1979:
  1. 1

    The process had to be step by step, with the next step only being taken when the previous one had proved its worth.

  2. 2

    Apart from the first step, the policy was to be pragmatic It had to be worked out in the context of prevailing needs and circumstances.

  3. 3
    The distinction between Labour and Conservative policies should be emphasised. This was spelt out in a key paragraph of the 1979 Conservative Manifesto:

    Labour claim that industrial relations in Britain cannot be improved by changing the law. We disagree. If the law can be used to confer privileges, it can and should also be used to establish obligations. We cannot allow a repetition of the behaviour that we saw outside too many of our factories and hospitals last winter.

  4. 4

    The first step, which would be precisely in line with the Manifesto commitment, would be given the highest priority in the legislative programme.



Trade Union Industrial Relation Union Membership Trade Dispute Election Victory 
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  1. The main sources for this chapter are the Acts themselves and the various Guides published by the Department of Employment.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Charles G. Hanson 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles G. Hanson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Newcastle upon TyneUK

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