It may still be too early to make balanced historical judgements about the 1980s, but some broad conclusions can be offered in relation to the themes treated in the period since 1868 as a whole. It has been shown that, from the 1860s on, ‘labour’ questions of various kinds occupied a place of increasing importance in political debate. Discussion of the improvement of conditions through the extension of state regulation was followed by interventionist measures of welfare reform to relieve the consequences of unemployment and later by the application of more sophisticated theories of economic management. As early as the 1880s, consideration of the Labour question was bound up with the debate about Britain’s economic decline, as industrialists and politicians sought ways of improving efficiency and raising industrial performance. In the post-1945 period, agreement with the trade unions was seen as essential to the maintenance of a direct relationship between pay and productivity, while the Thatcher government after 1979 revived the idea widely aired at the turn of the century that it was trade union restrictive practices which prevented the implementation of the more flexible working arrangements that were necessary to create faster economic growth.
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