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The Industrial Relations Act and The Social Contract, 1970–9

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It was on 18 June 1970 — one year to the day after Harold Wilson’s capitulation to the T.U.C. over Mrs. Castle’s Industrial Relations Bill — that polling took place in a new general election. On this occasion the Conservatives, under Edward Heath, won a completely unexpected victory with an overall majority of thirty seats. Turnout was lower than since the 1930’s, and it seemed that the Labour Party suffered from abstentions by its regular supporters, perhaps occasioned by the ill-feeling generated by the conflict over union reform. If this was so, the result was to put the unions in an even worse situation. The Conservatives had changed their policy since they were last in office: they now proposed to introduce an Industrial Relations Bill of their own, with the intention of bringing legal restrictions into trade-union affairs far more completely than had been envisaged by Mrs. Castle.


  • Trade Union
  • Social Contract
  • Industrial Relation
  • Labour Party
  • Income Policy

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Further Reading

  • J. E. Mortimer, Trade Unions and Technological Change (1971), discusses some of the problems of the 1970’s. R. W. Rideout, Principles of Labour Law (1972) describes the state of the law as it was under the Act. For its introduction, operation and failure, see M. Moran, The Politics of Industrial Relations (1977). But the most thorough account of its working is B. Weekes et al., Industrial Relations and the Limits of the Law (Oxford, 1975). For a study of the T.U.C. General Secretary of 1969–72, see Eric Silver, Victor Feather, T.U.C. (1973). G. S. Bain et al., Social Stratification and Trade Unionism (1973) contains some fresh thought on the reasons why people join unions. On Grunwick, see J. Rogaly, Grunwick (1977). Shopfloor organisation in a large motorworks is described in E. Batstone, I. Boraston and S. Frankel, Shop Stewards in Action (Oxford, 1977). R. Taylor, The Fifth Estate (1978) is a good general survey. On the development of the closed shop and the ‘check-off’ see W. Brown (ed.), The Changing Contours of British Industrial Relations (Oxford, 1981).

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© 1992 Henry Pelling

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Pelling, H. (1992). The Industrial Relations Act and The Social Contract, 1970–9. In: A History of British Trade Unionism. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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