This is the fifth part of a series of posts on the history of social movements in Britain. It includes Labour and Trade Union Movement, and Land Movements. See a previous post that explains what social movements are.
Here is a list of the social movements covered in this series so far.
Part 1: anti-austerity movement; alter/anti-globalization, Global Justice, anti-capitalist Movement; anti-austerity movement: anti-racist movements; anti-fascists; anti-slavery/abolition Movement
Part 2: Community movements; Disability Movement
Part 3: environment movement; feminist/women movement
Part 4: Health care movements, Housing movements
Labour/Trade Union Movement
Trade unions first formed in the early eighteenth century followed by strikes and then acts of parliament restricted or banned their activities. They started as separate guilds and craft forms of unions before the idea of the general union took hold in the early nineteenth century. Trade unionists were involved in the Chartist and Cooperative Movements. Trade unions were finally decriminalised in 1867 and legalised in 1871. There was intense trade union activity and strikes in the 1880s to 1900, 1910 to 1914, 1919-1926 and the late 1960’s to mid-1980s. Trade union membership and drastically has declined since the 1970s from a high of 13.2 million in 1980 to around 7 million in 2019.
I’ve divided the history of the British labour movement into five phases:
1. the 1700s -1880s, the birth of the labour movement
This period saw the first trade unions form in response to the terrible working conditions and the repression by the ruling class attempting to crush them. There was the formation of radical Corresponding Societies, underground trade unions, the first big national trade unions and the Chartist Movement. There was the Luddite unrest, the Peterloo Massacre, Swing riots, and Tolpuddle Martyrs.
2. the 1880s – 1926, the growth of the labour movement
This period saw a significant growth of trade unions, membership and strikes. It starts with New Unionism in the 1880s-1890s, the formation of the Labour Party, the Great Unrest from 1910-14, the First World War and the unrest following the war, and finally the General Strikes of 1926.
3. 1926 – 1945, labour movement defeat and decline
This period saw the aftermath of the general strike defeat, the decline in trade union membership, the Great Depression resulting in increased unemployment, the first Labour government, the National Unemployment Workers’ Movement, and hunger marches.
4. 1945 – 1979, postwar consensus followed by the labour movement pushing back
This period saw the creation of the welfare state under the postwar Attlee Labour government, a global economic upswing resulting in full employment, attempts by Labour and Tory governments to limit unofficial strikes and wages, 1972 strikes by miners, dockers, and building workers’, the Grunwick dispute 1976-78, Fire Brigades Union strike and the 1978-9 Winter of Discontent.
5. 1979 – present, the crushing of the labour movement
This period saw Thatcher crush the unions through anti-trade union legislation and the 1984-5 miners’ strike. There was also the 1986 Wapping dispute, P&O shipping line dispute, and the docks dispute over the Dock Labour Scheme. It also saw the introduction of “lean” production and Human Resource Management, which increased the pace and intensity of work. Then following the 2007-8 financial crisis there was ongoing resistance to austerity and attacks on public sector workers.
Below is a longer summary of each phase. This chart shows the history of strikes from 1891 to 2019. This chart gives a history of trade union membership from 1892 to 2019.
I’ve written several posts summarising the history of the labour movements: Part 1, which describes the British trade union movement from the 1700s to 1918; part 2 here, 1918 to 1964; part 3 here, 1964-1992; part 4 here, 1992 to 2005; part 5 here from 2005 to 2010; part 6 here from 2010-2015.
Phase 1 1700s-1880s, the birth of the labour movement
Read more details here.
The Enclosure Acts in the 1700s and early 1800s forced large numbers of peasants off the land and into the towns looking for work and provided cheap labour for capitalist factory owners. This process created industrial capitalism and resulted in overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and very low life expectancy for the workers. There were few legal protections for workers. Work was continually intensified to increase profits – nightshifts, double-shifts, weekend work, 24-hour work, 7 days a week. During the 1700s workers resisted the conditions with ‘go-slows’ and ‘turn-outs’ against the terrible working conditions. Illegal trade clubs were formed and the state responded with anti-union legislation. The trade unions were forced underground to continue their fight to survive in self-defence.
The French Revolution inspired the founding of Corresponding Societies from 1792 that shared democratic, radical and Jacobin ideas. Tens of thousands joined them and they were heavily repressed by the government and reactionary mobs. The Corresponding Societies were driven underground resulting in oath-taking becoming a common practice. Harsh legislation was introduced to punish any form of worker organising to increase wages or decrease hours. The laws were also meant to stop employers’ from conspiring together but were never enforced. These laws gave employers unlimited power to reduce wages and make conditions worse.
The British capitalist state used its full force to crush the spirit of revolt in the working class and the trade unions. Soldiers were used to putting down local disturbances. A network of army barracks was created to prevent contact between people and the soldiers. Government spies, agents and informers infiltrated the workers’ groups. Their ‘evidence’ was used to imprison organisers and leaders. A price was paid for every worker found guilty leading to false convictions.
Forcing the trade unions underground resulted in these early illegal unions enforcing iron discipline to keep out informers, which tightly bound their members together.
The Luddite unrest in 1811/12 was a response to the desperate conditions but they knew they were unlikely to win. They were named after the mythical ‘General Ned Ludd.’ They destroyed employers’ machines and property. In response, the state increased the punishment for frame-breaking from 14 years deportation to a capital offence. Those caught in this northern and midlands resistance were dealt with harshly.
Strikes that took place under these high repressive circumstances include Scottish weavers (1812), Lancashire spinners (1818, 1826, 1830), miners on the NE coast (1810, 1830-1), Scotland (1818) and South Wales (1816, 1831). An underground General Union of Trades formed in 1818 in Manchester bringing 14 trades together. Communication between different underground trade unions across the country was also taking place.
There were high levels of state repression from 1800 to 1815, the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the introduction of the Corn Laws, which kept bread prices artificially high, resulted in high levels of social unrest from 1815 onwards. In 1819 there was a large working-class rally in St Peter’s Field in Manchester of between 50,000 – 60,000 people. They were attacked by state cavalry, with 400 being badly wounded. It is known as the Peterloo Massacre. The ‘Cato Street conspiracy’ was stopped by informants, it aimed to overthrow the government.
Trade unions continued to form: the Calico-printers, Ironfounders, the Steam Engine Makers and Papermakers. There was also widespread public agitation for the repeal of the anti-union laws. This was successful in 1824. This was a huge victory for the working class and resulted in a wave of strikes. The new legislation was changed in 1825 to restrict picketing. Legal trade union activity was limited to dealing with wages and hours. Following the legalisation, hundreds of new unions and associations were formed and new sections of workers became organised.
The 1820s strike wave over wages mostly resulted in defeat. But it did provide important education for class struggle and lay the foundations for the establishment of the large-scale national trade unions such as the Spinners’ union in 1829, Potters’ union in 1831 and Builders’ union in 1831-2. Government troops were used to violently break strikes and workers responded by forming ruthless clandestine organisations that hunted down and killed traitors and informers. They also destroyed employers’ mills.
In 1830 the National Association for the Protection of Labour (NAPL) formed and enrolled 150 local unions in the north and midlands. It also established a weekly journal. It grew to 100,000 members. Following the defeat of the Spinners’ union in 1831 and several bitter struggles for local unions, the NAPL broke up. The General Union of Carpenters and Joiners formed in the years after that with 40,000 members and fought a series of strikes.
Severe poverty and starvation outside the town and cities resulted in the 1830-31 agricultural uprisings. These started in the Southeast rural counties, with threshing machines and hayricks destroyed. They spread to the Southwest and midlands, under the name of the mythical ‘Captain Swing’. Those caught were harshly punished – hangings, transported to Australia, imprisoned, flogged.
The Grand National Consolidation Trade Union (GNCTU) was formed in 1833. It aimed to fight for day-to-day issues and also to abolish capitalist rule and bring about the revolutionary transformation of society. It quickly gained 500,000 members including many women. This led to several strikes nationally across different sectors. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were agriculture labourers that contacted the GNCTU to set up an agricultural union in Dorset. The local magistrate found out and sentenced 6 of them to 7 years transportation to Australia. A national campaign started for their freedom resulting in 200,000 attending a demonstration in London. The campaign was successful and after 2 years their sentences were cancelled and they returned in 1839. They were involved in the Chartist Movement. Five Glasgow cotton-spinners were sentenced to 7 years transportation in 1837 resulting in equal national-wide protests against the Whig government, with a national campaign to free them.
Employers were using the ‘Document’, making workers sign it saying they would not engage in union activity, or be sacked. This resulted in many workplace lockouts (a work stoppage or denial of employment initiated by the management of a company during a labour dispute) and by the end of 1837, the GNCTU’s funds were depleted. This combined with differences among the leadership resulted in it breaking apart.
The conditions for the working class during the ‘Hungry Thirties’ were terrible. Factory legislation was introduced in 1833 but only to reduce children’s working hours to 12 and it was not enforced. The New Poor Law of 1834 made things worse, removing the limited government support to be replaced by philanthropy.
In 1840 the Chartist Movement formed the National Charter Association (NCA), the first working-class political party in history. It reached a total of 40,000 members. The 1842 Plug Plot Riots (also known as the 1842 general strike) started with miners in Staffordshire and spread to mills and factories in Yorkshire, Lancashire and coal mines in Dundee, South Wales and Cornwall.
British capitalism dramatically developed and grew in the 1850s and 1860s so it dominated the world market, with the help of the unchallenged British navy ruling the waves. This changed the unions from the earlier decades from revolutionary unions for the workers as a whole to a focus on skilled craft unions with sectional interests, also known as ‘new model unions’. The super-profits from Britain’s industrial monopoly in the world, combined with the British Empire, meant that the ruling class could give concessions to the upper layers of the working class. This ‘divide and rule’ tactic had been perfected throughout the British Empire. In 1847 the Ten Hour Act was introduced.
The biggest industrial struggle since the ‘Plug Riots” of 1842, was the Preston lockout of 1853. There was the Nine Hours movement and the Nine Hours Strike in Newcastle that was successful in gaining the nine-hour day. This encouraged the movement for shorter working hours elsewhere.
During the 1860s local trade councils started forming, which was a new trade union organisation. They brought together different trade unions in a locality to work together. The trade councils had several conferences in different cities in the 1860s. The Manchester and Salford Trade Council called the first official Trades Union Congress (TUC).
The 1870s saw several laws brought related to trade unions. They resulted in trade unions becoming legal for the first time and protecting their funds. There were also restrictions on striking, making picketing legal and breaches became a civil matter instead of criminal. Judges responded by creating the civil law offence of conspiracy, making picketing illegal, and employers used this to claim damages.
The early 1870s saw the formation of the National Agricultures Labourers’ Union (NALU) to fight for better wages and conditions. This grew quickly to 150,000 members by the end of 1872. The capitalist gentry and landlords, plus the Church of England responded severely with a series of lockouts. By 1874 workers were staved back to work on the employers’ terms and the NALU collapsed. There was a recession in the mid-1870s and several strikes. The pattern makers broke away from the ASE due to the failures of the conservative union leadership.
Phase 2 1880s – 1926, the growth of the labour movement
Read more details here and here. Days lost to strike action per year were first recorded in 1891 and peaked at 162 million days lost in 1926. Trade union membership was first recorded in 1892 at 1.5 million to peak in this period at 8.3 million in 1920 and then decline to 5 million in 1926.
The 1880s was a new period of social upheaval and revival of socialist ideas, dormant since the Chartist movement. The Social Democratic Federation (SDF) formed in the 1880s, which focused on socialist propaganda and the unemployed, rather than the trade unions. A number left the SDF and set out to reform the old trade union movement. This was the start of New Unionism.
There was the Matchmakers’ strike in 1888, the 1889 Beckton Gas Works struggle, and the 1889 dockers strike. This New Unionism spread to other parts of Britain and into other sectors such as the Railways, Miners, and Printers. Sixty new Trade Councils were established between 1889 and 1891. The first May Day in Britain in 1890 had nearly 200,000 in attendance in Hyde Park. New Unionism was put to the test with the 1893 5-month lockout/strike in Yorkshire. The 25% wage cut that was demanded by mine owners was resisted. The 1898 South Wales miners’ strike lasted 6 months and although not successful in the wage demands resulted in significant feelings of class solidarity and the formation of the South Wales Minters’ Federation.
New unions for the unskilled were created and the craft unions opened up their ranks to the mass of unorganised workers. The 1890s saw the labour movement form the Independent Labour Party, which later became the Labour Party. For more on this see here.
The 1900s saw high inequality where 38 million of a population of 43 million were categorised as poor. The cost of living steadily grew, with wages increasing very little, resulting in real wages declining. The conditions resulted in several strikes: the 1907 music hall strike, seven-month engineers strike, five-month shipwrights and joiners strike, and 1907 Belfast dock strike. The docker’s strike was unsuccessful but led to the formation of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union.
The ruling class responded with an attack on the labour movement requiring workers to opt-in if they wanted their wages to go trade unions and banning unions’ political affiliations to the Labour Party, starving it of funds.
By 1910, union membership was at 2.5 million. There was growing frustration in the unions among the rank and file at the lack of progress. Syndicalist trade unionism became popular that focused on trade union strategy to change society without working through political parties and parliament.
1910 was the peak of Britain’s Empire as it was being challenged by Germany and the US. The ruling class started cutting back on the concessions they had given over the last 30 years, especially to the top layers of the working class. The period of 1910-14 is known as the ‘Great Unrest” due to the revolutionary nature of the actions of the working class. The number of days lost to strikes increased to 10 million and union membership went from 2.5 million in 1910 to 4 million in 1914.
Strikes included: the South Wales Cambrian strike in 1910-11; dockworker strikes in 1911 in Southampton, Cardiff, Hull, London and Manchester; the 1911 Liverpool general transport strike; 2 days of national rail worker strikes in 1911; the 1912 national coal miners strike; 1912 saw a large dockers strike in London; the 1913 Dublin strike or lock-out; and the 1914 London building workers strike. Also in 1914, the Triple Alliance formed with 1,500,000 workers in the miners, rail workers, and transport unions.
Strikes in this period include: 1908, averaged 30 strikes a month; 1911, averaged 75 strikes a month; 1913-14, averaged 150 strikes a month.
In response to the outbreak of war in 1914, the TUC passed a resolution to end all disputes and if difficulties arose to seriously attempt to reach settlements before further strikes. This brought the huge wave of industrial militancy to a halt. It was believed that the war would be over quickly. Trade union leaders agreed to ‘industrial peace’, so all strikes were suspended.
The government demanded increased production in engineering and shipbuilding. The owners pushed for continued relaxation of trade practices and restrictions. This resulted in worse working conditions and rights. The cost of living had gone up and unemployment increased. In response engineers in Clydeside (Glasgow) struck for a pay rise to help with rising food prices and rents, and won. The government brought in industrial conscription in Britain, and compulsory arbitration of disputes in the munitions industry.
Welsh miners rejected the wages offered by the government arbitration committee and 200,000 miners went on strike, forcing the government to retreat and agree to most of their demands. At the end of 1915, industrial action continued in Clydeside (Glasgow). By July 1916, over 1,000 workers nationally had been arrested for striking illegally and breaking the Munitions Act. Due to the inaction of the union leaderships, shop steward committees formed around the country and joined up to form the National Shop Stewards’ and Workers’ Committee Movement. 1917 was a peak year for strikes with over 300,000 workers in action and 2.5 million working days lost. The new rank-and-file National Shop Stewards Committee was leading strikes in Barrow, Clyde, Tyne, Coventry, London and Sheffield.
When the war ended the Shop Stewards Movement in Britain was in a powerful position. TUC membership had increased from 2.25 million in 1913 to 4.5 million in 1918. Many of the unions joined together in amalgamations and federations. The Triple Alliance of miners, railway and transport workers was officially ratified, which had been put off in 1914.
1918 saw a wave of unrest. There were large May Day demonstrations in the Clyde, a police strike in London, mutinies on South Coast naval bases, rail strikes, and unrest in the South Wales coalfield and Lancashire cotton industry.
I identified in a previous post that 1919 was one of the most revolutionary years of British history. In January 1919, nearly 50 mutinies took place in the British armed forces. Industrial unrest was taking place among shipyard and engineering workers in Belfast and also in Clydeside (Glasgow). At the end of January 1919, the Clyde Workers’ Committee led a strike of engineering workers, shipyard workers and others for a 40-hour week. 1919 also saw strikes by 300,000 Lancashire cotton workers, the National Union of Police and Prison Officers, and the National Union of Railwaymen.
1919 saw an ongoing conflict between Prime Minister Lloyd George and the Triple Alliance of miners, rail workers, and transport unions over pay and conditions. Lloyd George used some clever tactics and a compromise to defuse the situation. He admitted the power of the Triple Alliance and explained that if they continued then they would need to replace the government and take over running the country. This was enough to get the Triple Alliance union leaders to back down and admit defeat.
This was followed up in 1920 when there was a lack of progress on miners’ wages so a strike vote was called. The rail and transport leaders failed to show their support and the miners had to make a temporary agreement until March 1921. This meant the government could bring in the Emergency Power Act and maintain ‘essential services’. In early 1921, the coal mine owners announced a large wage reduction. Nearly 1 million miners rejected the deal and were locked out of the mines. The miners’ union called on their Triple Alliance partners. In response, Lloyd George used the new Emergency Power Act to bring in a state of emergency. The army and volunteers were called to replace the miners and protect the mines. The Triple Alliance leadership were not as committed and managed to find an excuse to withdraw their support, leaving the miners to fight alone. This day in April 1921 is known as ‘Black Friday‘. The employers took this opportunity to reduce wages and conditions. The miners fought on but were defeated by June 1921.
There was a recession in 1920-21 that saw national industrial production drop by a quarter and unemployment rose from 2% to 18% across the workforce. The worst-hit sectors were mining, railways, metals, vehicles and cotton. Wage cuts were forced on 6 million workers by the end of 1921. Hundreds of thousands of workers in the engineering industry lost their jobs nationally. This weakened the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU) financially and resulted in the Shop Stewards’ Movement breaking up. Unemployment, reduced wages and conditions resulted in mass disillusionment and inactivity resulting in affiliations to the TUC dropping from about 6.5 million to 4.5 million by 1923.
Left-wing trade unionists were elected to President of the TUC and onto its General Council. A left-winger was also elected secretary of the miners union. The Communist Party and several other groups set up a United Front so groups with different ideologies could ‘march separately, and strike together’. This led to the formation of the National Minority Movement (NMM), which was the first initiative to bring together trade unionists with a revolutionary objective. The aim was to work through the existing trade unions and become a ‘Majority’. The NMM recruited engineers, transport and railway workers, with the majority of members being miners.
The build-up to the 1926 general strike started in 1925 when the coal owners gave a month’s notice that they were cancelling current contracts, to reduce wages. In response, the TUC met with the leadership of the railway and transport unions and agreed that if there was a miners’ lockout, then all movements of coal would stop. This was the first step in the planning of the coming General Strike.
The Tory government decided they weren’t strong enough so need to play for time. They agreed to a nine-month subsidy to the coal industry to support wages and a Royal Commission to investigate the industry’s problems.
The government prepared for the confrontation by dividing England and Wales into 11 divisions, each with a Civil Commissioner able to use the Emergency Power Act. Scotland had its own organisation arrangements. These were all reporting to senior members of the ruling class. The government forces could take control of emergency administration and maintain essential supplies. A volunteer strike-breaking organisation was also set up, the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies. In October 1925, the government also arrested 12 leaders of the Communist Party of Great Britain on charges of seditious libel and incitement to mutiny. They received sentences ranging from 6-12 months and this kept them out of the way of the coming confrontation.
In April 1926, negations between the TUC and the government were deadlocked. The TUC’s General Council only called its first meeting on April 27th, 3 days before the end of the subsidy. The right-wingers in the TUC won out and agreed to support the Royal Commission report. The miners and government refused to compromise. A vote was held on May 1st and there was an overwhelming majority in support of the General Council running the strike.
The 1926 general strike lasted nine days, from 4 to 12 May 1926. It was called by the General Council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) to force the Tory government to prevent wage reductions and worsening conditions for 1.2 million locked-out coal miners. Some 1.7 million workers went on strike, mostly in transport and heavy industry. The government was well prepared and enlisted middle-class volunteers to maintain essential services. The TUC gave up in defeat, leaving the miners to fight on for several months on their own. In the end, they were literally starved back to work on the owners’ terms.
Phase 3 1926 – 1945, labour movement defeat and decline
Read more details here. Days lost to strike action per year during this period was low, between 1-8 million. Trade union membership declined from 5 million in 1926 to 4.3 million in 1933, then increased to 7.8 million in 1945.
The TUC blamed the miners union leadership for the defeat. Once the miners were forced back to work, wages were cut and the government repealed the Seven-Hour Act of 1919. This was the start of years of coal miner owner attacks on trade unionist miners with victimisation and unemployment in mining areas. Baldwin and the Tory government introduced the Trade Dispute and Trade Union Act in 1927, with eight clauses to reduce future strikes and a new category of ‘illegal’ strikes. The defeat also resulted in the labour movement moving away from militancy and trade union leaders tried to work with the government and owners. They now saw themselves as ‘arbitrators’ and ‘mediators’ in the struggle between labour and capital.
The number of strikes dropped from 40 million working days lost every year from 1918 to 1926, to over 162 million working days lost in 1926. For the seven years after General Strike, this number dropped to 4 million a year. In the years before the Second World War, this number dropped to 2 million per year. Most of these strikes and lockouts were settled quickly, 10 days on average. The trade union leaders did everything possible to avoid strikes. The low levels of strikes were also caused by the mass unemployment following the Wall Street Crash in 1929.
The Wall Street Crash happened in late 1929 resulting in mass unemployment and a large drop in production. The Labour Party formed a minority government in 1929, led by Ramsay MacDonald. The ruling class put pressure on MacDonald to put the interests of capital first, ahead of workers and balance the budget. The burden of the crisis was put on the shoulders of the working class in the form of tax increases and cuts in unemployment benefits.
Trade union membership dropped to 3.3 million in 1934. It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that national action was sanctioned by a major trade union. Unemployment was at 22% in 1933, improving to 10% by 1937. Hunger marches were ongoing as well as the struggles of the National Unemployment Workers’ Movement.
The National Unemployment Workers’ Movement organised several local struggles against the cuts to unemployment benefits including demonstrations and marches. The government proposed wage cuts resulted in a mutiny in the Naval Fleet at Invergordon. The government backed down with some sailers jailed or discharged from the navy.
There were several hunger marches from around the country to London in 1922-3, 1927, 1929, and 1930, with the largest hunger march in 1932. There was unrest in Liverpool and Belfast in 1932 when people demonstrating about the lack of work and benefits fought with the police. The government responded by granting concessions to put an end to the movement.
By 1934 the depression began to ease and trade union membership was increasing again. Since the early 1920s, employers had run workplaces as they wanted. Many workers were hired and sacked on the same day. The number of unofficial strikes started to increase at this point. Strikes occurred at Venesta Plywood Factory, Ford’s new Dagenham plant, Firestone Tyre Factory in Brentford, and Pressed Steel Works in Oxford. There were also several strikes in the British coalfields, including several successful strikes against the scab Spencer union. Scabs are workers that replace workers that are on strike. After the threat of a national strike, this scab union was dissolved.
The was a wave of strikes in 1937 by apprentices’ in engineering factories in Lancashire, Yorkshire, the West Midlands and London.
When the Second World War started in 1939, TUC officers joined several wartime government committees and inspectorates. The trade unions became completely integrated with the state and industry. Strikes were prevented at all costs. Army conscription resulted in skill shortages which led to changes to work practices and the introduction of machinery. The militarisation of labour meant that employers could transfer workers easily to ‘essential’ war jobs at lower rates of pay. Strikes and employer lockouts were made illegal. In the first few months of the war, there were 900 strikes but few workers were prosecuted. The engineering industry had a huge expansion so the AEU membership rose to 825,000 by 1943. From 1941 women were conscripted into the industry and by 1942 the AEU had 139,000 women members.
By 1942 there was increasing worker disillusionment with the war effort. There was a strike at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Nottingham. Another at the Tyneside shipyards and after 18 days the bosses gave into demands. By 1944 strikes across all industries had reached the level of 1932 and two-thirds were in the coal industry. The working conditions were terrible creating large discontent. Thousands of miners were imprisoned and fined for illegal strikes across the country. There was a widespread apprentice strike in 1944 in Tyneside, Wear and Tees, Clyde and Huddersfield. The number of working days lost to strikes increased from 1.5 million in 1942 to 3.7 million in 1944. More men were on strike than at any time since 1926. In response ‘incitement to strike’ was made illegal.
The end of the war saw a large radicalisation of the working class resulting in the Labour Party winning the 1945 General Election on a wave of hope and optimism. Trade union membership had increased from 6 million in 1938 to 7.8 million in 1945. The number of female trade unionists doubled between 1938 to 1944 to 1.8 million.
Phase 4 1945 – 1979, postwar consensus followed by the labour movement pushing back
Read more details here and here. Days lost to strike action per year were in the low millions through this period, with spike years to 23 million in 1972, 14 million in 1974, and 29 million in 1979. Trade union membership increased from 7.8 million in 1945 to the historic peak of 13.2 million in 1980.
The 1944 TUC Congress supported a radical programme of post-war reconstruction, including the nationalisation of basic industries. The Attlee Labour government brought in the welfare state.
There were several dock strikes in 1945. The newly-elected Labour government used the army to break the strike to the surprise of many, resulting in many unofficial worker committees forming at docks around the country. In response, the government brought in the Dock Workers (Regulations of Employment) Scheme in 1947. This led to the creation of the Dock Labour Board, managed by employers and union representatives. Employers hired workers in the same way as before, those not hired were paid by the Dock Labour Board.
The Second World War put Britain in a lot of debt internationally. The Labour government responded to the 1947 fuel crisis by introducing some austerity measures around wages. The government applied pressure to the unions to avoid militancy and the war legislation making strikes illegal was maintained. At the time there was an ongoing bus and dock industrial action. In 1949, the government devalued Britain’s currency and introduced a wage freeze. The working class were shocked by this and it resulted in industrial unrest for the remainder of the Attlee government until 1951. There was unofficial union action on the docks nationally from 1947-51. Later in 1950, gasworkers struck, and the government eventually sent in troops to break the deadlock. Attlee used the army to break strikes 14 times between 1945 and 1951. In 1951, 1,500 lorry drivers came out on strike over wages.
In 1951, the Labour government was having a balance of payments crisis so introduced austerity measures such as reducing the NHS budget by £25 million. The 1951 General Election resulted in the defeat of the Labour Party. The Labour Party got more votes than the Tories 48.8 per cent to 48 per cent but the Tories formed a new government due to uneven parliamentary boundaries and the benefits of the First Past the Post electoral system. Churchill was Prime Minister again. The long economic upswing of the 1950s and the close relations between the union leaders and the Tories governments meant that there was social peace (low levels of union militancy and strikes) between the working class and the capitalist class.
The Tories were in power from 1951 to 1964, helped by the post-war economic boom. The mass unemployment of the 1930s was replaced with general rising prosperity. Many believed that capitalism had changed and that it could provide for everyone. The trade union and Labour Party leaders advocated ‘conciliation and class harmony’. The ruling class also collaborated with the trade union leaders and the TUC, they kept workers under control in terms of stable wages, and low militancy so productivity and profits could increase. The economic boom and increasing profits for the capitalists meant they could give small wage increases linked to increases in profitability. With the skilled labour shortage, they preferred to negotiate agreements and avoid strikes, which disrupted production.
There was an unofficial strike by oil tanker drivers in London in 1953, the army was used to break the strike. There were other strikes on the docks, 1957 saw strikes in the engineering and shipbuilding industries. The was a national bus strike in 1957. In 1958, there was a six-week London bus workers strike that was defeated. There were several unofficial miners’ strikes between 1947 – 1957 over wages. From the mid-1950s strikes in the car manufacturing industry increased to become the sector with the most workdays lost to strike due to difficult conditions and ruthless management pressure to increase production.
Between 1955-66 there were on average 2,458 strikes per year, an increase of 40% from 1945 to 54. The mining industry accounted for half of these until 1962. There was a significant coal pit closure programme in the late 1950s. Out of the total number of strikes, miner strikes fell from 77 per cent in 1958 to 31 per cent in 1965, and less than 1 per cent by 1970. Between 1960-64, nearly 60 per cent of the strikes were unofficial which shows the right-wing domination of the unions. By the late 1950s changes in the leadership of the TUC and TGWU started a slipping of control by the right-wing and shift to the left.
The election of a new Labour government in 1964 after 13 years of Tory rule was met with enthusiasm and optimism. Prime Minter Wilson talked of using the scientific revolution to transform people’s lives and this caught the imagination of large amounts of the population, especially the youth. Popular ideas included rational planning model, automation and more leisure time, modern technology to end the monotony of work, and nuclear energy to meet all energy needs for
generations to come. There were problems for Wilson straight away when he was told by the Governor of the Bank of England that there would need to be a cut in government spending as the country could not afford Labour’s programme. That if Wilson did implement the programme it would lead to financial ruin and a strike of capital.
The new government has inherited a serious balance of payments crisis from the Tories so it reduced spending through public spending cuts and a Prices and Incomes policy to reduce inflation. Workers were told to work harder to increase productivity and unofficial strikes were discouraged. In 1965, the government established a Royal Commission on Trade Unions and Employers’ Associations to investigate industrial relations to bring in ‘reforms’. The Wilson government brought in wage restraint in 1966. In 1966 that was a successful seafarers’ strike over reducing hours. The docks saw reorganisation so there were fewer companies, better job security and conditions but a smaller workforce. This resulted in several unsuccessful strikes. There was a shift in the union membership to the left, resulting in two unions replacing their leaders with left-wingers.
In June 1968, the Donovan Commission delivered its report on British trade unions. It argued that unofficial strikes were the problem and that the semi-official shop stewards’ movement, estimated to be 175,000, would be fully integrated into the trade union bureaucracy. The Tory Party issued its report on industrial relations called ‘Fair Deal at Work’, arguing for the introduction of anti-union laws. In 1969, the Labour government announced a White Paper called ‘In Place of Strife’ that went a lot further than the Commission report to limit unofficial strikes. This resulted in protests within the Labour Party by members and a national day of action in December 1969 and over a million workers went on strike for the day. The pressure continued and by 1970 the government had to back down
The late 1960s saw coal pit closures and redundancies. 1969 saw a national miners’ strike, that spread around the country. The National Coal Board (NCB) refused to reduce hours but did increase wages. In response, the government Commission recommended the creation of the Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR) to control the unions.
At the 1970 general election, the Tories were elected. Within a month of the election, there was a successful national dock strike and local authority workers’ strike over pay. Other successes were wage increases following strikes by miners (unofficial), electricity support workers, Ford workers, rail workers and refuse collectors. A seven-week postal workers’ strike was defeated.
In response, the Heath government brought in the Industrial Relations Act in 1971 to weaken the power of the trade unions. The new Tory legislation aimed to force the union leaders to police their membership by threatening them with legal penalties. The legislation became known as ‘the scabs charter’ in the Labour movement. A campaign was organised to defeat it. This included large national unofficial strikes, conferences and demonstrations. The legislation was boycotted which was a historical show of labour movement militancy.
In 1971, the nationalised Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) was facing closure with the loss of 6,000 jobs. Workers organised a ‘work-in’ (took over the worksite and continued working without management supervision) that received huge support around the country. In the end, the four sites were sold off to two private companies that received ongoing government support. 2,000 jobs were still lost. The 1971 recession had resulted in a significant increase in unemployment, the highest since 1939. Workers facing factory closures responded by a wave of factory occupations and sit-ins across the country, a least 200 over the following few years.
1972 saw several major strikes. There is the famous 1972 national miners’ strike that had 280,000 miners taking action over wages, which spread to other industries. There were ongoing disputes on the docks resulting in the arrest of the ‘Pentonville Five’, which caused docks around the country to come to a standstill. There was also a 13-week building workers’ strike over wages and conditions, resulting in the arrest of the ‘Shrewsbury 24’. Read more about these here.
The old traditions of militancy had returned in 1972, with nearly 24 million days lost to strike action and only 1919 had a higher number. There was a drop in activity in 1973, where days lost of strikes dropped to 8 million. But the number of shop stewards increased to 300,000 and trade union members were continuing to grow especially among white-collar and professional workers. Confidence was high in the Labour movement and given the provocative behaviour of the Tory government, a general strike seemed likely.
In 1973 there was a war in the Middle East resulting in the quadrupling of oil prices. The Tories introduced an income policy to reduce wages, but the shortage of oil gave the miners an advantage so they ran a national campaign to ban overtime. In January 1974, in response, the Heath government announced a state of emergency and a three-day working week to save energy. By mid-January, over a million workers had lost their jobs. A national ballot in early February had very strong support for strike action at the start of March. In response, Heath called a snap General Election on February 28th, which he lost. The Labour government came to power in early March and a few days later the miners returned to work with major concessions.
The 1970s saw the biggest global economic recession since 1929. It was brought on by rising energy prices, increased global competition, declining productivity and profitability, rising inflation and unemployment. In Britain this caused inflation to increase by 20 per cent, which quickly eroded living standards. It caused real-take-home pay to decline by about 10 per cent. The new Labour government responded by stopping wage increases. Between 1974-77, this resulted in the largest drop in real wages in Britain.
In early 1976 Wilson resigned as Prime Minister and James Callaghan replaced him. Not long after this Britain faced a balance of payments or ‘sterling crisis’ and had to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan. The IMF would only grant the loan if £3 billion was cut from public spending over the following 2 years. This was accepted by the Callaghan Cabinet.
This caused many at the time to argue that this was the end of the Keynesianism approach of cutting taxes and increasing government spending to increase employment and spend your way out of a crisis. In 1977 the Labour government had lost its small majority due to by-election defeats so formed a pact with the Liberal Party.
The Grunwick dispute took place between 1976-78 over trade union recognition at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in London. It also attempted to gain the reinstatement of sacked women, mainly Asian workers. There was broad support from the Labour movement and violence and arrests on the picket line. There was strong resistance by the right-wing National Association For Freedom (NAFF) and the Conservative Party to not give in to the strikers. The TUC withdrew their support and the workers’ strike committee announced the end of the dispute in June 1978. This prepared the ground for the Tories election success at the 1979 general election and their introduction of laws to limit trade unions in the 1980s.
In 1977, phase three of the Labour government’s income policy was introduced, which was a 10 per cent limit on wage increases. This was very unpopular in the Labour movement and the TUC was forced to reject it.
At the end of 1977, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) went on strike for a 30 per cent pay rise and a small reduction in hours. This was the first fire brigade strike in British history. They were attacked in the media and the army was called in by the strike held for two months. There was public support for the strike but the TUC refused to support it. In early 1978 a special FBU conference was called and voted to accept a 10 per cent pay rise.
In 1978 the Callaghan government announced another round of wage restraint but workers were no longer willing to accept this and it was rejected by the 1978 TUC conference. This led to the ‘Winter of Discontent’. Between 1978 and March 1979 10 million working days were lost due to industrial action. At the 1978 Labour Party conference, there was a vote against the Labour government’s new 5 per cent pay policy. Local authority manual workers on very low wages had a large one-day strike in January 1979. Talks broke down by the end of January so a million workers went on strike in the first week of February. They were attacked by the media and managed to hold out until the end of the month and got a 9 per cent wage increase. There was a seven-week strike at the Ford Motor Company that resulted in a 17 per cent wage increase. 185,000 TGWU lorry drivers won their first national strike in 50 years by effectively picketing. Badly paid Ambulance workers threatened to go on strike and got a 9 per cent increase so the strike was called off. Poorly paid workers, many women, joined trade unions in huge numbers. Total trade union membership in 1979 was 13.2 million, which was 55 per cent of the workforce, an incredible figure and the historic high point of trade union strength.
Phase 5 1979 – present, the crushing of the labour movement
Read more here, here, here, and here. Days lost to strike action for this period were 29 million in 1979 and 27 million in 1984 but after that, they have mostly been below 1 million. Trade union membership went from 13 million in 1980 to around 7 million in 2019.
The Tory Thatcher government was elected in 1979 and set out to crush the trade unions, with membership going from 13.3 million in 1979 to 9 million in the mid-1990s, only 7 million of which were affiliated to the TUC.
British capitalism was struggling and Thatcher’s approach to resolving this was an attack on workers’ wages and conditions. The was also a world recession in 1979-81, resulting in high levels of unemployment as millions of workers, many in manufacturing lost their jobs. There was a switch in economic policy from Keynesianism to Monetarism, a reinstatement of classical capitalist economics. This made the economic crisis worse, resulting in the destruction of about 20 per cent of the manufacturing industry between 1979 and 1981.
The new Thatcher government started making plans to weaken the unions. The Tories identified the sectors most vulnerable to strikes to then pick them off one by one using a range of tactics.
Early on the unions were beaten at British Leyland and in the British steel industry. In response to the new political situation in 1980, there was a TUC mass ‘Day of Action’ and a 150,000 demonstration in Liverpool against unemployment.
In 1981 the Thatcher government was very unpopular following its attacks on the welfare state and local government. In February 1981, the Tory government announced the closure of 50 coal pits, 23 immediately. Miners went on strike in South Wales, Kent, Scotland, Derbyshire and Yorkshire. The government were unprepared for this response so backed down.
Thatcher brought in anti-trade union legislation to introduce secret ballots, limit picketing, and outlaw secondary picketing. In the labour movement, there was grassroots pressure to resist the legislation but the union leaders preferred dialogue with the Tories.
The 1982 recession and mass unemployment of 3 million resulted in the loss of industrial militancy. There were still several bitter strikes by: civil servants, oil tanker drivers, water workers, car workers, printworkers, teachers, bank workers, prison officers, bakers, civil servants, ambulance workers, seafarers, miners, rail workers, and steelworkers.
The 1980s saw a large drop in union membership. Many lost their jobs and left the unions. For those that kept their jobs, the levels of exploitation increased but so did their wages so they experienced a rise in real wages and living standards. This was combined with a series of industrial strike defeats that eroded the confidence of the working class.
Thatcher first t
argetted the miners, resulting in the famous Miners’ strike of 1984-5. She used the full might of the state to crush the National Union of Mineworkers. In March 1984 the Tories announced large-scale coal pit closures. This resulted in walkouts by miners across the country. Official strikes followed at most pits. The miners had an unprecedented attack by the media and courts. 10,000 striking miners were arrested, many on charges that hadn’t been used in British courts for generations. Two were killed on pickets lines with thousands injured. The Tories expected a quick win but the mining communities maintained the strike into 1985. In June 1984, there was ongoing police violence against pickets at the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham, Sheffield. Many were injured and arrested after repeated mounted police and riot police attacks. The media blamed the violence and disorder on the NMU. This ended mass picketing at Orgreave. There were solidarity actions by railway workers, dock workers, printers, and coal pit safety officers. The TUC initially failed to support the miners, then did but did not provide much support. Miners’ wives played a key role in the mining communities and kept the striking going. There was a huge propaganda offensive against the miners. By early 1985, the strike began to crumble with a slow drift back to work. The strike ended in March 1985 and the miners failed to have any of their demands met – no agreement, no reprieve for the threatened pits and no amnesty for the sacked miners. The Tory government subsequently closed over 100 pits and more than 100,000 were made redundant. It destroyed the mining industry and mining communities. Read more here.
The defeat of the miners was a big blow to the Labour movement and many trade unionists left the unions or looked to their careers. The trade union leaders shifted to the right, arguing that ‘militancy never pays’. This situation reduced class struggle, which was made worse by high unemployment so workers were afraid of losing their jobs. At the end of 1985, unemployment was officially near 3.2 million or 13.2 per cent. The real figure was over 4 million. Employers were regularly going to the courts for injunctions against strikes.
The Tory government’s plan to make British capitalism profitable again was to roll back the reforms the working class has gained in the past. This was done by cutting local government spending and new rent-capping legislation. There was resistance from several councils, especially Liverpool and Lambeth
The 1986 Wapping dispute took place when the owner of the Wapping newspaper plant, Rupert Murdoch, organised a pre-planned showdown with the print unions to break them. The union-busting strategy was to use electricians to work at the new Wapping plant based on completely flexible contracts, new technology and industrial action was forbidden. Non-union staff were secretly moved onto the site. In January 1985, 6,000 printworkers were dismissed. It resulted in a bitter confrontation with around the clock pickets and the union demanding full reinstatement of their members. Police presence was in the hundreds, then as the strike continued thousands, with the police violently attacking and arresting pickets. It is estimated to have cost 5.3 million by December 1986 with over 1300 arrested by February 1987. The TUC failed to support the strike and it was defeated by February 1987. Following the strike, TUC expelled the electricians union EETPU for its strikebreaking role at Wapping. This was the biggest split in the TUC history.
There was also a P&O shipping line dispute, with P&O wanting to break the union and make conditions harsher to improve profitability. The National Union of Seamen (NUS) had a choice between calling a national strike or giving in. They were not supported by the TUC so capitulated.
The Tories focused on defeating the dockworkers from 1987. They wanted to abolish the Dock Labour Scheme, with several docks going on strike in protest. The docker grassroots were keen to fight but did not get the backing of their union TGWU, as the union were being threatened by the courts to have large amounts of money taken from them. The TGWU won a High Court appeal so another strike took place but the Dock Labour Scheme had already been abolished. The dock owners responded by sacking leading shop stewards and the strike was called off after 3 weeks. The union was derecognised on the docks and there were redundancies. Casual labour returned to the 12,000 dockworkers nationally.
Strike figures had dropped to an all-time low by the end of the 1980s. It was not a good time for the Labour movement. Employers took advantage of mass unemployment and the weakness of the trade union leaders to force through drastic changes in work practices, terms and conditions. The Tory government under John Major announced 30 coal pit closures resulting in two demonstrations being called. The TUC went along with this. By 1993, even further pit closures were announced. There were some one-day strikes in early 1993 but the generally limited fight-back from the Labour movement, allowed the Tories to move ahead with privatisation plans of gas, water, electricity and network rail.
The 1980s and 1990s saw an employer offensive to increase productivity and profits through “lean” production and Human Resource Management (HRM). This increased the pace and intensity of work. The rolled back elements of workers’ control. This all resulted in increased worker health problems, accidents and deaths in workplaces. The new workplace methods of production saw a shift from Fordism and post-Fordism. By 1993, many manufacturing workers were being lay-off and this was having a big impact on union membership which dropped to 7 million. This resulted in several union mergers such as the new rail union RMT, civil service union PCS and the local government union Unison. There was a general shift from well paid skilled jobs in industry to low paid unskilled jobs in the service sector. There was little resistance against this from trade union leaders with a move to ‘business unionism’. This strategy focused on getting recognition deals so they were the only union at a workplace and this would guarantee a certain number of members and membership dues. Tony Blair was elected leader of the Labour party in 1994 with the support of trade union leaders.
In 1994 there was a long-running railway signal worker dispute. Royal Mail had a series of unofficial and illegal strikes in 1994 around the country in response to new management methods of ‘flexibility’. 1994 saw a record low of 280,000 days lost to strike action. A fifth of these were from the signal workers’ dispute. Things picked up in 1995 when the number of days lost to strikes doubled.
At the 1997 general election, Labour won. Many were disappointed that New Labour failed to repeal the anti-trade union laws. There were several bitter industrial disputes: Critchley Label Technology in South Wales, hospital workers in Hillingdon in West London, the Middlebrook Mushrooms workers in Yorkshire, and the 350-strong Magnet workers in Darlington.
The number of days lost to strike action jumped to 1.3 million in 2002. This was more than double the 2001 figure and the highest since 1996. In late 2001 and early 2002, there were strikes on the railways and London Underground over pay, reducing working hours and safety concerns. There were strikes in BT call centres over poor working conditions in terms of pressuring workers to work faster and the monitoring of calls. There was the Friction Dynamics strike from 2001 to 2003. In the Autumn of 2002, there was a firefighters’ strike over the cutting of 6,000 jobs and a demand for a wage increase of nearly 40 per cent to make up for past low pay increases. There was strong public support and by 2003 the firefighters were forced to accept small wage increases. The autumn of 2003 saw several postal workers’ strikes mostly in the Southeast over conditions, that were successful.
The Labour Party Fairness at Work laws, although flawed, did help unions force employers into recognition deals, voluntarily or following long legal battles. Recognition agreements were achieved at the Daily Telegraph, American Airlines, Boots, Meridian TV, Kwik-Fit, Greenpeace and the Church of Scotland. This resulted in union membership in Britain reaching seven million, reversing the long decline over the previous 20 years. 2002 saw over 300 recognition deals, double compared to 2001: GMB gained 44,000 new members, RMT gained 8,000 or 12 per cent in 11 months, and ASLEF had a 25 per cent increase in five years to 18,000 members. PCS gained 18,000 new members to a total of 267,000.
The general discontent in the labour movement towards to Blair government saw the elections of left-wing trade union leaders and several left-wingers were elected to the TUC General Council. Two unions disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 2004, due to disagreements with the Blair government: RMT and FBU. The 2004 Employment Relations Act brought in some minor protections for workers.
PCS members in response to the planned job losses to the civil service went on a one day strike in November 2004. Over a million public sector workers were threatening to go on strike over the planned increase of retirement age from 60 to 65 and worsen their pension entitlement. The New Labour government back down.
Plans in 2005 by the Labour government to increase the pension age of public sector workers were resisted with a one day strike. Further strikes were called off, with few concessions gained.
In June 2007 Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as Prime Minister and leader of the Labour Party. 2007 saw the formation of Unite the Union, a British and Irish trade union following a merger of Amicus, and Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU). 2007 saw strikes at Royal Mail, NHS, teachers, further education and local government. In 2008, there were strikes at BAA airports, schools, on London Underground, and on the railways,
In 2009 there were strikes at the Lindsey Oil Refinery, in the car parts industry, and at Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight. There were occupations at the Prisme factory in Dundee, Scotland and the eight-week occupation of the Waterford Crystal plant in Ireland. 2009-10 saw more Royal Mail workers striking over Royal Mail’s refusal to discuss modernisation plans that would affect the job security of postal workers. The end of 2009 saw the start of a two-year dispute between British Airways and its cabin crew over job cuts and changes to staff contracts. There were refuse worker strikes in Leeds, Brighton and Chester. There were ongoing disputes on the railways and London Underground. There were strikes on the buses over pay: First Bus in the northeast of England; East London Bus Group; Stagecoach drivers in Rotherham, and First drivers in Worcester and Redditch. There was the first-ever national IT strike in late 2009 at Fujitsu, where workers were defending pensions, jobs and pay.
The 2010 general election saw the coalition government take power, with Tory Prime Minister David Cameron. This government brought in austerity in the form of severe public funding cuts to the local government, schools, libraries, social care provision, universities, and police. The end of 2010 saw a series of large student demonstrations in central London against the coalition government’s planned spending cuts to further education.
August 2011, saw the UK riots that started in north London and spread to several cities around the country over four days. The TUC organised a demonstration on March 26, 2011, called the March for the Alternatives. It saw the largest demonstration in London since the 2003 anti-war marches, with over 500,000 people taking to the streets. On June 30, 750,000 to a million teachers and civil servants took part in coordinated one-day strike action over the government going back on an agreement over pensions from 2007. On November 30, an estimated two million public sector workers went on strike over the government attacks on their pensions, with 60% of schools closed and 6,000 hospital operations cancelled, see more details here.
The public sector pension dispute related to government austerity continued into 2012, read here and here. There was a strike and march of 10,000 teachers and supporters in London on March 28. This article describes how the Tory government attacked workers ‘right to strike’ by announcing plans to withdraw Working Tax Credits for workers that take strike action. In early 2012, electricians at construction company Balfour Beatty voted to strike and defeated attempts to use anti-union laws to stop the strike over terms and conditions. The TUC organised a ‘Future That Works’ demonstration in London for October 20 2012, with an estimated turnout of 100,000-250,000 people. The micro or base union Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) was founded, with the members being made up of low paid migrant workers in London, read more here.
The TUC’s first women General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, took charge at the start of 2013. Strikes were planned and then called off for teachers, at Royal Mail and Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland. Three unions signed the first voluntary recognition deal between unions and an independent health and social care provider in 2013. Here is a report on a Higher Education sector-wide strike in the Autumn of 2013. The BFAWU or Bakers union launched a campaign in 2013 to tackle the ‘lack of fairness and justice for workers in the UK’s fast-food industry’.
2014 saw the deaths of Bob Crow and Tony Benn, a huge loss to the labour movement. There were several public sector strikes in 2014 involving NHS workers, firefighters, civil servants, council workers and teachers. Teachers went on strike on March 26 over pay, conditions and pension, read more here and here. There was a large public sector strike on July 10 involving teachers, firefighters and council workers. There was also a large demonstration in central London. October 2014 saw several strikes: NHS workers on October 13, local government workers on October 14, and civil service and London Underground workers on October 15. There was a large TUC demonstration on October 18. There was another NHS strike on November 24, involving nine unions and out of 450,000 NHS staff due to work that day, it was estimated that 12.500 joined the four-hour strike.
The micro or base union United Voices of the World (UVW) was formed in 2014. Its members are migrant cleaners and workers in other service or low-wage industries.
There have been ongoing movements for land reform since resistance against the enclosure of land in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The Diggers or True Levellers were active in the mid-seventeenth century by taking land and owning it ‘in common’ to challenge unequal property ownership.
The Agrarianism movement was active in Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
It advocated the benefits of a simpler rural life as opposed to the complexity of city life.
There have been back to the land movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. That is people moving from urban areas to rural areas to farm.
The right-to-roam movement was active in the twentieth century to give people access to rabble (walk) on private land. It was successful and also resulted in the creation of national parks.
Current land rights groups include Reclaim the Fields, This Land is Ours, Right to Roam, Land Justice Network and Labour Land Campaign.