Margaret Thatcher's strategy for the British Trade Unions: an ideological priority or tactical opportunism?
Supervisor: Dr Ben Jackson
The nine major pieces of employment legislation enacted by the Conservatives during the 1980s and early 1990s represented the most far-reaching and controversial package of labour laws ever seen in British legal history. To her critics, particularly those on the left, this and the bitter battle with the miners in 1984/85, represented the execution of carefully prepared plans by Margaret Thatcher and her ideological allies in Cabinet to permanently reduce the power and influence of the British trade union movement. Much of the narrative of this period is based on work that was published at the time, and in the following decade, the existence of a well-formulated Thatcherite blueprint to permanently degrade the power of the unions was taken as read.
Particularly since 2010, a large amount of official material relating to this period has been released and at an accelerated pace since 2012 under the new Twenty-year Rule. These new source materials therefore provide an important opportunity to re-examine the existing narrative and assumptions about the Thatcherite agenda towards the trade unions.
My research is focused on three main questions:
- When they came to power in 1979, did the Conservatives, as is often asserted, have a pre-formulated plan to deal with the union ‘problem’ and who were the key individuals and bodies involved and what was the basis of their ideology and influence?
- What was Margaret Thatcher’s personal ideology on the trade union ‘issue’ and where did it rank in importance in her priorities for reform?
- Did the programme of legislative reform represent the execution of a neo-liberal plan that permanently degraded the power and influence of the British trade unions or were other supply-side reforms, particularly the abandonment of a Government incomes policy and a commitment to full employment, just as important?
I originally studied History at Pembroke College, Cambridge and graduated in 1984. Following a career in Finance, I returned to academia in 2018 and studied part-time for a MSt in Historical Studies in the Oxford University Continuing Education Department, graduating in 2020.