Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Thatcher: PM who took on the unions and won

1985:  (FILE PHOTO)  Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke..
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British prime minister Margaret Thatcher holds a chimpanzee in 1985.   (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
1985: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke.. Please refer to the following profile on Getty Images Archival for further imagery. http://www.gettyimages.com/Search/Search.aspx?EventId=108930459&EditorialProduct=Archival British prime minister Margaret Thatcher holds a chimpanzee in 1985. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
1980: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke.. British Conservative politician and first woman to hold the office of Prime Minister of Great Britain Margaret Thatcher speaks at the Tory Party Conference on in Brighton, East Sussex circa 1980. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
File photo dated 4/1/79 of Margaret Thatcher in an inter-ship jackstay for her high-speed shortcut across the Pool feature of the 25th London International Boat Show which she opened at Earls Court in London
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 04, 1979: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke.. Margaret Hilda Thatcher, nee Roberts (b 1925), with her husband Denis Thatcher (1915 - 2003), waves to the crowds outside the Conservative Party headquarters on May 4, 1979 in London, England. (Photo by John Minihan/Getty Images)
1984: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke.. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher shares a joke with American President Ronald Reagan, at No. 10 Downing Street, on June 5, 1984 in London, England. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
File photo dated 08/11/05 of Margaret Thatcher at the memorial service for former Conservative Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, at Westminster Abbey in central London. Baroness Thatcher died this morning following a stroke, her spokesman Lord Bell said
File photo dated 8/12/07 of Baroness Thatcher who joined Falkland Islanders and former servicemen in London to honour all those who lost their lives in wars in the South Atlantic
20/6/2001 Baroness Thatcher, the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, seated in the House of Lords, London, for the State Opening of Parliament
File photo dated 04/05/2000 of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sitting beside her portrait at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Baroness Thatcher died this morning following a stroke, her spokesman Lord Bell said
Libray filer dated 23/11/2001 of the head of the puppet Margaret Thatcher on display at a Sotheby's auction of Spitting Image puppets
Library filer dated 10/11/00 of Sir Denis Thatcher (left), accompanied by his wife and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (centre), after receiving his first honorary degree from the University of Buckingham in Buckinghamshire
File photo dated 12/10/77 of Conservative party leader Margaret Thatcher with 16 year old Rother Valley schoolboy William Hague, after he received a standing ovation from delegates at the Tory party conference in Blackpool
Library filer dated 8/6/1988 of Margaret Thatcher standing in the shell of London's old Battersea power station, when she renamed the site 'The Battersea'
File photo dated 21/2/07 of Former British Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher in front of a bronze statue of herself, inside the Palace of Westminster, London
File photo dated 13/9/07 of Gordon Brown with Baroness Thatcher as she leaves her old official residence at 10 Downing Street
File photo dated 04/05/2000 of former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher sitting alone as she waits for the start of the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster in London. Baroness Thatcher died this morning following a stroke, her spokesman Lord Bell said
File photo dated 06/12/1990 of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with former US President Ronald Reagan at Claridges, in London. Baroness Thatcher died this morning following a stroke, her spokesman Lord Bell said
File photo dated 12/10/84 of the upper floors of the Grand Hotel Brighton, severely damaged in the aftermath of an IRA bomb, which was planted during Tory Party conference week. Baroness Thatcher died this morning following a stroke, her spokesman Lord Bell said
Library filer dated 3/5/1989 of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher outside 10 Downing Street, in London, with her son Mark, daughter-in-law Diane, and two-month-old grandson Michael
Library filer dated 26/1/1990 of Margaret Thatcher toasting Julie Goodyear and the cast of Coronation Street when she visited the Rovers Return at Granada Television Studios in Manchester
LONDON - 2006: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke
LONDON, ENGLAND - 2009: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke
LONDON - JUNE 8: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke
LONDON - 1987: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke
LONDON - 2005: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke
LONDON - 2006: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke
LONDON, ENGLAND - 2009: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke
LONDON - 2008: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke
1987: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 1: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke.. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher poses inside Number 10 Downing Street in London, England on April 01, 1984. (Photo by Express/Getty Images)
1967: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke. Conservative politician and future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher speaking at a party conference on Octobe 21, 1967 in England. (Photo by Harry Dempster/Express/Getty Images)
1983: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her German counterpart, Helmut Kohl, at a press conference at Number 12 Downing Street on April 22, 1983 in London, England. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
1951: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke. Margaret Roberts, Conservative candidate for Dartford, Kent and youngest woman candidate in the election, talking to dustmen during her election campaign in October 4, 1951 in England. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
1986: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke.. Nancy Reagan, the wife of US president Ronald Reagan, meets British prime minister Margaret Thatcher at Number 10, Downing Street on July 22, 1986 in London, England. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 10 NOVEMBER: (FILE PHOTO) Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 85, Britain's Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, Reports on April 8, 2013 state that Baroness Thatcher has died following a stroke.. (L-R) Liberal Party Leader David Steel, former Labour Leader James Callaghan and Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher carrying wreaths of poppies during a Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph on November 10, 1980 in Whitehall, London. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Margaret Thatcher came to power at the end of the infamous Winter of Discontent in 1979 and spent the next decade curbing the power of trade unions.

 

Her year-long battle with striking miners in 1984/5 typified her confrontational attitude to the union movement and her victory paved the way for a radical shift in the balance of power in industrial relations.

The Conservative government introduced eight employment-related acts between 1970 and 1990 which all hit union power.

Mass picketing was outlawed, ballots had to be held before industrial action could be taken, secondary action was made illegal and union leaders had to face regular elections to keep their jobs.

Prime Minister Thatcher was given strong support by senior colleagues including Lord Tebbit, who described striking workers as "bully boys" and "wreckers".

Baroness Thatcher partly earned her nickname of the Iron Lady because of the way she took on once-mighty union leaders.

She infuriated the labour movement by banning union membership at the GCHQ communications centre in Cheltenham in 1984.

The legislation was introduced gradually throughout the 1980s, leaving unions weaker and managers stronger.

The number of working days lost through industrial action slumped from 29 million in 1979, falling to record low levels of less than half a million by the end of the 1990s.

The introduction of so many new laws was central to the Conservative government's philosophy of making unions more accountable, ending strikes, deregulating industries and "freeing up" the economy from constraints.

Margaret Thatcher oversaw a sea change in government policies, industrial relations and the balance of power in the workplace.

She killed off the previous tripartite relationship between unions, employers and government.

Beer and sandwiches in 10 Downing Street were confined to history as unions were excluded from policy making and left to protest on the sidelines.

The attack on unions followed the defeat of Edward Heath's government in 1974 after failing to take on the miners, and the Winter of Discontent, which saw a series of strikes by railway workers, Ford car employees, petrol tanker drivers and local authority workers including gravediggers.

Margaret Thatcher emerged as Tory leader during these events, determined to demand greater accountability from trade unions.

Legislation included Employment Acts in 1980, 1982, 1988, 1989 and 1990 and a Trade Union Act in 1984.

Unions were in constant conflict with the Conservative regime during the 1980s and the chant "Maggie, Maggie, Maggie. Out, Out, Out" became a well-used anthem at countless marches and rallies.

Union membership fell from more than 12 million in 1979 to 10 million a decade later.

But stronger and more militant unions came into conflict with the legislation and there were violent clashes on picket lines, including one mounted by the National Graphical Association in Warrington where the union was trying to enforce a closed shop at a printing works.

The union was heavily fined and had its assets sequestrated and a national newspaper strike supported by the TUC was declared illegal.

The miners' strike of 1984/85 was the biggest test of the legislation, and the biggest union clash she faced during her time as prime minister.

Job losses and pit closures sparked the dispute, but NUM leader Arthur Scargill decided not to hold a national ballot and the year was dominated by mass picketing, violent scenes at pits across the country and clashes with miners who refused to join the strike.

The Thatcher government held firm and the power of the NUM was destroyed, leading years later to a huge programme of pit closures.

Labour retained many of the employment measures when it came to power in 1997, leaving flying pickets, mass picketing and official strikes without ballots confined to the history books.

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