How did the TUC and the unions oppose strike reforms in the past?


In Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech the new Conservative Government announced its intention to introduce a Trade Union Bill in the next parliament to reform strike ballots and introduce new voting thresholds. The TUC has claimed that, if implemented, the reforms will make strike action almost impossible.

How did the TUC and the unions campaign to oppose changes to strike action in the past?

Flyer produced by the TUC in 1971 for the rally against the Industrial Relations Bill

In 1971 Ted Heath’s Conservative Government introduced an Industrial Relations Bill, seeking to implement proposals in the 1970 Conservative manifesto. The Bill sought to reform collective bargaining procedures, limit wildcat strikes and place restrictions on official strikes. The Bill also proposed the establishment of a National Industrial Relations Court to settle labour disputes and have the power to grant injunctions against industrial action.

The Bill was fiercely opposed by unions and the TUC mounted a campaign called “Kill the Bill”. The TUC held a day of action in February 1971 in which an estimated 140,000 people marched from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. Demonstrators held banners with signs such as “Hands Off the Trade Unions”.

Demonstrators march through Piccadilly Circus in opposition to the Industrial Relations Bill 1971. Photo copyright: Central Photos Ltd.

Pamphlet published by the TUC in opposition to the Industrial Relations Bill 1971












Despite the opposition the Bill received Royal Assent later in the year and passed into law. The TUC then voted to require its members not to comply with the Act’s provisions. In 1972 five trade unionists were arrested for contempt of court when they refused to attend the newly established National Industrial Relations Court following a picketing dispute. They were imprisoned and became known as the ‘Pentonville Five‘. Following huge public opposition to their imprisonment thousands marched to Pentonville Prison and the TUC called for a nationwide general strike on 31st July 1972. The Official Solicitor intervened and the five were released on 26 July.

The demonstration outside Pentonville Prison, painted by Dan Jones.

Following the return of a Labour government in 1974 the Industrial Relations Act was subsequently repealed.

Major legislative reforms to strike action were not attempted again until the Thatcher governments of the 1980s. In 1980 an Employment Act was passed, restricting the definition of picketing and requiring ballots for the continuation of the closed shop. Demonstrations took place in opposition to the Bill (see image on our website here) as part of the TUC’s wider Campaign for Economic and Social Advance in 1980 (you can see an earlier blog post on this campaign here).

Another Employment Act was passed in 1982, further restricting the right to take strike action and allowing employers to dismiss strikers. The Act also undermined union membership agreements and allowed unions to be sued for huge damages.


TUC leaflet in opposition to the 1982 Employment Bill

TUC poster in opposition to the 1982 Employment Bill, introduced by Conservative Employment Minister Norman Tebbit


TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference starts today


Examples of TUC publications on the subject of disabled workers, from 2011 and 2012

The 2015 TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference starts today, 21st May, at Congress House. At the conference delegates will be debating and voting on issues concerning disabled peoples’ relationship with work. You can download the Agenda for the conference here.

The TUC has been holding a Disabled Workers’ Conference since 1998 and the TUC Library holds all the publications relating to the various conferences. We also hold an extensive collection of material relating to the subject of disabled workers more generally. If you would like more information on what we hold, or would like to arrange an appointment to visit, get in touch.


UN Day Against Homophobia


Sunday 17th May was UN Day Against Homophobia:

To mark the occasion, see our previous blog post from February in which we highlighted the history of the LGBT movement in the TUC Library Collections:


Biographer of sociologist Norbert Elias consults the WEA archive


Dr Adrian Jitschin (above), researcher from Fern Universitat, Hagen, Germany, visited the library this week to conduct researcher for a biography of sociologist Norbert Elias (1897-1990).

Elias fled Nazi Germany and lived in England for a period, during which he was employed as a tutor for the Workers’ Educational Association. The WEA archive is held at the TUC Library and the annual reports revealed where Elias has been teaching and what course subjects he delivered.

You can search the catalogue of the WEA archive here:’%20Educational%20Association%20Archive.pdf


14th May 1980: TUC Day of Action against government’s economic policy


Back to the 30s? TUC poster from the Campaign for Economic and Social Advance, 1980

Following the election of a Conservative government in 1979 the TUC launched the Campaign for Economic and Social Advance, to lay out its alternative economic and industrial strategy.

On 9th March 1980 the TUC organised a demonstration from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square and a Day of Action took place on 14th May. The campaign included the slogan “Forward in the 80s, not back to the 30s…”

Bill Sirs, secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, speaks at the rally at Trafalgar Square. The rally coincided with the 1980 steel strike. Seated to his left is Len Murray, General Secretary of the TUC.

In April 1980 the TUC also organised a rally in defence of education and the arts, entitled “Bread and Roses”. The event took place at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and included speeches, comedy and music. The title is a reference to the Lawrence textile strike of 1912 and the political slogan “We fight for bread, and roses too”.

Poster from the TUC Bread and Roses rally in defense of education and the arts, 1980


Daughter of wartime poster artist visits library to view our poster collections


Naomi Games (right) viewing the poster collections with volunteer Jenni Rockliff.

Naomi Games, daughter of graphic designer Abram Games, visited the library today to look at our WWII posters and our collection of illustrations by artist Dorrit Dekk. Abram Games was a prominent graphic designer and was Official War Artist during the Second World War, designing hundreds of iconic wartime posters. He also designed work for London Transport and many other clients, including producing the logo for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

Naomi wrote the Guardian obituary for Dorrit Dekk, a close friend of Abram, who died in December 2014. Dekk was a well respected graphic designer, artist and illustrator. Some examples of Dekk’s work are included within the archive of the Workers’ Educational Association deposited at the TUC Library. Dekk had been commissioned by the WEA in the 1950s to produce artwork for the cover of their monthly magazine, The Highway.

To find out more about the collections, contact us at or phone 020 7133 3726.


Happy May Day – International Workers’ Day!


The 1st of May is International Workers’ Day, celebrating the labour movement and the contribution of working people.

The TUC Library contains a rich collection of material documenting the history of May Day. A selection of items can be seen below:

The “Co-operative Commonwealth” by Walter Crane (1845-1915), reproduced for May Day in 1926.

Programme for the 1945 May Day demonstration organised by the Manchester and Salford Council of Labour, representing the Local Trades Council, Labour Party and Cooperative Party.

May Day poster produced during the Wapping Dispute with News International, 1986.

You can see more examples of our May Day material on our Pinterest board: