History of the British steel industry


Two pamphlets from the early 1970s, discussing proposed redundancies in the industry

Following the news that Tata are to sell their UK steel business, there has been much discussion of the future of the industry, including calls for nationalisation.

The TUC Library holds a unique collection documenting the history of the industry, its unions and its workers, including successive waves of nationalisation and privatisation.

After the Second World War attention turned to how to reconstruct the steel industry for peacetime production. The pamphlet below was produced in 1944 by the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, the union representing workers in the industry.

Iron and Steel Trades Confederation pamphlet, 1944

As part of the Marshall Plan for European reconstruction after the war, funds were provided by the USA to rebuild the industry. The photo below shows Marshall Aid steel machinery being installed at Port Talbot, South Wales in 1949.

Steel machinery being installed at Port Talbot under the Marshall Aid scheme, 1949

In the immediate post-war period there was debate as to whether the industry should be nationalised, as can be seen from the pamphlets below, all produced in the late 1940s.

A selection of pamphlets on the nationalisation debate, late 1940s.

In 1949 the Labour Government nationalised the industry, creating the Iron and Steel Corporation of Great Britain. However, the Conservative Party opposed the nationalisation and when they were returned to power in the 1950s they began the process of returning it back to the private sector.

The industry was re-nationalised again in 1967 by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government, forming the British Steel Corporation. Following concerns throughout the 1970s about the productivity and viability of various plants around the country (see image at the top of this post) a major strike took place in the industry in 1980 over the issues of pay and proposed plant closures.

A demonstration by the Scunthorpe Steel Action Committee during the 1980 steel strike

A demonstration in support of the striking steel workers, during a TUC-organised campaign against the Thatcher government’s Employment Bill, 1980.

The strike lasted nearly 14 weeks and a return to work was eventually agreed with an enhanced pay offer. Further restructuring and plant closures took place in subsequent years and in 1988 the Thatcher government fully privatised British Steel. It merged with a Duth firm in 1999 to form the Corus Group, which was itself taken over by Indian firm Tata in 2007.

For more information about what the TUC Library contains, or to arrange a visit, get in touch.



TUC hosts Miners Strike exhibition at Congress House


David Donovan, a Welsh miner during the 1984-5 strike, with TUC General-Secretary Frances O’Grady (right).

Yesterday evening the TUC hosted our exhibition, Solidarity and the Miners Strike, at its Congress House heaquarters in London. TUC General-Secretary Frances O’Grady opened the exhibition and introduced a number of guest speakers including Chris Kitchen, General Secretary of the NUM, Granville Williams from the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, plus Mike Jackson from Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and Welsh miner David Donovan, who were both depicted in the recent film Pride.

The exhibition will be available to view by TUC staff and union officials within Congress House for the next two weeks, before moving on to other parts of the UK in the coming months (details to follow).

Mike Jackson of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, speaking at the exhibition launch.


Centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson (1916 – 1995)


Speech delivered by Harold Wilson to the Trades Union Congress, 1964

Today (11th March) marks 100 years since the birth of Labour leader and Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Wilson served two terms as Prime Minister, from 1964-1970 and 1974-1976.

Economic and trade union policy were significant issues during both these periods and as a result the TUC Library contains a great deal of material relating to Harold Wilson. He delivered a number of speeches to trade unions and at the annual Trades Union Congress (such as the 1964 TUC, above). The TUC Library also holds an extensive archive of Labour Party publications from Wilson’s period as leader.

Wilson was Prime Minister during the last referendum on continued membership of the European Economic Community (later the EU) in 1975. Following renegotiations with Europe, Wilson’s Government were split on the issue but a majority of the Cabinet advocated that Britian should vote to remain within the Common Market (see below).

Leaflet produced by the Government, advocating a vote to remain in the EEC, 1975.

After leaving office Wilson chaired the Committee to Review the Functioning of Financial Institutions from 1977-1980. The Committee had a particular interest in the level of investment being provided to industry and manufacturing by the major banks and financial institutions. The TUC’s General Secretary, Lionel Murray, served as a member of the Committee and the TUC submitted various reports and evidence. These can be found in the TUC Library (see below).

TUC evidence to the Committee, 1979

The libray also holds a number of books and biographies of Wilson and histories of the Labour Party. Below you can see a copy of the programme of Harold Wilson’s memorial service in 1995 following his death.

Service of Thanksgiving, July 1995

For more information about what the TUC Library contains, or to arrange an appointment to visit, get in touch at tuclib@londonmet.ac.uk or 020 7133 3726.



International Women’s Day 2016


Recent publications from the TUC on the economic position of women.

Last year, to mark International Women’s Day, we posted two blogs providing an introduction to the historical collections relating to women workers in the TUC Library. You can see the posts here and here.

This year, we focus on more contemporary issues relating to women at work. In recent years the TUC has produced a number of reports analysing how the recession and austerity have particularly affected women (see some examples in the photo above). Recent research also highlights the reduced pension benefits that women accrue during the course of their careers and the impact of motherhood on pay differentials. The issue of equal pay for women has a long history and in 2008 the TUC Library launched a website dedicated to this subject. Winning Equal Pay: the Value of Women’s Work contains videos that document influential equal pay strikes throughout the 20th century, as well as hundreds of images and documents selected from the library collections.

In addition to the website resources, the TUC Library continues to collect a wide range of reports and publications on the subjects of equal pay and issues affecting women at work (see a selection below).

A small selection of recent equal pay material

To find out more about the material we hold, or to make an appointment to visit, get in touch.


London Met Green Week, 7 – 11th March 2016


London Met University has been named “best in England” for cutting its carbon emissions. The university will be running Green Week from March 7th – 11th 2016, following the success of the scheme last year. London Met staff and students can take part in a wide range of events and activities to learn more about sustainability and what we can all do to ensure a greener future. Details of the events can be found at http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/about/sustainability/

The TUC Library has a range of publications on the subject of climate change and greening the workplace, in particular the impact that union reps and greater workplace democracy can have in successfully implementing sustainability projects. A small selection of recent publications can be seen above. For more information on what we hold on issues relating to greening industry and the workplace, get in touch with the TUC Library.

You can also follow London Met’s Green Week 2016 on Twitter at: