Spring Bank Holiday


The TUC Library will be closed on Monday 30th for the Spring Bank Holiday. The last Monday in May was officially designated a public holiday by the 1971 Banking and Financial Dealings Act. Traditionally a holiday had taken place on the day after Whit Sunday or Pentecost, which was a moveable date depending on the date of Easter.

The image below shows a demonstration of the National Agricultural Labourers’ Union at Ham Hill near Yeovil on Whit Monday in 1877.

Demonstration at Ham Hill, Somerset, 1877

On Whit Monday in 1896 Keir Hardie addressed a crowd of the Independent Labour Party in Yorkshire, at Hardcastle Crags near Hebden Bridge.

Meeting of the Yorkshire ILP near Hebden Bridge, 1896

The Bank Holidays Act of 1871 had formalised four public holidays in England. Prior to this date a number of religious festivals and saints’ days were traditionally celebrated across the country.

The campaign for longer periods of holiday from work had continued throughout the 19th century and the TUC began to campaign for statutory annual leave with pay from 1911. The leaflet below was produced by the TUC in 1937 to campaign for an entitlement to a paid holiday. This was introduced at a basic level in particular industries by the Holidays with Pay Act 1938.

Holidays For All leaflet, TUC, 1937

For more information on these items, or anything else the TUC Library holds, get in touch.





People’s March for Jobs, May 1981


This month marks the 35th anniversary of the People’s March for Jobs in May 1981. Unemployment in 1981 had reached c. 2.5 million and to highlight the issue the Merseyside Association of Trades Council organised a march of the unemployed from Liverpool to London.

People’s March for Jobs poster, 1981

When the march left Liverpool on May 1st it comprised c.280 people, but by the time it reached London on 31st May for the final rally in Hyde Park over 150,000 were in attendance.

The march was organised to echo the unemployment marches of the 1930s. In 1933 the National Unemployed Workers Movement organised various marches and in February of that year the TUC and Labour Party organised a mass demonstration in London. The TUC Library holds a number of posters that were produced for that demonstration.

Unemployment march, 1933

Poster produced for the National Unemployment Demonstration, 1933

In November of 1981 the TUC organised a Jobs for Youth campaign to highlight the impact of unemployment on a generation of young people. A Jobs Express train travelled throughout the country with a rally held at each stop. The campaign culminated in a demonstration in London in November 1981.

Rally in London for the Jobs for Youth campaign, November 1981

Unemployment continued to rise throughout the early 1980s however, and in the spring of 1983 a second March for Jobs was organised.

Leaflet for the March for Jobs, 1983

To find out more about the items featured, or any other material in the TUC Library, get in touch.


The ‘Winter of Discontent’, 1978-9 – Part 2


To mark a Symposium on the Winter of Discontent taking place on Saturday 14th May, we present the second of two blog posts on the subject. The first post can be seen here.

As shown in our previous post, the background to the strikes of 1978-9 had been several years of wage restraint under various phases of the Social Contract.

In July 1978 Prime Minister James Callaghan published a White Paper that sought to impose Phase IV of the Social Contract – a 5% limit on wage increases. Inflation in 1978 was at c.8% and by 1979 would rise to c.13%. The 5% limit was not compulsory, but the Government intended to apply sanctions to firms that broke it. At a meeting on 26th July 1978 the TUC voted to reject the 5% limit, demanding a return to free collective bargaining.

The pay awards of large employers in the private sector, particularly Ford Motor Company, were seen as benchmarks for the whole sector and in September 1978 Ford offered a pay rise within the 5% limit. Ford workers began a strike in response. A Day of Action was called for October 11th and by November Ford decided to accept Government sanctions and break the limit by offering a much increased pay offer. This was accepted by the workers on November 22nd.

Leaflet for a Day of Action during the Ford strike, 1978. Copyright: Unite the Union.

Callaghan had already lost a vote on the 5% limit at his own Party’s annual conference during the Ford strike, and by December a series of votes in the House of Commons made it clear that the Government would not be able to impose its threatened sanctions in the private sector. A further strike took place among lorry drivers in December and January, which began to affect oil and food supplies. In the midst of the strike Callaghan returned from a summit in Guadeloupe and made a comment that was spun by The Sun newspaper into its famous headline: “Crisis? What crisis?”

By mid-January 1979 the disputes began to spread into the public sector. The civil service union CPSA produced the leaflet below, which represented the mood among many public sector workers.

Leaflet in opposition to the 5% pay limit, 1979. Copyright: PCS.

A “Day of Action” was called for 22nd January, in which public sector workers staged a 24-hour strike.

Union leaders from the General and Municipal Workers’ Union and the National Union of Public Employees leading the march during the Day of Action, January 1979. Copyright: NUPE (now UNISON)

Many public sector workers stayed out on strike indefinitely after the 22nd January, causing serious disruption to many public services. The strikes continued into February, affecting health services, education, transport and refuse collection.

Picket line at Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children in Hackney, 6th February 1979

Road sweepers’ on the picket line in Lambeth, south London, 7th February 1979

The industrial situation provoked renewed negotiations between the Government and the TUC and on 14th February they published a joint statement – “The Economy, the Government and Trade Union Responsibilities” – which became known as the Concordat. Strikes did not immediately cease, but by March many unions had returned to work, accepting pay settlements well above the 5% limit.

Joint statement between the Government and the TUC, February 1979

For more information about the items shown, or any other items held by the TUC Library, get in touch.



President of Ireland views TUC Library material on visit to London Met


On a recent visit to London Metropolitan University, President of Ireland Michael Higgins viewed a number of items from the TUC Library. The President was visiting the University on the invitation of the Irish Studies Centre.

Irish President Michael Higgins (centre) viewing some of the TUC Library material, with London Met University Vice-Chancellor, John Raftery (far left).

As a former Labour politician, the President had also expressed an interest in meeting staff from the TUC Library and viewing some of the material. The photo below shows the President meeting Librarian of the TUC Library, Jeff Howarth.

The President is introduced to Jeff Howarth, Librarian of the TUC Library.

The TUC Library has a unique collection of material relating to Irish history and trade unionism. An example of one of the items on display for the President can be seen below.

For more information, get in touch.


The origins of the ‘Winter of Discontent’, 1978-9


On Saturday 14th May a Symposium will take place on the subject of oral labour history and the Winter of Discontent 1978-9. The event is organised by the Britain at Work website group, the British Universities Industrial Relations Association (BUIRA) history group and the Oral History Society (OHS). In anticipation of the event, we present the first of two blog posts on the subject of the Winter of Discontent. The second post will follow next week.

The so-called ‘Winter of Discontent’ – a number of strikes in the winter of 1978-9 – has come to define the view of Britain in the 1970s as the “Sick Man of Europe”, riven by industrial strife.

The roots of the dispute lie in the incomes policy of the 1970-74 Conservative government of Edward Heath, the 1973 oil crisis and strikes in the mining industry that resulted in the Three Day Week in early 1974.

Labour’s Harold Wilson was elected at the subsequent General Election in 1974, and the Labour government continued an incomes policy of wage restraint to combat rising inflation. The agreement between the government and the TUC became known as the “Social Contract”. In return for the repeal of the controversial 1971 Industrial Relations Act, and a number of other measures, the TUC agreed to temporarily suspend collective bargaining for wage deals and abide by several phases of wage restraint.

In 1973 the TUC and the Labour Party had set out a joint agreement to deal with the cost of living issue, in anticipation of the future General Election.

1973 document from the TUC-Labour Party Liaison Committee that would form the basis of the Social Contract

Following the Labour election victory this agreement began to be implemented. Phase I was agreed in 1974-5, followed by a further phase of wage restraint in 1976.

The details of Phase 2 of the Social Contract, 1976, limiting pay rises to £2.50-£4 per week.

Prime Minister James Callaghan implemented Phase III of the Social Contract in 1977, but with an agreement that a return to free collective bargaining would follow. The successive phases of the Social Contract had already begun to provoke criticism from parts of the labour movement and individual unions. The image below shows a critical review of the Contract published in 1977 by civil service union the Society of Civil and Public Servants.

The Contract Observed, 1977. Copyright: Society of Civil and Public Servants (now PCS)

It would be an attempt by the government to extend wage restraint into 1978, when inflation was rising rapidly, that would precipitate the breakdown in relations and descent into industrial action. The strikes of winter 1979 will be the subject of our second blog post next week….