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Conciliation, co-operation, and consensus: The One Nation Conservative approach to industrial relations and Trade Unions, 1945-1990

Dorey, Peter ORCID: 2023. Conciliation, co-operation, and consensus: The One Nation Conservative approach to industrial relations and Trade Unions, 1945-1990. Revue Française de Civilisation Britannique 28 (1) , 10359. 10.4000/rfcb.10359

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Although the relationship between the Conservative Party and the trade unions has often been characterised by mutual distrust and hostility, there was a unique period, from 1945 until the early 1960s, when senior Conservatives pursued a conciliatory and constructive approach to the trade unions, and insisted that harmonious industrial relations could not be secured by punitive legislation or political diktats. Instead, the paternalistic One Nation Conservatives who dominated the Party during this time, such as Rab Butler, Joseph Godber, Ian Macleod, Harold Macmillan, and Walter Monckton, emphasised that peace in industry could only be secured by developing trust via closer co-operation, dialogue and industrial partnership. This reflected the One Nation view that industrial conflict was often a consequence of workers feeling alienated, insecure and under-valued in large-scale, and impersonal, industries, where a growing gulf between workers and managers developed, and minor grievances smouldered. It was envisaged that this consensual and conciliatory strategy would result in reduced trade union militancy, and thus fewer strikes in pursuit of inflationary wage increases. This, in turn, would reduce the pressure from right-wing Conservatives for repressive legislation against the trade unions. From the 1970s onwards, though, this cohort of conciliatory One Nation Conservatives was superseded by a new generation of Conservative MPs and Ministers who heralded an ideological transformation in the Party. Often emanating from lower middle class or petit bourgeois backgrounds, many of these newer, younger, Conservatives were self-made men and women, and saw themselves as representatives or symbols of small businesses, individual entrepreneurs, and the self-employed especially. They were openly hostile towards trade unions, believing that they and their industrial militancy were responsible for many of Britain’s economic problems, such as excessive wage increases, high inflation, low productivity, and management’s inability to take tough commercial decisions, including the introduction of new working practices and technologies, due to the likelihood that these would prompt strikes by trade unions concerned with defending jobs. The decline of the One Nation Conservatives was therefore accompanied by a much more combative and confrontational approach by the Conservative Party towards workers and trade unions since the 1970s.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: Cardiff Law & Politics
Department of Politics and International Relations (POLIR)
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 2 March 2023
Date of Acceptance: 3 November 2022
Last Modified: 03 May 2023 09:12

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