Prime Minister Edward Heath was in the wrong place at the wrong time when conciliation skills were needed when he took office in June 1970, as a State of Emergency was called the next month.(1)
Heath in his first year saw more working days lost in strikes since the General Strike of 1926, with dockers, national newspapers and local authority workers in dispute.
In the three years eight months of Heath’s Government a State of Emergency was called five times: since the 1920 Emergency Powers Act there had only been eleven.
By December 1970 an Industrial Relations Bill, to come into effect the next August, was published and soon the miners were demanding a 47% pay rise.
Pressure was mounting on the government and by Today in 1972 a State of Emergency was declared, a month after the National Union of Miners (NUM) had called for a national strike, the first time in its history.
A total electricity blackout lasting nine hours resulted, twelve power stations closed as coal stocks were low, with the rest operating below capacity.
Industry went on to a three day week, whilst houses lacked heating and lit by candles. Train drivers refused to move oil trains past picket lines; more than 1 ½ million were laid off .
The miners accepted 20% or £6 per week, granted by the Wilberforce Commission and the strike ended on 28th February. But having tasted blood, two years later the miners struck again.
Heath had come into office hoping to deregulate the economy by changing from direct to indirect taxes and committed to bring in an Industrial Relations Bill to control the Unions at a time when the general public were sick of ‘wild- cat’ strikes.
Determined to ignore Labour’s previous ineffectual income policies under Harold Wilson, Heath soon realised that there would have to be restraint as inflation rose to 22% in the next year.
However in 1972 rising unemployment saw Chancellor, Anthony Barber adding to inflationary pressures by increasing money supply forcing Heath to try and contain by a Prices and Income Policy: result was a further deterioration in labour relations.
January 1973 saw the government unveil the second phase of its Wages and Prices Programme, when pay rises was limited to £1 a week + 4%. On May Day there was a national one-day-strike calling out 1½ million workers.(2)
To add to Heath’s woes, the NUM now turned down a 13% rise and banned overtime and coal supplies at power stations again dropped.
After an 81% vote to strike by the miners, on 13th November 1973, a State of Emergency was again announced, the fifth in three years, after miners and electricity workers continued their ban on overtime.
On December 13th a three-day week was announced, coming into operation on 1st January 1974, and set to last until 7th March; £1.2 billion was chopped off public spending, TV finished at 10.30 pm.
By February 1974 the miners were on strike again forcing Heath to call an election on Who Governs Britain? whilst the three day week was still in operation.
Heath departed and Labour’s Wilson, once back in office settled the strike by granting the miners 35%, with next year a further 35% without any action threatened.(3)
By the 8th of March we were back to ‘normal’, though trouble had only been bought off for a time and set to culminate in the 1979 ‘Winter of Discontent’.
(1) State of Emergency called 16th July 1970.
The early 1970.s was a time when the ability to govern was withdrawn from the Tories under Heath, and ultra right figures such as General Sir Walter Walker decided to pitch themselves against the ‘hard left’ of the Unions.
Thus the Unison Committee for Action (UCA), a voluntary civilian group, organised in the event of civil break down, a fear which culminated in the 1979 ‘winter of discontent’.
(2) In September 1973 twenty unions were expelled from the TUC for complying with the Industrial Relation Act; Mortgage Rate rose to 11%.
(3) Heath took office on the 19th June 1970 until his defeat in February 1974.
Ref: Origins of the Emergency Powers Act/uk statewatch.org/news
Ref: State of Emergency. Britain 1970-74. The Way We Were. D. Sandbrook, reviewed by Natalie Wheen in Observer, Sunday 26th Sept. 2010.
Ref: timeshighereducation.co.uk/Britain 1970-1974.
‘Have you heard it’s in the Stars, Next July we collide with Mars’?, 1940’s song revived for High Society 1956: Cole Porter.
Welcome all my readers to the Month of July…named after Julius Caesar in the Julian calendar; of 10 months it was the fifth month originally Quintilis, later changed to Julius. In both Republican and Julian calendars it had 31 days.
It was the Anglo-Saxon: maed-monath-meadow month.
The heady days of Labour’s landslide victory in 1945, which promised a new age of government-worker co-operation, were undone Today in 1949, when the dockers went on strike. Self interest re-asserted itself instead of the common good.
In January 1947 the Road Transport workers had struck, mainly for a 44 hour week, before returning just before one of the worst winters on record took hold. The dock-workers ‘blacked’ work relating to the hauliers, thus causing a desperate shortage of the supply of meat, until troops were brought in.
By Monday the July 11th matters had got serious enough for some government action demonstrated by Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s ceremoniously presenting to the Speaker ‘a gilt-edged typed Message from the King, bearing the Sign-Manual in the top left-hand corner’. The message announced that as the dock strike constituted a State of Emergency, it was necessary to ‘state’ an emergency existed.
As a report said: ‘As the hands of the clock showed 3.30 Mr Attlee rose and walked to the Bar [of the Commons[, where he stood smartly to attention, while Mr George Isaacs, the Minister of Labour, said (his voice sad and tired), that ‘the dockers had decided not to return to work and that one hundred and twelve ships and more than ten thousand men were now standing idle’.
On the Wednesday the 13th the Commons was crowded for the debate on the Message from the King announcing a State of Emergency and the Regulations thought necessary to deal with the situation.(1)
Churchill was there, wearing the traditional black coat and waistcoat, but with trousers of the ‘palest grey’. Attlee explained that the Government had acted ‘because it was a strike and not a lock-out, and was politically inspired, no doubt implying that there were communists ‘under the bed’, the scapegoats of that time.
The Attorney-General, Sir Hartley Shawcross condemned communist activity in the strike and in the Commons said: ‘These acts of unofficial strikes are an act of economic and political treason to our Trade Unions, Socialist Movement and …to our Country’.
‘Circumstance was now ‘master’, the Government merely the servant or slave’. On the 22nd of July the strike ended. The use of the word ‘masters’, back in 1946 in the Bill to repeal the Tory Trades’ Disputes Act, the Attorney General had said ‘We are the masters at the moment…and for a very long time’. It apparently surfaced in a Liverpool Daily Post article, and was a political millstone round his neck to later haunt him.(2)
(1) Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Tory) reminded the House that the Regulations necessary as they are, made serious inroads into traditional British rights and freedoms, which contrasts with today, of constant of EU interference and bogus Human Rights issues being thrown in our face by people lamentably lacking in these considerations.
(2) The Quote about ‘masters’ was cited in Hansard 2.4.1946, was attested by Lord Bruce in a New Statesman article. In Shawcross’ Obituary in the Independent (London) 11.7.2003, it was reported that the use of the ‘talk about masters’, he admitted, was one of the most foolish things he ever said’. Shawcross was British Lead Prosecutor of the Nazis at Nuremberg 1945-6.
Ref: Hansard HC Debate 13.7.1949 Vol 467 cc441-571
Ref: Chronicle of the 20thc J L International Publications.
Ref: Punch Magazine July 20th 1949 PP76-77, Impressions of Parliament.
Pic Ref: P. 59 Gavin Weightman London River, Guild Publishing 1990.
Next Post: ‘Don’t Shoot the Messenger’.