The original ‘winter of discontent’, as it was dubbed in a line taken from Shakespeare’s Richard III, began in the autumn of 1978. What is especially haunting for the unions and the Labour Party is the knowledge that all this was followed by Margaret Thatcher’s electoral triumph in May 1979 and her government’s introduction of major restrictions on trade union power. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so. While no one expects him “to squeeze the rich until the pips squeak”, as Labour chancellor Denis Healey was said to have threatened to do, “a government lead on restoring some fairness and proportion to senior executive and their employees’ pay could only restore some of Brown’s standing in the country”. Thank you for subscribing to HistoryExtra, you now have unlimited access. Read more. 1979 Jan 17 We. In the late 1970s Jones’s calls for continued restraint – a shorter working week and workplace democracy instead of a pay ‘free-for-all’ – were defeated within his own union.

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And what might a great union ‘baron’ of the 1970s have done now? The Winter of Discontent, as it became known, saw a wave of crippling strikes across the country - and led to the election of Margaret Thatcher. What crisis?’, trumpeted a famous headline in The Sun newspaper at the time. 'The Archive Hour: Then was the Winter of our Discontent' will be broadcast on Radio 4 at 2002 BST on Saturday 6th September 2008. But in the 1970s Jones, who had fought in the Spanish Civil War and built his career with the Transport and General Workers’ Union in the Midlands, was the leading trade union leader in Britain. Then, a weakened Labour government dithered over when to call an election, while unions vehemently resisted attempts to hold down pay in the name of fighting inflation. He warned that the beneficiaries of such action would be Margaret Thatcher and “all the ilk of privilege”. Many unions have long since taken on board those lessons, but there is still influential left-wing political resistance to doing so.
Jack Jones is now in his mid-90s and no longer a public figure. But the danger too, as Jones knew well, is what happens later when pent-up pay demand explodes. “If we had agreed on a formula such as ‘single figures’… we would certainly have been able to avoid the winter of discontent”, he wrote later.

Along with other leading union officials and labour historians in the History & Policy Trade Union Forum, he is re-examining past episodes to assist modern unions and public policy towards unions. What might be the lessons from the 1970s for the government and unions today? Radio 4's 'The Archive Hour' looks back at what happened: