Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Amid what for so long has been a dearth of regular in-depth news coverage in the mainstream media about employment and trade union issues, there is one positive development.

Drivers and couriers in the gig economy, who are challenging the working practices of online innovators such as Uber and Deliveroo, are winning a sympathetic hearing on radio and television, and especially in the national press.

‘The unions are back’ declared The Guardian’s headline over an interview with the TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady in which she called on the government to establish a new consensus with the trade union movement to help restore the economy.

No wonder there was just a hint of grim satisfaction: a recognition that it had taken a national emergency and countless deaths to turn the clock back to the days when Prime Ministers had to listen to the collective voice of workers if they were to have any chance of governing effectively.  

A vicious and highly personalised attack on teachers’ trade union leaders for daring to demand stricter safety conditions ahead of the phased re-opening of primary schools in England was another unpleasant reminder of the hateful coverage that has become so entrenched in much of daily press reporting.

Any pre-election threat of industrial action presents an immediate target for Conservative politicians and their media allies.

Add to the mix a pledge by the Labour Party to row back on ever-tightening legal restrictions on trade union activity, and within an instant Conservative-supporting newspapers are warning of an imminent repeat of the 1979 Winter of Discontent – the year that 29.4 million days were lost due to strikes.

An image of Jeremy Corbyn’s face superimposed on a 1979 photograph of heaps of rotting garbage piled up in Leicester Square appeared in the Sun at the time of his election as Labour leader in the summer of 2015.

Margaret Thatcher’s interventions to strengthen police tactics during the 1984-85 miners’ strike have been well documented, but her official papers reveal she put pressure on police forces in Scotland as well as in England and Wales.

Revisiting her cabinet papers is timely given the imminent publication of John Scott’s review into the impact of policing on community relations in the Scottish coalfield.

Scott’s review was established by the Scottish government in June 2018 to re-assess the “unprecedented strain” placed on policing and community relationships and the “extremely challenging situations” faced by individual officers.

My own re-examination of the Thatcher cabinet records underlined yet again how the government’s public stance – that “no instructions” were issued to chief constables during the strike – is contradicted by the content of secret and confidential documents.

Two months into the strike, at the height of picketing in Scotland, and after violent scenes outside the Ravenscraig steel works, the Prime Minister wanted some immediate answers.