Employment Acts, (1980-90):
‘During the 1980’s the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher introduced eight Acts, including the *Wages Act of 1986, which brought about radical changes to the employment laws of Britain and threw trade unions onto the defensive. The introduction of new legislation designed to make trade unions more accountable was central to the government’s new economic philosophy, which aimed to deregulate and ‘free’ the economy in order to achieve the economic renaissance of Britain. In other words, the attack upon trade union power was part of the process of rolling back the modern welfare state and state control which was perceived to be the cause of Britain’s post-war economic decline. It was also a deliberate attempt to restore the upper hand to management in British industry.
The Employment Acts of 1980, 1982, 1988, 1989, and 1990, and the Trade Union Act of 1984 imposed this Conservative approach in a step-by-step manner, at first gently through Jim Prior then more toughly through Tebbit, Howard and others. To the Thatcher administration these Acts have ensured that all workers have basic rights in dealing with trade unions, but to trade unionists they appeared to remove basic rights from employees under the banner of deregulation and the ‘freeing’ of market forces. Indeed, the 1980 Act of limited picketing rights and made secondary picketing illegal; the 1982 Act limited the right to a closed shop; the 1984 Act introduced ballots on political funds and for strike action; the 1988 Act allowed trade union members to ignore a trade union ballot decision on industrial action; the 1989 Act further undermined the rights of individual workers; and the 1990 Act further attacked closed shop by making it illegal for an employer to refuse to employ a worker in the grounds of s/he not being a member of a trade union. All these measures remain on the statute books’.
From, John Ramsden, Professor of Modern History at Queen Mary, University of London.