For most of the twentieth century, the Conservative Party engaged in an ongoing struggle to curb the power of the trade unions, culminating in the radical legislation of the Thatcher governments. Yet, as this book shows, for a brief period between the end of the Second World War and the election of Harold Wilson's Labour government in 1964, the Conservative Party adopted a remarkably constructive and conciliatory approach to the trade unions, dubbed 'voluntarism'. During this time the party leadership made strenuous efforts to avoid, as far as was politically possible, confrontation with, or legislation against, the trade unions, even when this incurred the wrath of some Conservative backbenchers and the Party's mass membership. In explaining why the Conservative leadership sought to avoid conflict with the trade unions, this study considers the economic circumstances of the period in question, the political environment, electoral considerations, the perspective adopted by the Conservative leadership in comprehending industrial relations and explaining conflict in the workplace, and the personalities of both the Conservative leadership and the key figures in the trade unions. Making extensive use of primary and archival sources it explains why the 1945-64 period was unique in the Conservative Party's approach to Britain's trade unions. By 1964, though, even hitherto Conservative defenders of voluntarism were acknowledging that some form of official inquiry into the conduct and operation of trade British unionism, as a prelude to legislation, was necessary, thereby signifying that the heyday of 'voluntarism' and cordial relations between senior Conservatives and the trade unions was coming to an end.
Peter Dorey is Reader in British Politics at Cardiff University. This is his ninth book on post-1945 British political history and public policy. Previous books include Wage Politics in Britain: The Rise and Fall of Incomes Policies since 1945 (2001), Policy Making in Britain: An Introduction (2005), The Labour Governments 1964-1970 (Editor, 2006) and The Labour Party and Constitutional Reform: A History of Constitutional Conservatism (2008). He is currently writing two monographs: British Conservatism: The Philosophy and Politics of Inequality, and House of Lords Reform since 1911. These are scheduled for 2010 and 2011 publication respectively. He has also published over 60 journal articles and chapters in edited books.
’This book will certainly be valuable to any scholar seeking detailed knowledge on government-union relations during the period.’ Contemporary British History 'Whether or not Peter Dorey plans further studies on this subject, his account of the immediate postwar period is unlikely to be bettered.' Journal of Contemporary History