Scottish trade unions and nationalisation, 1945-1955 : a case study of the coal industry.
This thesis contends that the historiographical boundaries and focus of labour
history, political history, of policy making and nationalisation have resulted in an
incomplete understanding of trade unions attitudes towards, and influence upon,
post-war British economic policy. In particular, the predominant concern of labour
historians with strike patterns and their causes, particularly within the coal industry,
has been at the expense of other forms of trade union activity. Whilst the more
general historiography of the period and that of policy making address these issues,
they do not tend to do so below the peak level organisation of the TUC and of
Whitehall and Westminster. This has lead to miners unions being portrayed as a
somewhat monolithic organisation predominantly concerned with disputes, strike
prone with poor industrial relations, but politically conservative and generally
supportive of the Labour Party and Government policy.
In taking a multi-level analysis, with particular emphasis on Scotland, and examining
the evidence from the NUM's interaction with Government, party, National Coal
Board and the industry'S conciliation and consultative machinery, this thesis argues
that a more diverse pattern of trade union attitudes and influence existed. It is
suggested that the TUC had a relatively minor role to play in the development of coal
nationalisation policy after 1947. Furthermore, the national level of the NUM was
unable to adapt fully to its new-role under nationalisation because areas such as
Scotland continued to exercise considerable power and influence. In this it is
demonstrated that Scotland could take a divergent attitude to the national level of the union, particularly over wages, and ultimately meet with some success. The Scottish
Area of the NUM also displayed poorer industrial relations to the national and local
levels. In particular, the evidence from colliery level consultation demonstrates that
there was a more positive and constructive side to local union activity within the
nationalised industry than the focus on disputes hitherto suggested.
Therefore, this thesis concludes that there is sufficient evidence from the experience
of the NUM to suggest that a more complex and diverse pattern of trade union
behaviour existed between 1945 and 1955 in the nationalised coal industry.
However, this pattern is not so rooted in any Scottish cultural explanation, or
contradictory to existing interpretations, as to preclude its broader applicability to
other areas of the coal industry or unions in other nationalised industries.