Trade unions and incomes policies : British unions and the social contract in the 1970s
This is an investigation of the trade union role in the Social Contract incomes policies in Britain during the 1970s. In the context of the general political economy of the period, the study looks at the development in the early 1970s of an accord between the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Labour Party known as the Social Contract, examines the trade union participation in the series of voluntary incomes policies that followed the election of the Labour Government in 1974, and charts the development or opposition to such participation oulminating in the collapse of the policy in the winter of 1978-1979 and the subsequent defeat of the Labour Government in the 1979 general election. More specifically, the study focuses on the experience of six individual unions within the context of TUC policy-making: the articulations between their approaches to incomes policy and their collective bargaining policies, the anatomy of their responses and policies towards the various phases of the Social Contract, the mobilization of consent and/or opposition to TUe and Government policy in each union, and the limits placed on relative union leadership discretion to participate in TUC policy-making by the political and industrial processes and organizational structure of each union. The research has involved a variety of sources and methods. First, there has been an attempt to draw on and link the diverse areas of the industrial relations literature which are concerned with the relationship between trade Unions and incomes policies. These include the separate literatures on incomes policy, on the link between trade unions and the Labour Party and Labour governments, on trade union government and the sociology of trade union organizations, and on the debate over 'corporatist' types of arrangements between trade unions and the state. Secondly, the research has involved the use of a wide range of primary and secondary trade union and political documentary sources on this period of history through the 1970s. Finally, the detailed case studies of the six sample unions have involved both primary documentary materials and extensive interviewing. Thus, the materials collected for the study constitute a unique source on different approaches to the 1970s pay policies, on their industrial impact and the political processes that they engendered within individual unions, and on the broader relations between British trade unions and the state during this period. The theoretical contribution of the study is primarily exploratory in nature. It identifies the constraints to which national union leaderships are· subject when they engage or attempt to engage in macro-economic and political exchanges with the state. Such constraints are explored in an examination of the upwards and downwards mediations that occur within trade unions as illustrated by the variations within and between trade unions in the mobilization of consent and opposition to the Social Contract incomes policies. This analysis informs debates about the limits and/or viability of other corporatist or 'Social Contract' types of arrangements. It also investigates the organizational implications of voluntary incomes policies and compares the internal political processes and industrial practices of British trade unions: at the level of the TUC as a whole, within individual affiliates and, in partiCUlar, in the articulations between TUC and individual union policy-making and bargaining behaviour.