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Richard Hyman

Richard Hyman is a reader in industrial relations at the University of Warwick. He has written extensively on trade unions and industrial conflict. A third edition of his book Strikes will be published by Fontana in the autumn.

In the Economist of 27 May 1978, details were published of a secret report by a Conservative Party policy group on the nationalised industries. Each industry would be allocated a minimum rate of return on capital; managers who failed to achieve this target would be sacked. The report, drafted by the MP Nicholas Ridley, recognised that the pressures to economise would inevitably threaten management-union conflict. In sectors where a Conservative government could not contemplate the political or economic costs of such conflict, ‘return on capital figures should be rigged.’ Accordingly, ‘the eventual battle should be on ground chosen by the Tories, in a field they think could be won (railways, British Leyland, the civil service or steel).’ Was it mere coincidence that these were four of the main sites of major industrial disputes during Thatcher’s first administration?

Desperate Responses

Richard Hyman, 5 April 1984

The incredible frequency of these strikes proves best of all the extent to which the social war has broken out all over England. No week passes, scarcely a day, indeed, in which there is not a strike in some direction, now against a reduction, then against a refusal to raise the rate of wages … sometimes against new machinery, or for a hundred other reasons. These strikes, at first skirmishes, sometimes result in weighty struggles … They are the military school of the working-men in which they prepare themselves for the great struggle … And as schools of war, the Unions are unexcelled. In them is developed the peculiar courage of the English.

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