W.G. Runciman

In my last Diary I remarked that the game of plus ça change can be played, with the help of selective quotation and anecdote, to point almost any moral you choose. But if there is one topic in the sociology of 20th-century Britain on which the conclusion that nothing changes is inescapable, it is trade-unionism. Ever since 1875, when a Conservative administration removed collective action in furtherance of a trade dispute from the law of criminal conspiracy, successive governments have veered between conciliation and confrontation, successive employers have veered between concession and resistance, and successive union leaders have veered between moderation and militancy. The state of play at any one time has varied with the state of the economy, the competitive pressure on different industries, and the mood of the electorate. The issues have remained the same.

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[*] Published by Cape on 4 February (292 pp., £18, 0 224 01929 5).