Lane, Jacqueline Ann (2017) A Watershed Decade in British Industrial Relations, 1965 to 1974? The Donovan Commission Report, In Place of Strife and the Industrial Relations Act of 1971. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The Donovan Report (1965-1968) is often seen as one of the great failures in the overall attempt to deal with the thorny problem of the contentious nature of industrial relations in post-war Britain. This thesis re-examines that report and subsequent governmental responses, using numerous sources, many of which have barely been used by previous authors, in order to establish where it all went wrong. Such an examination is important to inform future governments on some of the problems of trying to legislate on industrial relations matters.

This thesis addresses the central question addressed by the Report – the validity of employing legislation to deal with the problems within industrial relations, asking what contribution had legislation made to the ordering of industrial relations in the past, and what lessons future governments could take from that? Why did both the Labour Governments under Harold Wilson and the Conservative Government under Edward Heath choose to go beyond Donovan in their attempts to alter the role of the state in industrial relations Finally, could the Industrial Relations Act 1971, had it survived, have been to the benefit of trade unions in time?

This thesis suggests that legislation had an important role to play in the ordering of industrial relations, and that collective bargaining alone, although effective in many areas, was unable to address issues which had wider implications, such as those relating to health and safety or the reconciliation of differences due to the laws’ interference with trade unions’ rights to defend their members and their own collective rights. Both the Labour and Conservative Governments chose to go beyond the measures proposed by Donovan because economic and political necessity demanded a greater measure of control over strike action. However, the inquiry had undoubtedly focused the debate on whether or not legislation could ever be the most appropriate tool for controlling industrial relations, and therefore acted as a catalyst for the reforms that followed.

The Industrial Relations Act 1971 failed to bring about the hoped-for industrial peace. Its repeal in 1974, however, did nothing to prevent further rises in strikes after 1974. Piecemeal legislation in the 1980s and 1990s did bring about a greater level of industrial peace, but this suggests that it was not legislation per se that was the wrong strategy for controlling industrial relations, but rather the method and pace of implementation. Other means of maintaining industrial peace were experimented with and could have been successful if the political will had been there and the unions and employers had engaged more fully,but the seeds had been sown for legislative control and it was impossible to hold back the tide of restrictive legislation which followed these early forays into the concept of law as a means of controlling industrial relations. The Donovan Report did indeed represent the thin end of the legal wedge and opened the floodgates to the many enactments designed to control and emasculate the trade union movement which the Conservative governments of the 1980s and early 1990s were able to introduce.

The collective failures of the Donovan Report, In Place of Strife and the Industrial Relations Act to bring about industrial peace were, however, only indicative that legislation was not the most appropriate means of achieving this goal at this particular point in time. Alternative attempts to reduce strikes and engage trade unions in closer working relationships with employers and their associations, and with the government, did meet with some success in the 1970s and may be usefully attempted again in the future. This will, however, depend on whether government is able to keep an open mind on the utility, or perhaps futility, of legislative controls such as those attempted in the years between 1965 and 1975.

FINAL THESIS - Lane.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (1MB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email