An Abridged History of the Trade Union and Labour Movement from the Industrial Revolution to the Present Day New Labour

The Labour Party was transformed in the 1990s by a small but influential group. They were working under the banner ‘New Labour, New Party’. They believed that Labour's traditional values of nationalisation, Keynesian economics and an ever closer relationship with the trade unions were the very values that stopped Labour coming into power in a modern age. In addition they felt that Clause IV was now an anachronism. The Labour Party, having gone through a traumatic period which culminated in the expulsion of the Militant tendency following the expulsion of five leading members in 1983, was at its lowest ebb. Having endured 18 years of Conservative government, Labour Party members voted through the changes - including the removal of Clause IV.

Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister in 1997 with a landslide victory. Hopes for reform following the Thatcher years had never been higher. Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown were firm believers in monetarism: both in its economic and philosophical dogma.

New Labour did however bring in the long-awaited minimum wage and restored Trade-union rights at GCHQ but it reneged on its promises to repeal the anti-trade union legislation brought in by the Thatcher government. The trade unions were promised major reforms at the so called Warwick meetings: the majority of these were left unfulfilled to the disillusionment of many Labour Party supporters, culminating with Britain's involvement in the invasion of Iraq. A demonstration of over 2 million people, many of whom were Labour Party supporters, was ignored.

Yet there were no political alternatives when it came to parliamentary elections and New Labour was returned for second term in 2001, followed by a third term in May 2005, albeit with a reduced majority.

Labour politicians boasted that Britain was the 4th largest economy in the world, while ignoring the fact that disposable income had decreased and the promise to eradicate child poverty had become only an aspiration. Britain became a divided society: the gulf between the rich and the poor was greater than at any time since the World War II.

Gordon Brown became New Labour Prime Minister in 2007. 2009 witnesses the collapses of Freemanite monetarism leading to recession. The New Labour government returns to Keynesian economics, and part nationalises the collapsed banking system. Unemployment rises: reaching 3 million.

In the 1970s Trade-union membership reached 13 million. In 2009 the figure was less than 6.5 million. As class consciousness in the Labour and trade union movement rises anew (as it will) we must learn from our mistakes as well as our victories.


  1. How long had we waited to be rid of Toryism and that vile woman Thatcher to find in only a few years that the 'new boss' was exactly the same as the 'old boss' just a different hand holding the knife to stab the working class in the back yet again!
    1998 was the year I tore up my Labour Card that I'd carried for nearly 30 years!

    (Posted on 2012-01-01 12:30:00 by )

This Abridged History ©Terry McCarthy is available to buy as a book, price £7.99 + p&p.