The Winter of Discontent



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In the midst of the freezing winter of 1978–79, more than 2,000 strikes, infamously coined the “Winter of Discontent,” erupted across Britain as workers rejected the then Labour Government’s attempts to curtail wage increases with an incomes policy. Labour’s subsequent electoral defeat at the hands of the Conservative Party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher ushered in an era of unprecedented political, economic, and social change for Britain. A potent social myth also quickly developed around the Winter of Discontent, one where “bloody-minded” and “greedy” workers brought down a sympathetic government and supposedly invited the ravages of Thatcherism upon the British labour movement. 'The Winter of Discontent' provides a re-examination of this crucial series of events in British history by charting the construction of the myth of the Winter of Discontent. Highlighting key strikes and bringing forward the previously-ignored experiences of female, black, and Asian rank-and-file workers along-side local trade union leaders, the author places their experiences within a broader constellation of trade union, Labour Party, and Conservative Party changes in the 1970s, showing how striking workers’ motivations become much more textured and complex than the “bloody-minded” or “greedy” labels imply. The author further illustrates that participants’ memories represent a powerful force of “counter-memory,” which for some participants, frame the Winter of Discontent as a positive and transformative series of events, especially for the growing number of female activists. Overall, this fascinating book illuminates the nuanced contours of myth, memory, and history of the Winter of Discontent.


'The most comprehensive, balanced and persuasive analysis of the Winter of Discontent so far available.'
Pat Thane

'An important book of considerable scholarship and historical technique, offering valuable alternative perspectives and significant insights into the industrial unrest of the British ‘winter of discontent’.'
John Shepherd, University of Huddersfield

'Lopez’s study focuses – as the title suggests – on the creation of the myths that surrounded the Winter of Discontent, and their subsequent repackaging and reiteration in the 1980s and beyond. Utilising a number of previously unseen sources, especially some stimulating and thought-provoking interviews with a number of those who participated on various sides of the 1978/9 industrial disputes, the study provides an important addition to the ever-growing historiography of late-twentieth-century British political history.'
Andrew Edwards, Labour History Review

'The book makes possible a significantly more nuanced understanding, both of the ‘lived experience’ of those who participated in industrial action and of the dire economic conditions from which the strikes emerged. The result is a valuable contribution to the scholarly literature on the 1970s.'
Robert Saunders, Twentieth Century British History

'Martin López looks beyond the common, monolithic understanding of the period to examine the complex, underlying forces that affected the strikes and their reception by Labour and Conservative politicians, the media and the British public. Her book traces the ways in which understandings and experiences of gender were embedded within workers’ lives and the increasing gendering of trade union spaces, which is often overlooked in retellings of the event. ... this is a valuable and important book for people interested in British labour, economic and political history, as well as gender and transnational feminist studies. Martin López deepens and enriches previous scholarly understandings of the period.'
Laura Y. Merrell, Feminist Review

Author Information

Tara Martin López is Professor of Sociology at Peninsula College. Sheila Rowbotham is Professor of History at the University of Manchester.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Title page4
Copyright page 5
Dedication 7
Foreword 10
Introduction 14
Chapter 1 20
Chapter 2 39
Chapter 3 76
Chapter 4 99
Chapter 5 123
Chapter 6 142
Chapter 7 166
Chapter 8 190