The "Winter of Discontent" is a term used to describe the British winter of 1978–1979, during which there were widespread strikes by trade unions demanding larger pay rises for their members, and the government of James Callaghan struggled to cope. Much of the basis of Callaghan's Labour Party was that it represented the unions in parliament. The strikes were a result of the attempted enforcement of the Labour government's rule that pay rises be kept below 5%, and began in private industry before spreading to the public sector; many of them seriously disrupted everyday life.

Whilst the strikes were largely over by February 1979, the government's inability to contain the strikes earlier helped lead to Margaret Thatcher's Conservative victory in the 1979 general election and legislation to restrict unions. Public sector employees' strike action included the unofficial strike by gravediggers, working in Liverpool and Tameside and the refuse collectors' strike. Additionally, NHS ancillary workers formed picket lines to blockade hospital entrances with the result that many hospitals were reduced to taking emergency patients only. The phrase Winter of Discontent itself is derived from the opening line of William Shakespeare's Richard III: "Now is the Winter of our Discontent / Made glorious summer by this son of York…", and was popularly applied to the events of the winter by the then editor of The Sun, Larry Lamb, in an editorial.

Vital Statistics Edit

Cause : Union/Government Disagreement Duration : Months Key Figure(s) : James Callaghan

The Labour governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan had been fighting for several years against inflation, which had peaked at 26.9% in the year to August 1975, but wished to avoid large increases in unemployment. As part of the campaign to bring down inflation, the government had agreed a 'Social contract' with the Trades Union Congress which allowed for a voluntary incomes policy in which the pay rises for workers were held down to limits set by the government. Previous governments had brought in incomes policies backed by Acts of Parliament, but the Social contract agreed that this would not happen.

  • Those on strike included lorry drivers, undertakers, refuse collectors and NHS workers.
  • Food Shortages and Power Cuts were problems. Rubbish built up in the street and the dead were not buried.

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