Commentary (The Times)

Strikes: “Tory views on unions embarrass leaders” (leak of Ridley Report)

Document type: Declassified documents
Source: The Times , 27 May 1978
Journalist: Michael Hatfield
Editorial comments: The report had been leaked to The Economist a few days earlier.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 359 words
Themes: Privatized & state industries, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Trade unions, Strikes & other union action

Tory views on unions embarrass leaders

By Michael Hatfield Political Reporter

Senior shadow ministers were embarrassed last night by the disclosure of Conservative policy proposals on how a Tory government should handle nationalized industries and the unions.

A backbench policy group has stated in an annex to its report that if there is confrontation between a Conservative government and the unions the battle should be on ground chosen by the Tories. The railways, British Leyland, the Civil Service and steel are mentioned.

Shadow ministers said last night that although they had received the report the annex was not included. They suggested that it would never be accepted by the Shadow Cabinet. It was written by Mr Nicholas Ridley and others on the policy group on nationalized industries and represents an influential view in the party.

The Shadow Cabinet committee of economic spokesmen have discussed the backbench group’s proposals for hiving off sections of the nationalized industries and what the report calls a “nasty little Bill” to end statutory monopolies in the public sector.

No decisions have been taken, but discussions have included the formation of worker cooperatives at coal mines wherever possible; separation of the ports and either selling them or making them into worker cooperatives; independence of airports and their sale or handover to local authorities; and sale of the British National Oil Corporation's assets, preferably to the public at a 50 per cent discount on value, with a prescribed maximum holding for any individual.

Although shadow ministers disclaim knowvledge of the existence of the annex, there appears little doubt that a paper was circulated in the backbench group on how a Conservative government should counter any “political threat” from its enemies.

It is argued that contingency plans should be made to counter any big challenge from a union over a wage claim or redundancies. One way would be to choose the most suitable ground. Another is to resist a challenge on electricity or gas by stockpiling and plan to import coal and encourage non-union lorry drivers.

Even more controversial is a proposal for a large, mobile squad of police prepared to uphold the law against violent picketing.