Report on BUIRA History of Industrial Relations Study Group, 2011/12


Three events were organised by the BUIRA History of IR Study Group for the year 2011/12.


The first was a seminar entitled Wapping and the Role of Murdoch Reconsidered in International Context held on 7 December 2011 at the University of Westminster.


This seminar, which was attended by about 25 people, focused on the origins and significance of the Wapping dispute at the News International Group, some 25 years after Rupert Murdoch relocated his national newspapers to a non-union printing plant in Docklands and sacked more than 5,500 production and clerical workers. The seminar also analysed working conditions in the German print industry from the 1980s onwards as a point of contrast and comparison.


Linda Melvern, an investigative journalist and author of ‘The End of the Street’ (Methuen 1986), examined labour relations in Fleet Street and Murdoch’s conspiracy to outmanoeuvre the British print unions, not least by forging links with the then Thatcher government. Franz Kersjes, Chairman of the German Print and Media Union (1980-2001), contrasted the development of working conditions in the German newspaper industry at the same time, within the context of the German ‘dual system’ of industrial relations. Discussion compared relevant experiences within this more general, European context.


A full overview of the discussion can be found on the website of the Trade Union Forum (History and Policy):


Our second event, Oral Labour Histories: Britain at Work 1945-95, was an all-day symposium that took place on Saturday 24 March at the Bishopsgate Institute, London, with 32 participants (and nine apologies). It had been organised alongside Britain at Work (the oral labour history steering group) and the Oral History Society. The opening address was given by Graham Smith, Chair of the Oral History Society, after which there were round table introductions designed to establish links between oral labour history groups nationwide. In the afternoon, there were two plenary panel discussions. The first focused on Labour v. Local History (led by Linda Clarke) and addressed issues like the relationship between oral and labour history, while the second focused on How to Promote Oral Labour History (led by Joanna Bornat, Oral History Society) with contributions on gathering and storing material, and dissemination. The closing part of the symposium discussed ways to consolidate more systematic links amongst the groups involved (register of participants, e-mail groups and so on).


The third event, which was originally intended as a seminar, has turned into one of the plenaries at the annual conference. At 14.00 on Thursday 28 June, Prof Keith Ewing (King’s College, London) will speak on The 1982 Employment Relations Act: 30 Years On. The intention is to analyse the legacy of this key Act of the Thatcher government over the last three decades and we are sure that all BUIRA delegates will find the session stimulating.


Overall, the year has been very successful, as the group has met its aim to organise three or four events a year, with due attention to the European context of labour history. It has also brought together academics and wider groups of people interested in labour history, including trade unionists, particularly those who have retired. It has also forged links with other like-minded organisations, such as the Oral History Society.

We look forward to seeing you in the future, but meanwhile if you have any ideas or suggestions for future events, we’ll be delighted to hear from you.

Michael Gold / Linda Clarke

June 2012