Historical Studies in Industrial Relations

Review Essays Symposium: The Winter of Discontent

The Trade Unions and the ‘Winter of Discontent’: A Case of Myth-Taken Identity?

Historical Studies in Industrial Relations (2015), 36, (1), 181–203.

Abstract

Three decades after the events themselves and with full access to the public record, historians and political scientists are now well placed to revisit and re-evaluate the ‘Winter of Discontent’. This article reflects on the first book-length studies of the period published since the opening of the archives. I argue that although neither study profoundly alters our view of this crucial episode and its place in the pre-history of Thatcherism, taken together the evidence they uncover might provide the basis for an alternative assessment. Ultimately, however, such an assessment requires more attention to methodology and, above all, an approach to the archives and to witness testimony that is both more inductive and more deductive than that exhibited in the existing literature. In the process I hope to clarify what we now know and we have still to learn about the winter of 1978–79 and the popular mythology to which it gave rise.

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Author details

Hay, Colin