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NELH Tuesday Meeting. Charlie McGuire (Teesside University): The 1980 Steel Strike on Teesside
March 21 @ 19:00 - 20:30
The focus of the talk is the 1980 national steelworkers’ strike and its impact in Teesside. This was the first national industrial conflict between trade unions and Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, which had been elected seven months earlier. Lasting three months, from January-April 1980, it was – up to that point – the largest strike in post-1945 British history, involving over 100,000 workers and accounting for almost 9 million working days.
It was the first national strike in the history of the British steel industry (excluding the General Strike of 1926) and was characterised by very high levels of activism from the workers, in the form of mass picketing, widespread secondary picketing, and involvement in the numerous strike committees that were organised throughout the steel-producing regions in Britain. The outcome of the strike was a higher pay increase for workers, but this was accompanied with a continuation of the closures and redundancies programme; by the end of the 13-month period from the finish of the strike to May 1981, British Steel Corporation, under its new Chairman, Ian McGregor, had shed over 55,000 jobs.
Teesside was heavily dependent on steel as a source of employment. In 1980, around 21,000 people worked in the region’s steel plants, including Hartlepool, Redcar-Lackenby, South Bank and Cargo Fleet among others. Therefore when the strike was called, it proved to be a significant social, economic and political event. The strike was very well-supported and organised in the local steel works. However, in the years following the strike, job losses hit the Teesside steel industry and by 1986 employment was down to just 7,000. This talk will explore the strike and discuss its difficult aftermath in this region.
Charlie McGuire is a senior lecturer in history at Teesside University. His main research areas are in Irish and British labour history. Charlie’s PhD was a study of the career of Irish socialist and labour movement activist Roddy Connolly, who was the son of James Connolly. This formed the basis of the book Roddy Connolly and the Struggle for Socialism in Ireland, published by Cork University Press in 2008. His second monograph Sean McLoughlin: Ireland’s Forgotten Revolutionary was published by Merlin Press in 2011 and focused on the life of a little-known but significant figure of the Irish Revolution.
Charlie continues to research in Irish labour history, and is also interested in oral histories of working lives and trade union struggles in Britain. He was part of a major oral history project at Westminster University that focused on building worker trade unionism in post-war Britain and is currently researching an oral history study of the 1980 national steelworkers strike, which will be published by Manchester University Press.