2 February 2015 tbs.pm/6012

We now live in a time where trades unions are thought by perhaps a majority of people to be old-fashioned, irrelevant dinosaurs, despite them representing and helping millions of working people. Governments of all colours can call for further restrictions on the rights of unions to take action for their members and the people of Britain just nod and let it pass.

It was not always this way. In fact, for much of the past 70 years it was probably too much the other way, as corrupt union bosses with political ambitions walked all over their members in order to bring changes to society they couldn’t get through the ballot box.

But there was a now-forgotten middle ground. There were times, quite regularly, where unions took action because wrong was actually being done to their members. And the people of Britain nodded and let it pass as they were largely on the side of the workers.

In 1967, the Independent Television Authority had decided to reform the ITV system. While their plans may have looked good on paper, the main thing the chairman of the ITA, Lord Hill of Luton, forgot was that he was playing with the livelihoods of several thousand people across ITV. In the case of those working for Television Wales and West, ABC Weekend Television and Rediffusion London, the companies they worked for were being abolished beneath them. It was not a good time to be a behind the scenes worker in Independent Television.

It wasn’t until 1981 that workers were given comprehensive rights for when a company merged or transferred its business to another organisation (the automatic right to payments when a job was lost for these reason had only been granted two years earlier by the Redundancy Payments Act 1965). These Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations – TUPE – are now something we expect to be there to protect us after a takeover or merger. In 1967, the workers were left merely negotiating for their rights. Needless to say, this caused industrial relations problems as staff, worried about their prospects, became restive, while the companies, worried about their requirements in the new set-up, were reluctant to commit.

The situation in 1967 was complicated by the ITA making ITV agree that all workers would be offered jobs and not lose status or money after the changes. However, the ITA forgot that this meant people being asked to uproot their families, sell their houses or find new rented accommodation and move from one end of the country to another as their jobs in London, Didsbury and Birmingham disappeared while new ones opened up in Leeds. People are reluctant to do this now, in an era of 125mph trains and comprehensive motorways; they were especially unwilling to do it before such conveniences existed in a time when people often lived and died within a few miles of where they were born.

In these two articles, we can see the effect of the ITA not considering this element of human nature. The staff at ABC North, carefully disrupting the company while not pulling it off air, walk out to try to get ABC to decide who they would take with them to London and who they would farm out to the new Yorkshire Television in Leeds. Meanwhile, the staff at Rediffusion hit the company where it hurts, taking half of Coronation Street off air with the same worry – how many staff would ABC bring from Manchester and Birmingham and how many Rediffusion staff would be farmed out to Wembley or Leeds.

The rocky state of ITV industrial relations would last through the next year, right up to the changes to the system taking place in July and August 1968. And at the start of that August, a minor dispute at Tyne Tees would lead to a domino effect across the network as the staff of each company, new, reformed or remaining, would vent their frustrations and take down ITV as a whole for several weeks.

You Say

1 response to this article

Arthur Nibble 6 February 2015 at 10:56 am

Sorry to be picky (I should get out more) but, while the backroom staff were guaranteed employment elsewhere, no matter how disruptive this was to them, a few employees like the on-screen announcers didn’t have the same safety net. From memory, Harlech wanted a clean slate, dispatched with all the TWW continuity announcers and gave their viewers the confusing double whammy of a new station with unfamiliar faces. Fine article, though.

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