Department of History, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S10 2TN, UNITED KINGDOM.
Despite the media’s significant influence on British society’s transformation between 1945 and 1979, relatively little is understood about their effect on the mythologised decline of trade unionism. In response, this research forms the first comprehensive study of the media’s role in the battle for public support between government and trade unions. Facilitated by the recent digitisation of newspaper sources and television reports, this research assesses media content from across the political spectrum, including five national dailies. It explores coverage of particular moments in the political relationship between the government and unions, as well as wider structural concerns in economic discourse. Beyond content, this thesis assesses the personal and political motivations behind production, utilising memoirs from prominent editors and journalists, as well as evidence from the BBC and TUC archives. It reflects on the way changes to the media landscape, including the waning influence of left-wing media and the rise of right-wing tabloids, shaped and restricted the dominant frames of explanation for Britain’s supposed decline. The influence of the media on public attitudes is assessed through extensive exploration of Gallup polls and political surveys, enriching our understanding of trade unionism’s engagement with wider social change.
Through these processes, the research seeks to scrutinise the validity of common simplistic assumptions about the media’s attitudes towards the labour movement. Rather than a story of inevitability and relentless hostility – an impression which is difficult to reconcile with union’s rising membership during the period – coverage of industrial relations was fraught with inconsistencies and contradictions which at times favoured the union cause. Ultimately, this thesis seeks to illuminate the cumulative power of industrial relations coverage over several decades, which was fundamental to the political battles of the 1980s.