Britain in the 1970s: TRADE UNION HISTORY

Students in the History Department have been making use of the Modern Records Centre in their research for long essays and dissertations on the history of Britain in the 1970s. Here is a sample of what they have been doing:

Louise Machin

I am currently researching trade unions in the 1970s, with a particular focus on their relationship with the media. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) archive at the Modern Records Centre holds an abundance of documents relating to how union leaders viewed the media, the gradual acceptance of the media’s increasing power, and the realisation that unions needed to actively harness this power instead of allowing the media to dictate public opinion. 

One particularly interesting document is a pamphlet entitled ‘How To Handle The Media – A Guide For Trade Unionists’.


The pamphlet is a back-to-basics explanation of the various strands of the media and the roles of people involved, and also a guide on how best to manipulate this in order to gain positive publicity for a particular union. Produced by the TUC Media Working Group after its formation in October 1977, the pamphlet aims to combat what it perceives to be ‘anti-trade union bias in the media’ by encouraging its members to form positive, if not slightly manipulated, relationships with journalists – “the media is a nettle you must grasp – before it stings you”.

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MSS.292-PUB-4-3-114 [click to enlarge]
Aside from this document, there are numerous documents and collections from the TUC, and the sheer volume of correspondence between TU leaders and various media outlets indicates just how closely managed the media portrayal of trade unions became during the late 1970s. This includes an entire collection of letters to TUC press officers requesting photographs of various union events and officials, with each request closely examined and the impact of granting the request carefully assessed. This is evidence of the beginnings of public relations and communications departments within large unions, replacing the previous suspicion in which the press was held by unionists and marking a new era of interaction between the two. The Modern Records Centre has proved crucial to my research, and has provided a wealth of sources I hadn’t imagined being able to find, never mind so close to home!

MSS.292-PUB-4-3-114 i
MSS.292-PUB-4-3-114 [click to enlarge]
For more information on using the MRC please see here.

Click here to search our catalogue. 

We also offer individual guidance sessions, where one of our experienced archivists will help you to find material relevant to your topic. For more information or to book a short session please see here.


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