Upper Clyde Shipbuilders 1971-2 and Edward Heath’s U-turn: how a united workforce defeated a divided government.
This article examines the political crisis resulting from the denial of government financial support for Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in June 1971 and the subsequent reversal of policy. It uses government departmental and Cabinet Office papers to argue that the key turning point came in September 1971 when Lord Rothschild’s Central Policy Review Staff produced its assessment of the Conservative government, led by Edward Heath, in its first year in office. This identified the UCS crisis as a key factor threatening the implementation of the government’s Industrial Relations Act and its ability to secure the compliance of the Trade Union Council leadership. The article documents the attempts made by the government to use concessions to marginalize the UCS shop stewards and restore the standing of the leadership of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions. It argues that the impetus for closure came from the ideological right within the Heath government, had the support of the owners of the private yards on the Clyde and that the government’s attempts to appease this lobby largely frustrated its attempts to close down the dispute.