Leeds nostalgia: Unions so powerful they could call ‘international blockades’ - this week in January 1980

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Trade unions in the 1980s had so much influence that their leaders could hold governments to account.

This week in 1980, union leaders representing steel workers announced an international ban on steel imports into the UK.

The move was arranged through the International Transport Union, whose chief Harold Lewis issued the ban, stating that any such imports could thwart the ongoing steel strike in Britain.

Revealing the ‘ring round Britain’, Iron and Steel Trades Confederation leader Bill Sirs, said: “I would like the strike to be short and sharp if possible so the suffering in the long term would be less. After this, the industry may be in the position of persuading this Government and the employers to attempt to settle the problem.”

The international freeze was the brainchild of rail union chief Sid Weighall.

Around 90 per cent of 103,000 steel workers went on strike after rejecting British Steel’s annual pay offer of six per cent. The offer was considered derisory by union leaders and workers but in 1980, they were in a position of power. The strike had an immedaite effect on car manufacturers, including British Leyland.

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