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UK strikes: six milestones in the history of industrial action in Britain

Strikes are happening across various UK industries at the moment, but what is the history of strike action in UK?



Holidaymakers and commuters are expecting significant disruption this summer following a recent surge in strike action in the UK and Europe. UK train drivers are the latest group to consider striking in what could be the first national rail strike in more than 25 years

Strikes – a withdrawal of labour from employers – have been happening ever since the workers at the Royal Necropolis at Deir el-Medina in Egypt organised an uprising in 1152 BC over late wages. British industrial action has a much shorter, but still turbulent, history that has often been fuelled by changing economic conditions.

Workers today face high inflation and government reluctance to raise public sector wages, combined with the ongoing economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting cost of living crisis. With continued industrial action very likely in the months ahead.

Here are some major milestones in the history of UK strike action to date:

1. Pre-20th century: law both restricts and supports union activity

In Britain, documented strike action started in the 17th century, when groups of skilled workers used brief periods of industrial action to get better conditions of work and pay. During the 18th century, various pieces of legislation made strikes illegal.

But when the Trade Union Act of 1871 allowed trade unions to become legal bodies, a flurry of industrial activity occurred in industries such as coal mining and textiles, as new unions fought for better conditions.

2. Post-WWI: economic decline leads to demands for better pay

Following a lull during the first world war, industrial action intensified in the 1920s as employers tried to reduce wages amid much post-war economic and political change. Nearly 8 million days’ work were lost to strikes in 1925, rising to 162 million lost days in 1926 when 1.7 million workers went on strike in support of a million miners.

Miners’ refusal to accept a 10% wage reduction that year, for example, led to a nine-day general strike in support of the locked out miners in May. During a general strike, the Trades Union Congress – a group representing the majority of unions in England and Wales – asks members of different unions to strike in support of affected workers.

Working days lost to strike action, UK (1931-2020)

Total working days lost to strikes in the UK, 1931-2020 (000s) Office of National Statistics

3. Post WWII: governments struggle to tame union power

Levels of strike activity in Britain fell again in the 1930s, but picked up significantly after the second world war. At this time, the majority of strikes – about 2,000 per year – were unofficial, or not supported by trade unions. This prompted government calls for greater union accountability, a cooling-off period before strikes, as well as ballots – or votes – on strikes.

The unions’ rejection of these suggestions led to further industrial conflict, including two coal miners’ strikes under Edward Heath’s 1970-1974 Conservative government. The strikes led to power cuts across the country and then an enforced three-day working week to curb electricity use as the striking coal miners forced the government to ration dwindling fuel supplies.

4. 1970s: the failed social contract and the Winter of Discontent

Harold Wilson’s Labour Party came to power in the 1974 general election and suggested a “social contract” with unions where they would curb wage demands in return for nationalisation and increased spending on social welfare. The government failed to deliver upon this agreement, however, and trade unions began to demand substantial wage rises to ensure members’ pay kept up with the high inflation of the late 1970s.

An effort by Ford factory workers to gain a 25% weekly raise in August 1978, for example, triggered nine weeks of strikes and was settled with a 16.5% wage increase. This kicked off a a period now known as the Winter of Discontent. The following January, 20,000 railway workers held four one-day strikes over the course of the month. About 1.3 million municipal workers also called a one-day national strike for pay increases on January 22 1979.

The strikers were increasingly vilified by politicians and the media during this time. For example, a comment made by a councillor about the possibility of “burials at sea” due to a strike by Merseyside grave diggers in 1978 and 1979 saw trade unions publicly criticised for their lack of sympathy for the bereaved. Similarly, conservative politicians criticised the Labour government over a January 1979 public sector strike that included refuse collectors and resulted in rubbish piled high on the streets of central London.

Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher did much to curb trade union activity following her election in 1979.

5. 1980s: the rise of Thatcherism and the decline of union power

The election of Margaret Thatcher as Conservative prime minister in May 1979, signalled the start of a period of major restrictions on trade union power. Five employment acts and one Trade Union Act were introduced between the start of Thatcher’s two terms and the end of John Major’s Conservative government in 1997. These laws restricted the right of picketing, prevented unions bringing their members out in support of other unions and introduced fines and asset seizures for unions that struck without a ballot.

Some of this legislation was tested in another miners’ strike that lasted from 1984 into 1985. After a proposed 5.2% wage increase was rejected by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in October 1983, the National Coal Board (the UK corporation created to run nationalised coal mines) threatened to reduce output and was rumoured to have drawn up a list of pit closures.

An unballoted strike erupted on March 9 1984, which lasted for nearly a year. It progressed into a national strike as NUM leader Arthur Scargill sent “flying pickets” – striking union members – to different picket lines around the country by car and coach. Mass picketing led to violent clashes and even deaths. There were also several legal twists and turns as the High Court fined the NUM £200,000 and seized its assets because it had not called an official strike by ballot.

The strike ended without any settlement when the miners returned to work without agreement on March 3 1985. After a year without pay, they had effectively been starved into submission.

6. Present day: A return to the 1970s?

Trade union power and activism has steadily declined since the turbulence of the 1980s. Membership had grown from 4 million in 1914 to a peak of 13.2 million in 1979, but has since halved to about 6.5 million people.

The number of days lost to strikes in recent years is typically little more than one million, with the highest annual total of working days lost in one year since 2000 was 1.4 million in 2011.

But industrial action is stirring again. As transport workers, barristers and airline staff have all called strike action in recent weeks, this figure may well be exceeded in 2022.

Keith Laybourn no recibe salario, ni ejerce labores de consultoría, ni posee acciones, ni recibe financiación de ninguna compañía u organización que pueda obtener beneficio de este artículo, y ha declarado carecer de vínculos relevantes más allá del cargo académico citado.

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Four burning questions about the future of the $16.5B Novo-Catalent deal

To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.
Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand…



To build or to buy? That’s a classic question for pharma boardrooms, and Novo Nordisk is going with both.

Beyond spending billions of dollars to expand its own production capacity for its weight loss drugs, the Danish drugmaker said Monday it will pay $11 billion to acquire three manufacturing plants from Catalent. It’s part of a broader $16.5 billion deal with Novo Holdings, the investment arm of the pharma’s parent group, which agreed to acquire the contract manufacturer and take it private.

It’s a big deal for all parties, with potential ripple effects across the biotech ecosystem. Here’s a look at some of the most pressing questions to watch after Monday’s announcement.

Why did Novo do this?

Novo Holdings isn’t the most obvious buyer for Catalent, particularly after last year’s on-and-off M&A interest from the serial acquirer Danaher. But the deal could benefit both Novo Holdings and Novo Nordisk.

Novo Nordisk’s biggest challenge has been simply making enough of the weight loss drug Wegovy and diabetes therapy Ozempic. On last week’s earnings call, Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen said the company isn’t constrained by capital in its efforts to boost manufacturing. Rather, the main challenge is the limited amount of capabilities out there, he said.

“Most pharmaceutical companies in the world would be shopping among the same manufacturers,” he said. “There’s not an unlimited amount of machinery and people to build it.”

While Novo was already one of Catalent’s major customers, the manufacturer has been hamstrung by its own balance sheet. With roughly $5 billion in debt on its books, it’s had to juggle paying down debt with sufficiently investing in its facilities. That’s been particularly challenging in keeping pace with soaring demand for GLP-1 drugs.

Novo, on the other hand, has the balance sheet to funnel as much money as needed into the plants in Italy, Belgium, and Indiana. It’s also struggled to make enough of its popular GLP-1 drugs to meet their soaring demand, with documented shortages of both Ozempic and Wegovy.

The impact won’t be immediate. The parties expect the deal to close near the end of 2024. Novo Nordisk said it expects the three new sites to “gradually increase Novo Nordisk’s filling capacity from 2026 and onwards.”

As for the rest of Catalent — nearly 50 other sites employing thousands of workers — Novo Holdings will take control. The group previously acquired Altasciences in 2021 and Ritedose in 2022, so the Catalent deal builds on a core investing interest in biopharma services, Novo Holdings CEO Kasim Kutay told Endpoints News.

Kasim Kutay

When asked about possible site closures or layoffs, Kutay said the team hasn’t thought about that.

“That’s not our track record. Our track record is to invest in quality businesses and help them grow,” he said. “There’s always stuff to do with any asset you own, but we haven’t bought this company to do some of the stuff you’re talking about.”

What does it mean for Catalent’s customers? 

Until the deal closes, Catalent will operate as a standalone business. After it closes, Novo Nordisk said it will honor its customer obligations at the three sites, a spokesperson said. But they didn’t answer a question about what happens when those contracts expire.

The wrinkle is the long-term future of the three plants that Novo Nordisk is paying for. Those sites don’t exclusively pump out Wegovy, but that could be the logical long-term aim for the Danish drugmaker.

The ideal scenario is that pricing and timelines remain the same for customers, said Nicole Paulk, CEO of the gene therapy startup Siren Biotechnology.

Nicole Paulk

“The name of the group that you’re going to send your check to is now going to be Novo Holdings instead of Catalent, but otherwise everything remains the same,” Paulk told Endpoints. “That’s the best-case scenario.”

In a worst case, Paulk said she feared the new owners could wind up closing sites or laying off Catalent groups. That could create some uncertainty for customers looking for a long-term manufacturing partner.

Are shareholders and regulators happy? 

The pandemic was a wild ride for Catalent’s stock, with shares surging from about $40 to $140 and then crashing back to earth. The $63.50 share price for the takeover is a happy ending depending on the investor.

On that point, the investing giant Elliott Investment Management is satisfied. Marc Steinberg, a partner at Elliott, called the agreement “an outstanding outcome” that “clearly maximizes value for Catalent stockholders” in a statement.

Elliott helped kick off a strategic review last August that culminated in the sale agreement. Compared to Catalent’s stock price before that review started, the deal pays a nearly 40% premium.

Alessandro Maselli

But this is hardly a victory lap for CEO Alessandro Maselli, who took over in July 2022 when Catalent’s stock price was north of $100. Novo’s takeover is a tacit acknowledgment that Maselli could never fully right the ship, as operational problems plagued the company throughout 2023 while it was limited by its debt.

Additional regulatory filings in the next few weeks could give insight into just how competitive the sale process was. William Blair analysts said they don’t expect a competing bidder “given the organic investments already being pursued at other leading CDMOs and the breadth and scale of Catalent’s operations.”

The Blair analysts also noted the companies likely “expect to spend some time educating relevant government agencies” about the deal, given the lengthy closing timeline. Given Novo Nordisk’s ascent — it’s now one of Europe’s most valuable companies — paired with the limited number of large contract manufacturers, antitrust regulators could be interested in taking a close look.

Are Catalent’s problems finally a thing of the past?

Catalent ran into a mix of financial and operational problems over the past year that played no small part in attracting the interest of an activist like Elliott.

Now with a deal in place, how quickly can Novo rectify those problems? Some of the challenges were driven by the demands of being a publicly traded company, like failing to meet investors’ revenue expectations or even filing earnings reports on time.

But Catalent also struggled with its business at times, with a range of manufacturing delays, inspection reports and occasionally writing down acquisitions that didn’t pan out. Novo’s deep pockets will go a long way to a turnaround, but only the future will tell if all these issues are fixed.

Kutay said his team is excited by the opportunity and was satisfied with the due diligence it did on the company.

“We believe we’re buying a strong company with a good management team and good prospects,” Kutay said. “If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think we’d be here.”

Amber Tong and Reynald Castañeda contributed reporting.

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Petrina Kamya, Ph.D., Head of AI Platforms at Insilico Medicine, presents at BIO CEO & Investor Conference

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb….



Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

Credit: Insilico Medicine

Petrina Kamya, PhD, Head of AI Platforms and President of Insilico Medicine Canada, will present at the BIO CEO & Investor Conference happening Feb. 26-27 at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. Dr. Kamya will speak as part of the panel “AI within Biopharma: Separating Value from Hype,” on Feb. 27, 1pm ET along with Michael Nally, CEO of Generate: Biomedicines and Liz Schwarzbach, PhD, CBO of BigHat Biosciences.

The session will look at how the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools – including generative AI and large language models – are currently being used to advance the discovery and design of new drugs, and which technologies are still in development. 

The BIO CEO & Investor Conference brings together over 1,000 attendees and more than 700 companies across industry and institutional investment to discuss the future investment landscape of biotechnology. Sessions focus on topics such as therapeutic advancements, market outlook, and policy priorities.

Insilico Medicine is a leading, clinical stage AI-driven drug discovery company that has raised over $400m in investments since it was founded in 2014. Dr. Kamya leads the development of the Company’s end-to-end generative AI platform, Pharma.AI from Insilico’s AI R&D Center in Montreal. Using modern machine learning techniques in the context of chemistry and biology, the platform has driven the discovery and design of 30+ new therapies, with five in clinical stages – for cancer, fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and COVID-19. The Company’s lead drug, for the chronic, rare lung condition idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, is the first AI-designed drug for an AI-discovered target to reach Phase II clinical trials with patients. Nine of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies have used Insilico’s AI platform to advance their programs, and the Company has a number of major strategic licensing deals around its AI-designed therapeutic assets, including with Sanofi, Exelixis and Menarini. 


About Insilico Medicine

Insilico Medicine, a global clinical stage biotechnology company powered by generative AI, is connecting biology, chemistry, and clinical trials analysis using next-generation AI systems. The company has developed AI platforms that utilize deep generative models, reinforcement learning, transformers, and other modern machine learning techniques for novel target discovery and the generation of novel molecular structures with desired properties. Insilico Medicine is developing breakthrough solutions to discover and develop innovative drugs for cancer, fibrosis, immunity, central nervous system diseases, infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, and aging-related diseases. 

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Another country is getting ready to launch a visa for digital nomads

Early reports are saying Japan will soon have a digital nomad visa for high-earning foreigners.



Over the last decade, the explosion of remote work that came as a result of improved technology and the pandemic has allowed an increasing number of people to become digital nomads. 

When looked at more broadly as anyone not required to come into a fixed office but instead moves between different locations such as the home and the coffee shop, the latest estimate shows that there were more than 35 million such workers in the world by the end of 2023 while over half of those come from the United States.

Related: There is a new list of cities that are best for digital nomads

While remote work has also allowed many to move to cheaper places and travel around the world while still bringing in income, working outside of one's home country requires either dual citizenship or work authorization — the global shift toward remote work has pushed many countries to launch specific digital nomad visas to boost their economies and bring in new residents.

Japan is a very popular destination for U.S. tourists. 


This popular vacation destination will soon have a nomad visa

Spain, Portugal, Indonesia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Latvia and Malta are some of the countries currently offering specific visas for foreigners who want to live there while bringing in income from abroad.

More Travel:

With the exception of a few, Asian countries generally have stricter immigration laws and were much slower to launch these types of visas that some of the countries with weaker economies had as far back as 2015. As first reported by the Japan Times, the country's Immigration Services Agency ended up making the leap toward a visa for those who can earn more than ¥10 million ($68,300 USD) with income from another country.

The Japanese government has not yet worked out the specifics of how long the visa will be valid for or how much it will cost — public comment on the proposal is being accepted throughout next week. 

That said, early reports say the visa will be shorter than the typical digital nomad option that allows foreigners to live in a country for several years. The visa will reportedly be valid for six months or slightly longer but still no more than a year — along with the ability to work, this allows some to stay beyond the 90-day tourist period typically afforded to those from countries with visa-free agreements.

'Not be given a residence card of residence certificate'

While one will be able to reapply for the visa after the time runs out, this can only be done by exiting the country and being away for six months before coming back again — becoming a permanent resident on the pathway to citizenship is an entirely different process with much more strict requirements.

"Those living in Japan with the digital nomad visa will not be given a residence card or a residence certificate, which provide access to certain government benefits," reports the news outlet. "The visa cannot be renewed and must be reapplied for, with this only possible six months after leaving the countr

The visa will reportedly start in March and also allow holders to bring their spouses and families with them. To start using the visa, holders will also need to purchase private health insurance from their home country while taxes on any money one earns will also need to be paid through one's home country.

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