This is the second of two posts on the ‘Top Progressive Achievements of the 20th Century’ in the UK. You can read the first part here.
7. Pay Equality (1970)
The Equal Pay Act of 1970 (implemented in 1975) made it illegal to discriminate between men and women in pay and work conditions, provided it could be proved that a claimant’s work was broadly the same as another employee. Although the Labour Party and trade unions had previously promised support for equal pay legislation, it was the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968 (dramatised by the 2010 film ‘Made in Dagenham’) that energised the issue and encouraged MP Barbara Castle to push through the act.
6. Race Relations Act (1965)
Significant as not only the first piece of racial equality legislation in the UK, but also the precursor for several pieces of liberal legislation from the 1960s onwards. The new law made it a civil offence to publicly discriminate on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins, but was criticised for its weakness in failing to cover key areas such as employment and housing. It was strengthened by an amendment in 1968 and replaced in 1976. Post-war immigration from the Caribbean and former empire nations had raised awareness of racial discrimination in Britain.
5. Establishment of the Labour Representation Committee (1900)
Although Keir Hardie’s Independent Labour Party had existed since the late 19th century, it was in February 1900 that various trade union and leftwing groups congregated at the Memorial Hall on Farringdon Street and collectively established the Labour Representation Committee, forerunner of the modern Labour Party. The aim was to coordinate attempts to support MPs who would advance working class interests in parliament. The parliamentary grouping adopted the name ‘The Labour Party’ after winning 29 seats in the 1906 general election.
4. Independence for India (1947)
The 1947 Indian Independence Act, worked on by the Attlee government and Governor-General Lord Mountbatten, laid out a plan to partition British India into two new independent nations, India and Pakistan. Although primarily an achievement by citizens and leaders of the new countries’ independence movements, Indian independence was symbolic of the decline of British colonialism and spurred off a wave of decolonisation through the next twenty years.
3. Votes for Women (1918)
Women finally gained limited voting rights in 1918, with passage of the Representation of the People Act. Those women aged over 30 who met minimum property qualifications gained the vote, whilst the act also extended the franchise to all men aged 21 and above, covering the one third of men who had been left out of 19th century democratic reforms. Officially, voting rights were awarded for the contribution of women defence workers during the First World War, though it’s certain that the campaigns of the suffragettes in the years preceding the war made it a necessity. The campaign was not over, however, as women had to wait until 1928 to gain electoral equality with men. These events effectively doubled the franchise and ensured that women would have a say in all aspects of future policymaking.
2. Victory in the Second World War (1945)
After six draining years of fighting, the Allies finally secured the full surrender of the Axis powers in August 1945. The victory ended the deadliest conflict in human history and prevented Hitler’s authoritarian Nazi regime from defeating democracy in Europe. In 1940, the Conservative Party’s leader, Winston Churchill, had invited Clement Attlee and the Labour leadership into a coalition government to focus the country’s political efforts on winning the war. Britain’s wartime spirit of collective struggle is credited with helping to usher in Attlee’s radical Labour government in the general election of 1945.
1. Creation of the NHS (1948)
Cherished by people of all generations and political colours across the UK, the idea of a National Health Service has enjoyed widespread popular support since its foundation in 1948. Funded through general taxation, the principle was for a nationwide health service free at the point of use. The NHS remains the major pillar of the modern welfare state in Britain, and is still referred to by the Labour Party as their proudest achievement in government.
If you missed the first of the two posts, you can read it here. There are so many achievements worth noting, but did we miss any major ones that merit including in this list?
Which is the most significant in your mind? Feel free to comment below!