The British Manufacturer’s Association was formed in 1915 and became the National Union of Manufacturers in 1917 and the National Association of British Manufacturers in 1961. However this British equivalent of the US-based National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) never engaged in the extensive lobbying and propaganda campaigns that made NAM such a potent force in the US. The way in which business in the United States used its power and resources to oppose unionism and government intervention was unique in scale and comprehensiveness. In Britain unions were seen as necessary to containing radicalism and class struggle. The 1919 British Cabinet was told that ‘trade union organisation was the only thing between us and anarchy’.
Following the second world war, when economic times were tough, British governments—both Labour and Conservative—expected trade unions ‘to play a major part in maintaining industrial discipline, curbing militancy, and persuading their members to reduce their demands for higher wages’. In return governments praised the role of trade unions and union representatives were incorporated into government processes through representation on committees, royal commissions, inquiries and boards of nationalized industries. British trade union leaders tended to have narrow agendas, in terms of pay and conditions, rather than radical agendas aimed at the overthrow of the capitalist system.
In 1965 the National Association of British Manufacturers merged with the Federation of British Industries and the British Employers’ Confederation to become the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).