For a while in 1978, Polaris submarine HMS Revenge had been prevented from completing its preparations to leave the Clyde due to industrial action.
Then Minister for Defence Mulley announced to the House of Commons in July of 1978 that the Government had decided to use military personnel to get the Revenge to sea.
Subsequently, the Royal Navy closed Faslane and RNAD Coulport to all civilian workers and, using naval personnel, proceeded to prepare HMS Revenge for sailing. The most delicate task which the navy would take over from the normal civilian operators was the loading of the Polaris missiles on the submarine.
The union “blacking” of the Revenge was part of a wider pay dispute between the government and the unions representing blue collar government workers.
While this incident is relatively well know, what isn’t well known is that the interest was of significant interest to the United States Government, with Sheryl P. Walter of the US State Department saying in a now unclassified diplomatic cable:
“In justifying its decision to use military personnel to get revenge to sea, mulley cited the need to maintain Britain’s obligations to NATO. His private secretary has told us that the government is committed to doing whatever is necessary to maintain an SSBN at sea.
If the pay dispute with the industrial civil service workers is not settled soon, this could mean that the Royal Navy will itself have to complete work on tne of the SSBNs in the Rosyth dockyard, and the operating cycle of all four SSBNs could in the end be seriously disrupted.”
Also of note to the United States was the impact of these strike actions in the United Kingdom on US Naval movements, nothing that the event has:
“Impacted on the US ability to conduct port visits at British naval bases, leading the UK to refuse one proposed visit, and limiting facilities available to the Nimitz in Portsmouth last month.
We understand from TUC (Trades Union Congress) sources that the leaders of the two major unions involved–the transport and general workers and the general and municipal workers–have been in close touch with the government and promised their cooperation in trying to limit the effects of the unofficial actions and to allow the SSBNs to meet their schedules.
To these ends they have refused to sanction industrial actions, urged workers to return to their jobs and/or work normally, and sought to isolate the dissident within their respective unions. They have also closed their eyes to government efforts to overcome the effects of the unofficial actions by use of military personnel.”
The Americans however were optimistic of the outcome, ending the diplomatic cable saying:
“For now, at least, it seems unlikely that this dispute will significantly limit British defense readiness.”
In hindsight, it seems that it didn’t with the wildcat strikes not spreading much further in the defence industry.