The rise of the most vociferous union power really only happened from the 1960s in Britain, seemingly from about the time of Prime Ministers Harold Wilson (1964-70 & 1974-76) and Ted Heath (1970-74).
This was at the time when National Service had been abolished, so the younger members of the workforce had neither been through the war nor had to do National Service. Military service would have attuned people to the taking of orders without question. But this generation didn't have that. And they saw that there could be something they believed to be better.
Hence the rebellions of the unions against the "officer class" of the working world: encouraged by the Socialist Wilson and the fire fuelled by their dislike of the Conservative Heath. At much the same time the students, being thinkers, could see that the officers' orders were not going to make progress towards the "something better" of their vision.
Are people more subdued and subservient out in society if they have had to do National Service and are acclimatised to taking orders rather than questioning them?
But, I suggest, it is this rise of union power which has been a large factor in getting the country into its current mess. Against the backdrop of the world economy (certainly also a factor) there has since the mid-60s been this continual running skirmish — and sometimes open warfare — between the workers/unions and the "officers of industry", with the government sometimes taking one side or the other depending on its political ideology.
There is also an argument that the unions have stifled job flexibility. By (rightly in many cases) protecting their skilled members they may have compartmentalised job roles making it less easy for people to transition from one role to another, and thus reducing flexibility and mobility in the workplace.
Would Britain be in a better position if this warfare had not existed? If we still had National Service? And if everyone was much more attuned to take orders than question them?
I don't know. What constitutes "better"?
We likely wouldn't have the freedoms, the greater equalities, and the opportunities we currently do. But then again we might still have manufacturing industry and people trained in manual skills prepared to do lower-level jobs and thus have less need for immigration.
Would we? I don't know. But it is an interesting speculation.
I would have hated National Service just as I would have hated going to public school or Oxbridge. I'm proud to have had some of the last of the good grammar school education and been given the opportunity to go to university; an opportunity I would not have had 10 years earlier. And I'm grateful for that education which has been a foundation stone of making me the awkward thinker I am, as are many of my contemporaries. In that sense where we are is a good thing; it allowed many of us to develop and break away from the grindstones. Which is why I consider it beholden on me to give back to society what I can by using both my brain and my skills to help others develop.
And it is gratifying that most of my friends and (former) colleagues – right across the age range – are doing the same thing, albeit in their own, very different, ways.