More than a quarter of a century ago, a young, recently-elected Labour leader found himself caught on the horns of an excruciating political dilemma as he sought to drag his party into the post-industrial era.
The National Union of Mineworkers under its leader Arthur Scargill had just gone on strike in protest at Margaret Thatcher's pit closure programme without calling a national ballot of its members.
Did Neil Kinnock condemn the strike and put himself at odds with the union which, more than any other, defined the Labour movement, or support it and leave his modernisation agenda holed below the waterline?
In the end, he did neither, choosing to sit on the fence until the battle was effectively over, although with the benefit of hindsight, he now says he regrets not having called for a ballot at the outset.
Was it possibly this example that the current Labour leader, Ed Miliband, had in mind, when he came down firmly against this week's one-day stoppage by the public sector unions over pensions?
It certainly represented a gamble for a man who owes his entire position to the trade union barons whose votes swung last year's knife-edge Labour leadership election in his favour.
Predictably, one of them has already branded him a "disgrace" for failing to support Thursday's action but, to give him his due, Mr Miliband is at least trying to show some leadership over the issue.
Whether he is proved right or wrong in his judgement depends of course on how the battle for public opinion already under way over the pensions issue ultimately pans out.
The argument on this score is currently pretty finely balanced. While some will invariably blame the unions for Thursday's disruptions, many are instinctively sympathetic to their cause.
Attempts by ministers to frame the debate in terms of a comparison between "generous" public sector pensions and those in the private sector risk being seen as advocating a "race to the bottom."
Mr Miliband's calculation, at the moment, is that the strikes will harm the union's cause and by implication the Labour Party's if it is seen to be supporting them.
But by focusing his arguments this week on the timing of the action – at a point when negotiations with the government are still ongoing – he has at least left himself a way out if there is a shift in the public mood.
For Prime Minister David Cameron, too, the stakes are high, partly because of the sheer amount of taxpayers' money involved, and partly because of the government's recent series of U-turns.
First it was the forestry sell-off, then the plan to reduce sentences for offenders who plead guilty early, and finally and most damagingly of all the proposed shake-up of the National Health Service.
Any more climbdowns – particularly in the face of pressure from the unions – and his government's credibility would surely be permanently shot to pieces.
The fact that Mr Cameron was prepared to put his personal authority on the line over the pensions issue in a series of interventions last week suggests he is well aware of this danger.
I began this column by alluding to the Thatcher-Scargill prize-fight of 1984-85 and, for both of the two main parties, its legacy continues to hang heavily over the politics of industrial relations in the UK.
If the strike hampered Mr Kinnock's attempts to modernise his party, it also helped cement Mrs Thatcher's reputation as the woman who transformed Britain from the economic basket-case of the 70s to the self-confident nation it became in the course of the ensuing decade.
All subsequent Tory leaders bar none have since struggled to escape her shadow, and for all his efforts to fashion a more compassionate brand of Conservatism, the current one is no exception.
Just as Ed Miliband hopes to be compared favourably with the Welsh Windbag, David Cameron cannot afford to be compared unfavourably with the Iron Lady.