London — The economic floodwaters that had threatened to engulf the British government as a result of the sinking pound, high interest rates, and mounting industrial strife are gradually receding.
True, interest rates remain high. But the pound has steadied, and the danger of hundreds of British firms going under if the dock strike had continued has been averted.
The dock strike, which ended almost as quickly as it started, was resolved at midnight July 21 when port employers agreed to consult with union leaders before bringing in nonregistered dockers.
The end of the strike represents a significant breakthrough for the government which had been forced to fight on two industrial fronts - the coal fields and the quayside. This had only reinforced the suspicions of its critics that the policies of the Conservative government, with its hard-line views on trade unions, invited industrial trouble.
Of the two strikes, the dock stoppage was potentially far more lethal. It could have brought Britain to its knees since 80 percent of its overseas trade goes through the ports.
The miners' strike has been much more manageable in economic terms. While it has dented Britain's economic growth, the coal stike has - by comparison with the far more comprehensive dock strike - been something of a sideshow. Coal stocks remain adequate; about one-third of the work force remains on duty; and Britain is blessed with abundant alternative energy sources such as North Sea oil.
This might help explain why Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet colleagues have been so brazen in suggesting that the miners' dispute is not a coal strike but a politically motivated campaign to unseat the Conservative government.
Yet despite some encouraging signs of recovery, Britain's economy is still too precarious to assume that with the dockers' strike over and the miners isolated once more, Britain is over the hump.
Even before the dock strike, there were disturbing indications that unemployment - already at record levels - has not yet leveled off and might even get worse.
A foreign diplomat who specializes in watching the British economy says that if he were in Mrs. Thatcher's shoes, he would place much more emphasis on jobs and much less stress on combatting inflation.
What concerns this diplomat is that at a time of severe unemployment, ''corporate profits are increasing tremendously, which could make for an explosive mix.''
The government strategy now, in the aftermath of the collapse of the dock strike, is to isolate the militant miners from the rest of the British work force by accusing their leader, Arthur Scargill,undermining democracy and the rule of law. This is a clear reference to the refusal of his National Union of Mineworkers executive to hold a strike ballot and the increasing violence of striking miners.
Yet ask a striking miner if his battle is political and he hotly denies it.
David Clowes, a striking Staffordshire miner, insists that he is on strike because his pit is closing down and that he cannot relocate to another mine as the National Coal Board suggests because surrounding mines are either fully manned or are scheduled to close.
Both the dockers' and the miners' strikes reflect, at least in terms of manpower, the problems of Britain's declining industries where job security is paramount.
The miners' work force has dropped dramatically from 800,000 in 1945 to 255, 000 in 1980. It is now down to about 180,000. Many of the striking miners are motivated by the fear they could be next.
The miners have lost popular support because they are much better off in relation to workers in other industries in both pay and layoff payments.
No miner has been forceably laid off and the redundancy payments are far more generous than they are for workers faced with similar layoffs in other industries.
With over 3 million unemployed in Britain, many of those without jobs find it hard to line up with the disaffected miners whom they feel have been treated with kid gloves.