How the jobless tried to amuse themselves in the Thatcher years


It’s impossible to imagine now how endemic youth unemployment was between 1979 and 1983. In the Toxteth area of Liverpool, about 90% of the youth had no work. One survey in London estimated that 26% of young unemployed had contemplated suicide.

Still, it spawned a rather dark sense of humour…

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Newspapers for and by the jobless in the early 1980s


 

After 1979, there was a calamitous rise in unemployment – especially among the youth. In northern cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle – a kind of dole culture took hold. You could be forgiven for thinking that not having a job was the norm while being in work was some kind of privilege.

Local authorities and trade unions funded unemployment centres. I recall the centre in Liverpool on Hardman Street with a pub attached at the back called The Flying Picket where you might bump into Alexei Sayle at the bar on some nights.

Some of these centres produced cheap newspapers for and by the unemployed. They would normally reflect the opinions of the dominant political group within the centre – often on the ultra-left.

Here are some examples – note the attack on the TUC for not doing enough for the unemployed. A common theme at the time was that the Labour Party and trade union leadership were sadly wanting in the face of the Thatcherite onslaught.

 

County Hall – when Ken Livingstone headed up the GLC


County Hall on the South Bank in London is now a hotel, aquarium, some kind of horror show, a Japanese restaurant and a McDonalds – oh, and a ticket office for the London Eye.  It was once the city hall for London – where the Greater London Council (GLC) was based.

Back in the early 1980s, the GLC was led by a much younger Ken Livingstone. He used to plaster the current unemployment figure across the top of the building. As it pretty much faced on to the Houses of Parliament, on the river bank opposite, Margaret Thatcher couldn’t exactly miss it.

But Thatcher got her revenge – by abolishing the GLC.

County Hall - as seat of the GLC
County Hall – when it was the seat of the GLC

Monotony – the game for the unemployed in 1979


There was a dark humour among the unemployed under Thatcher – many knowing they would never, in all likelihood, work again. These were people thrown out of manufacturing jobs and facing a labour market that was unforgiving if you over 35 – let alone unwilling to up sticks.

Graduates couldn’t even find summer jobs in the early 80s as the unemployed competed for shop and bar work. Dole newspapers sprang up all over the north, Midlands and London. This one developed a game for the jobless called Monotony – a skit on Monopoly.