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.
The Troubles in Northern Ireland – years of terrorist attacks by Irish Republicans and Loyalists – left the province economically knackered. There was a huge reliance on state funded jobs, compared to the rest of the UK, and high levels of unemployment. So when American entrepreneur and General Motors executive John DeLorean showed up promising to build a new car industry in Ulster, politicians fell over themselves to make it happen.
The DeLorean Motor Company, that he set up in 1973, had developed a very distinctive looking car with gullwing doors and stainless steel finish. One of his cars featured in the movie Back To The Future. I remember these cars well and hilariously a mate of mine driving one opened the door to wave as he drove past and the door flew off – fortunately not injuring anybody!
As we all know now – after setting up a production facility in Northern Ireland in 1978 to great cheers and goodwill, things started to go wrong. The cars didn’t sell and the company finances revealed a black hole. A new book on the ensuing scandal claims that Thatcher was informed about the discrepancies in the DeLorean accounts and refused further funding resulting in the loss of 1,500 jobs. You can read more about that new book by clicking HERE.
Here’s a crash test for a DeLorean back in 1980.
July was the month of riots in 1981 and they came thick and fast from Toxteth, a re-ignited Brixton (which had already rioted in April), Southall and mini-riots from Coventry to Leicester and some very unlikely places like Chigwell in Essex!
The Manchester riot was particularly vicious. I remember driving through Moss Side – having been on a canal trip! It was just after the violence had died down and there was evidence of the destruction everywhere. And a very eerie atmosphere.
Read the Wikipedia entry on the 1981 Moss Side Riot and it could easily be an article in a police magazine. The community leaders failed to stop the youth taking to the streets (as if they had any real power to stop them) and Chief Constable James Anderton was lauded by one and all for his tough measures including driving police vans directly at the rioters (similar tactic resulted in one death in Toxteth) and snatch squads then pouncing on rioters.
In truth, Anderton – who famously brought his religious views very publicly into his work – came under a hail of criticism from both the left and even other police chiefs. His approach was seen as abrasive and antagonistic. Undoubtedly he thought that was just what the situation needed.
The most memorable and chilling moment of the riot was when a police station was surrounded and among the weapons used were garden tools and a crossbow!
Through 1981, hundreds of young people made their way down to London on the Jobs Express. This modern day Jarrow March was received positively by most people with even muted criticism from the Tories and Fleet Street. Some newspapers did sneer that it was all a far left conspiracy and that the youth were being used by extremists, etc.
But there was no doubting that unemployment in the early 80s recession had hit teenagers very hard with the drying up of apprenticeships and factories closing. As the Jobs Express made its way to London, trade unionists – like those pictured below – mucked in to make sandwiches for the youngsters and give them a cheer.
This being 1981, however, it’s not surprising to read in this article that as one group of teens on the march came back from a disco, they were set upon by fascists. No further details are given but this was a grim sign of the times.
The 1981 March for Jobs was hugely well attended with jobless walking for miles to London to make their point to Maggie. One of those on the dole and facing a bleak future was the former Mayor of Watford, Alan Bonney, who found himself at the age of 40 unable to get into the labour market. Furious, he joined the march and the Daily Star showed him at his political height and subsequent grim position in life.
You have to try hard to remember what young people were thinking in 1979, 1980, 1981 as the UK went through the mother of all recessions. In contrast to the dreary and sullen mood now, there was a rebellious anger in those days mixed with a strong counter-culture rooted in the 70s punk movement.
Demonstrations and rallies sometimes felt like parties and none more than the Jobs Express that brought thousands of youngsters to London to vent their feelings at Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
I found this newspaper article from the time in my archives and the two girls interviewed – Sheila and Becky – had very typical views of Labour trending teenagers. Get rid of the bomb – the nuclear bomb needless to say. Put the money from that into creating jobs – not in the arms industry clearly.
The government Youth Opportunities Programme (YOP) was hated – after all these kids’ parents had enjoyed apprenticeships in factories. And on the subject of manufacturing, it’s interesting that Becky says Thatcher must go before she destroys BL (British Leyland – the nationalised car maker).