It all seems a long time ago now – and yet mass youth joblessness is back with us in Europe. The People’s March for Jobs in 1981 was a very big march streaming into Hyde Park and made up of many young people who had come from all over Britain. Grim economic times but a real gritty determination to fight back in those days. This leaflet may jog some memories.
In 1981, the Jobs Express chugged across Britain crammed with jobless youngsters. Through November it went from Newcastle up into Scotland and then down south through the Midlands to Bristol and finally arriving in London. Some newspapers sneered at the political train claiming it was a socialist deception. But the labour movement embraced the Jobs Express and one private sector company – Swan National Car Rental – claimed to have been so ‘inspired’ by the train that it created 25 jobs on the spot. I reproduce the letter they issued at the time below.
One million young people found themselves on the dole in the grim recession that gripped Britain at the start of the 1980s. Jobs Not Dole was a familiar slogan at the time. Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – Out, Out, Out – a very familiar cry on the countless demonstrations. The monetarist economic experiment had resulted in mass unemployment – but for the Tories, it was the price that had to be paid.
We all know Thatcher defeated the National Union of Mineworkers in 1985 – but not before, through heavily gritted teeth, she climbed down in the face of the miners in 1981.
On 10th February that year, the Prime Minister announced the closure of 23 pits. This was part of a Tory drive to ‘slim down’ and eventually privatise the nationalised industries that then existed in the UK – like the National Coal Board and British Leyland, which dominated the car industry.
The miners had been instrumental in bringing down the 1970-74 Conservative government of Ted Heath and so the fight with the NUM wasn’t just political and economic…but totemic and personal.
Thatcher was going to take down the workers who took down the Tories seven years before. But in 1981, it was not to be. Faced with strike action, she caved in eight days later. The show down with the pit workers would have to wait another three years…
Click HERE to read the BBC account of what happened.
Here is leaflet I have in my collection when miners and NHS workers took action together in the early 80s.
Young people are on the dole all over Europe once more – 50% of young people in Spain without jobs. It’s all a horrible echo of the 1979-81 economic downturn in the UK during the first term of the Margaret Thatcher government. I was at university in Liverpool from 1981 to 1984 and jobs were things that very lucky people had in that city. Disused factories and warehouses were everywhere.
So bad was the situation that a bleak humour arose – evidenced by this front cover of the satirical magazine Private Eye in 1980. Here we have arch-Thatcherite Keith Joseph saying it’s not so bad – he’s spotted at least one job.