Sandwiches for the unemployed on the Jobs Express in 1981


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.

Article from the Wembley Observer
Article from the Wembley Observer

What young people were thinking in 1981


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).

Jobs Express of 1981 – young people protesting for work


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.