Everybody out! 

1 October 2015 tbs.pm/7097

Collective memory is an interesting thing. Thanks to 35 years of repeated reports showing uncollected rubbish on one street in Westminster (the result of a lock-out, not a strike), unverified reports of the dead going unburied in Liverpool and footage of people shopping by candlelight, our impression of the 1970s is of a cold, wet, miserable decade of industrial strife and union intransigence with ITV never on air.

It’s simply not true. Yes, there were economic problems in the 1970s, very many of them, but they were across the world. Yes, a government was brought down by striking miners in 1974, but that should be telling us more about Mr Heath’s grasp on power than the miners’ grasping for it.

For most people, the 1970s were a good time. There were long hot summers and snowy winters. The permissive society of the 1960s had become entrenched and the fear and loathing of single mothers, homosexuals and immigrants was on the wane (only to be reignited in the 1980s by the government itself). Entente with the Soviet Union had reduced the fear of nuclear weapons. Pay disparity between the very rich and the very poor was narrowing remarkably, and by pulling the poor up, not by dragging the rich down. All told, the 1970s was a fun time to live.

But we collectively remember it as cold, black and white or washed out colour reversal news film, shopping by candlelight and huddling in the dark. As the graph, and the clip from Granada, HTV and Central show, industrial disputes were rife during the 1980s. That was the true period for power cuts, water cuts, gas cuts, uncollected rubbish, unburied dead, pay disparity and the fear of a nuclear holocaust.

We just don’t remember it that way.

You Say

3 responses to this article

Jeremy Rogers 1 October 2015 at 3:21 pm

The figures behind the above the graph show that in the 1980s overall there were 45% fewer days lost to strikes than the 1970s.

However, the way that individuals remember the 1970s and 1980s are coloured by their own personal experiences. Some had a much better life in the 1980s; others by contrast did in the 1970s.

Paul Z. Temperton 1 October 2015 at 7:21 pm

“on the wain” should read “on the wane”

Russ J Graham 1 October 2015 at 7:51 pm

Corrected, with thanks and apologies.

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