• The 1970s

    The 1970s


    A. The 3-day week

    > What is the national and international context responsible for the measures described in the article?

    This article from the Daily Mail exposes a series of restrictive measures, which is about to be imposed by the Conservatives government of Edward Heath. Because of the restrictions (electriciity control act), most of the industries worked on the 3-day working week, most factories were ordered to use electricity only 5 days a week and after that 3 days a week. The situation is reminding us of the situation during the WWII.


    The oil crisis and the miners' strike

    In the early 1970s, when the Conservatives return to power, the country was extremely polarised between the North and the South. It was a bleak (morne) period, caracterized by deficit and unemployment. So when the Cons came to power in 1970, the immediat problem to fight was unemployment, which quickly increased recently. Because of unemployment and inflation the government announced it would cut expenditures and a series of austerity measures. It was the end of free milk in schools for example. But on the other hand, the gvt reduced the income tax and the corporate tax (impôt sur les sociétés). Consequently the gvt policy would benefit people from the upper class only. It led to a clash with the trade-unions, especially with the NUM (National Union of Miners), a very powerful one. The NUM declared the first general strike since 1936, opposing the reduction of miners wages. As the winter of 1972 was an extremely cold one, the strike had an immediat impact on the society. Homes were plunged into darkness, and working days were reduced to 3 days a week. In February 1972 the trade-union mouvement won because the gvt decided a large pay increased for the miners.

    In 1973 the Yomkipour? was in war, involving an embargo on oil. Problems emerge because a large part of British energy depended on oil. Arab producers decided to boycott some countries and to restrict some other countries importations on oil. At the same time miners decided to go on strike again, asking for more pay rises and more importantly they refused extra-work in November 1973. There was no more oil on the country as well.


    > How will individuals and businesses be affected?

    In December 1973 the government had to take a state of emergency. Business industries had to organize themselves : they could use electricity 3 days a week. Heating had to be reduced in public places and the British nation were encouraged to impose their own rationing.

    => The fuel situation was so poor that the government had t announce a 3 day work week to reduce fuel consumption. From January to March, commercial uses of electricity were limited to 3 specific consecutive days.

    Description of the Photo : Shops and offices that were opened in switch-off days had to manage without electric light or heat. These women in the office of a duvet manufacturing firm use blankets to keep themselves warm. The office is candle-lit in order to save electricity. As a consequence the factories could not produce as much as they can.

    February 74 : No agreement could be found. 9th February 1974 = Miners go on strike again, they feel confident against the government because their strike in the early 70’s were successful.

    The main question is : Who governs Britain ? People did not feel that it was the government. Prime Minister Heath had no choice but to call for an election.


    B. The Winter of Discontent

    > What is known as the “Winter of Discontent” in early 1979?

    Le contexte :

    > Labour Government, Prime Minister = Callaghan

    It began in Autumn 1978 with a pay claim by Ford car workers that set the tone for 6 months of union unrest.

    Prime Minister Callaghan imposed a restriction of 5% on any wage increase. During Winter 1978-1979, a wave of strikes took place mostly in the public sector motivated by pay rises. It quickly paralyzed some sectors of activities : Railway, schools, garbage collection (as we can see on the picture on the left). The bitter dispute were crystallized in the media by images of piles of uncollected rubbish.

    At that time, there was an increase of relative poverty as well as a decline in the standards of living. In the late 1970’s the British population was growing old, birth rate was declining. Added to the waves of strikes, a feeling of awareness that the country was declining => so Britain was called “the sick man of Europe”

    The government was defeated on a vote of confidence (voir S1, vote that shows parliament supports –or not- the leader of the government) > it became a vote of no-confidence, and the government had to resign. This occurs very rarely in history, but in 1979 it happened.

    So new elections were held in 1979 and Margaret Thatcher became the first woman Prime minister in Europe.

    People were tired with the Labour Party, they felt they were incapable of controlling the trade unions.


    > Comment on the language used by Thatcher.

    = The iron lady, the most controversial PM in British History.

    She’s determined to take the unions on, to govern the country firmly and to uphold the law “we need an iron government”. It sounds like she’s going to war against the trade unions and those confronting the law. As she mentioned, she wanted to “break with the past and reverse the decline”.
    This extract shows she has a strong leadership style.

    > What vision of the trade unions does this give ?

    Trade unions are described in Mrs Thatcher words as people “confronting the British people […] the law of the land[…]the liberties of the country”.

    They are depicted as criminals and anarchists


    > What political position does she hold at this time ?

    Thatcher’s political position at the moment of the extract (1/1/1979) : She was leader of the opposition. She clearly showed her intentions : to control trade unions, to curb (amoindrir) the unions’ power in order to put an end to Industrial conflict.

    She promoted Free market, mass privatization of British economy (stop the intervention of the government to cut public expenditures) => promoting capitalism.

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