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Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Three Days A Week!


This month's Derby Telegraph article explains why I owe Ted Heath a pint :-)



and for those who can't read the text on the picture, here's the unedited version:

There has been a lot of talk recently about Britain returning to the 1970s.  I don’t think it’s very likely, I would never get the flares to fit me now for one thing!

The 1970s were a peculiar decade in many ways and, of course, there aren’t as many of us about today who remember them and lived through them.  At one time, the mention of ‘the three day week’ would have had everyone nodding glumly and bringing up their own particular stories of privations endured.  Now it’s more likely to have people scratching their heads and wondering if you’ve finally lost it and are actually talking about the war.

I told you, last month, about the trashing of the Warehouse Manager’s office which was next to the Works Manager’s office in which I was temporarily installed (much to the chagrin of the Works Manager, but there was a shortage of office space).  What I didn’t mention was that one reason for not noticing who was involved was that the whole office section was, at that time, enclosed in a stygian gloom caused by the myriad effects of the short winter days, the lack of outside light from the few windows and, more importantly, the complete lack of any artificial light because of the three day week.

For those who don’t remember this period, or are desperately trying to forget it, the ‘three day week’ happened in the winter of 1973-1974.  To be honest, the details had escaped me so I’ve had to break the habits of a lifetime and actually do some research for this article!  We were at the end (although we didn’t know it at the time) of the Heath government of 1970 – 1974.  The miners had announced an overtime ban in support of a pay claim and the government of the time tried to eke out the country’s fuel reserves by restricting the use of coal and power. “Commercial consumption of electricity would be limited to three consecutive days each week…Television shut at 10:30 p.m. each night, and most pubs were closed” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Day_Week

Can you imagine trying to impose something like that now?  The outcome was that for two days each week the factory was plunged into darkness, illuminated by the occasional battery driven lamp.  Work was organised to take place in the few hours of daylight and largely consisted of whatever jobs could be done by hand and which didn’t involve machines.  As I was still producing statistics by dint of laborious manual addition and long-division, the lack of technology wasn’t a problem but the lack of light and the lack of heating, was.  On top of this, rolling power cuts at home meant that you could get home only to find yourself plunged into darkness once more.

In January, 1974, the miners went on strike and the whole situation deteriorated further.  You have to remember that strikes then were all or nothing affairs.  Nowadays we’re used to strikes being one-day annoyances but then they were wars of attrition, in which both sides waited to see who would blink first.  In this case, it was the government, which went to the country in February, 1974 with the question “Who governs Britain?”  Of course, if you ask a silly question…the electorate clearly decided it whoever it was, it wasn’t the Heath government.

Over the years, Ted Heath has come in for a lot of criticism but, apart from plunging me into darkness and trying to freeze me to death, I did have cause to remember him fondly.  You see, Wesley’s were renowned as poor payers and my salary was pitiful in comparison to my mates.  However, in November, 1973 good old Ted brought in a concept called Threshold Payments.  The idea here was to protect the lowest paid from the rampaging inflation of the time.  This basically meant that every time that inflation went up by one per cent above 7%, wages could, and did, rise in tandem.  Over a very short period, my wages basically doubled, albeit from a very low starting point, and, as the only inflation that affected me was the price of a pint, I had never had it so good (to borrow another P.M.’s phrase).

Cheers, Ted!

You can find this story, and a whole heap of others like it, in the new bumper collection of 'nostalgedy' stories "The Things You See..." available now on Amazon.