That halcyon golden era before Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and the trades unions ran the UK

PravdaLogoIn 1984, I went to the USSR. When I came back to my work at Granada TV in Manchester, I happened to mention that, in Moscow, I had taken a metro train out to the end of the line, had taken a walk round the bleak suburban area, gone into a few shops and found virtually nothing on the shelves. In particular, the food shops had a lot of empty shelves and very few items of food.

When I mentioned this to one of my Granada workmates (who had never been to the USSR but who had a university degree), she told me: “Oh! You’ve been listening to too much Western propaganda. It’s not like that.”

I have always remembered this conversation.

I told her I had been to Moscow, walked into shops and seen things.

She, never having been there, told me with total confidence that I had listened to too much anti-Soviet propaganda.

Because she knew what the truth was. She had talked to people she knew who had the same outlook as she did.

This was a university-educated person in her early thirties.

Beware of that most dangerous of all things: an airhead with a degree.

And beware of people who have inflexible opinions on events and eras which they never experienced.

I am buying a new carpet for the stairs in my house.

Yesterday, I was talking to a shop assistant who is younger than my stair carpet. My stair carpet was laid around 1986 – the height of Margaret Thatcher’s period as Prime Minister.

Also yesterday, someone not born when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister told me they found my blog of a couple of days ago very enlightening. It was about the trades unions pre-Thatcher.

Let me take you back again to that halcyon golden era before Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the UK and ‘took on’ the unions…

When I worked at Anglia TV in Norwich, you could get no captions or graphics artwork of any kind made for an hour – sometimes two hours – in the middle of the afternoon, because that was when the Graphics Dept men (they were all men) played cards.

It was a pattern widely repeated in many ways in many other departments across the ITV network.

I started at college when Margaret Thatcher was newly Prime Minister. I took Communication Studies – it is now called Media Studies. We had lecturers who worked at the Daily Mirror newspaper.

The non-colour printed Daily Mirror in 1986

The non-colour printed Daily Mirror in 1986

At that time, for several years past, the Daily Mirror had had colour printing machines standing in their building under covers which they had bought for large amounts of money. (Newspapers, at that time, printed photographs only in black-and-white.)

The print unions told the Daily Mirror that the machines could not be used. In fact, they told the company that, if the covers were even removed from the machines, there would be a strike which could possibly close the newspaper.

The Daily Mirror did not print colour photos regularly until 2nd June 1988, after Margaret Thatcher had ‘taken on’ the unions.

Before that, I personally knew someone who was a part-time comedy performer and also a print union member. He ‘worked’ for the Sunday Telegraph in London on a freelance basis… except he lived in Norfolk and never went in to the Telegraph building in London. His friend ‘clocked’ him in and, as far as the newspaper was concerned, his name was Michael Mouse (as in Mickey Mouse – this is NOT a joke).

Getting into the ACTT union or the print unions was difficult but, once you got in, you were untouchable and the companies were terrified of even the threat of strikes. In my view at the time, the closed-shop ACTT was 10% a union protecting its members and 90% a protection racket, coercing money from its members and controlling how the TV production companies worked.

You – and the companies – did what the all-powerful union officers said or you suffered the consequences.

1 Comment

Filed under Newspapers, Politics, Russia, UK

One response to “That halcyon golden era before Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and the trades unions ran the UK

  1. Yeah, I was in a print union and it was nothing like that, you are doing precisely what you accuse the “airheads” of doing. The National Health System is something I believe in 100% but it would be possible to find extreme examples, of cases of neglect and incompetence, it changes nothing, it is still a great institution. Perhaps not relevant here, but Thatcher also started the process of dismantling that. There have been excesses by unions, as there certainly have been and continue to be excesses by employers and I think your life would have been worse without them.

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