1973

by Chris Bertram on April 5, 2006

Here in the UK we’re all being entertained/informed by BBC4’s 1973 week . Back in 1973 (I was 14/15) I remember my Dad telling me to pay close attention to the news one day and that people in the future would say it was a big year, a year when everything changed. He was right about that. So far there have been excellent documentaries about the Poulson Affair (1972-4), one about Derek “Red Robbo” Robinson and a fantastic 1973 episode of Panorama with Alistair Burnett where a nurse, a car worker, a “businessman” and a merchant banker are asked what they think about their relative salaries. (Everyone accepting that one of the government’s jobs was to decide fair pay relativities). Naturally, nearly everyone said the nurse should earn most and the merchant banker least. The distance between then and now was also brought home to me by the remark that in 1973 everyone knew the names of the top union leaders. Today almost nobody does. The pervasiveness of the sense of national crisis was well brought out by clips from Blue Peter where Valerie Singleton and John Noakes explained to children facing power cuts to surround candles with earth to make them safer and to interleave the bedding of elderly relatives with newspaper too keep them warm. Revolution (or a military coup) seemed just around the corner ….

{ 33 comments }

1

yabonn 04.05.06 at 9:54 am

I remember my Dad telling me to pay close attention to the news one day and that people in the future would say it was a big year

Oh, no, no, no.

Surely your dad meant 76, for the Bourgognes particularly. Or 45 if we’re talking business.

73 was awful, rain in september, a catastrophe.

2

chris y 04.05.06 at 10:01 am

Happy days. We spent the winter in a pub next door to a hospital, because it was guaranteed power at all times.

3

greensmile 04.05.06 at 10:28 am

If it weren’t for Jimmy Hoffa jokes, Americans couldn’t name a union leader either.

4

Marc Mulholland 04.05.06 at 10:33 am

I read somewhere that the trade union question was the focus of newspaper editorials more than any other issue in the 1970s.

“Revolution (or a military coup) seemed just around the corner … “

Both were, after a fashion: the Ulster Workers Council stoppage of 1974. The UK’s only successful political general strike, effectively aided by an army unwilling to exert itself on Harold Wilson’s behalf.

5

Chris Bertram 04.05.06 at 10:36 am

Yes greensmile, but in 1973 *everyone* in the UK knew who Len Murray, Jack Jones, Hugh Scanlon and Joe Gormley were. Today hardly anybody knows who Tony Woodley is. My guess is that even today Jack Jones would get higher name-recognition that Tony Woodley.

6

ignoratius von bladet 04.05.06 at 10:40 am

I was in the UK in 1973 and I certainly didn’t know who Len Murray was (possibly because I was a toddler, and toddlers were not unionised even in the pre-Tatcher days).

These days I’m still in the UK (for a limited time only) and I don’t even know what BBC4 is.

7

dearieme 04.05.06 at 10:40 am

Why not come round to my place, the power’s on there? Yippee.

8

Steve 04.05.06 at 10:47 am

“Everyone accepting that one of the government’s jobs was to decide fair pay relativities”
“in 1973 everyone knew the names of the top union leaders. Today almost nobody does.”

and

“The pervasiveness of the sense of national crisis…Revolution (or a military coup) seemed just around the corner”

any relation between the two?

Steve

9

Chris Bertram 04.05.06 at 10:51 am

toddlers were not unionised even in the pre-Tatcher days

Well maybe Des. But some schoolkids were (in the NUSS) and I bet lots of toddlers knew the words to the Strawbs “Part of the Union”.

10

Chris Bertram 04.05.06 at 10:54 am

Lyrics here btw

http://www.azlyrics.us/239207

Anyone know what number it got to in 1973?

11

Chris Bertram 04.05.06 at 10:57 am

Looked it up myself. No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart in January 1973.

12

Steven Crane 04.05.06 at 10:57 am

If it weren’t for Jimmy Hoffa jokes, Americans couldn’t name a union leader either.

I think those of us who grew up in coal country, even in the 1980s, know the name of John L. Lewis.

13

duane 04.05.06 at 11:06 am

I think most Londoners know who Bob Crow is, for better or worse.

14

Bob B 04.05.06 at 11:13 am

No mention of the role of Andrew Cunningham, a close colleague of T Dan Smith?

A better guide to the flavour of those times and our Friends in the North comes from with this:
http://www.thisisthenortheast.co.uk/the_north_east/history/crime/tdansmith.html

Plus ca change . . .
http://society.guardian.co.uk/councilsincrisis/comment/0,8146,666246,00.html

15

ajay 04.05.06 at 11:16 am

I suspect we were closer to a coup five years earlier, when people like David Stirling and Cecil King were seriously (as in: stockpiling weapons) preparing for a military coup that would get Wilson out and put Louis Mountbatten in place as interim PM. (Though these plots may have still been going on in ’73).

16

Chris Bertram 04.05.06 at 11:17 am

Cunningham and his wife were discussed extensively in the Poulson documentary. (Though amazingly, their relationship to son Jack didn’t come up.)

17

Slocum 04.05.06 at 11:53 am

If it weren’t for Jimmy Hoffa jokes, Americans couldn’t name a union leader either.

Oh, I think Ron Gettelfinger pops up in the news often enough these days to have pretty good name recognition. But I believe he’d prefer a lower profile.

18

harry b 04.05.06 at 12:13 pm

amazingly, their relationship to son Jack didn’t come up

Maybe its not a close relationship.

19

lemuel pitkin 04.05.06 at 1:27 pm

1973. What Hobsbawm calls the start of “the avalanche.” Here in the US too, the inflection point when all the indicators started heading the wrong way — income distribution, union membership, prison population, military spending. Also, the year of my birth…

20

Steve 04.05.06 at 2:55 pm

“The pervasiveness of the sense of national crisis was well brought out by clips from Blue Peter where Valerie Singleton and John Noakes explained to children facing power cuts to surround candles with earth to make them safer and to interleave the bedding of elderly relatives with newspaper too keep them warm. Revolution (or a military coup) seemed just around the corner ….”

The good old days-before the ‘indicators’ starting going in the wrong direction…

Sheesh

Steve

21

Keven 04.05.06 at 3:16 pm

I was born in 1973. So things definitely changed for the better for me.

22

Bob B 04.05.06 at 4:14 pm

Details from Britain’s National Archive into the multiple inter-sections between politics, government and industrial relations in 1973/4:
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/releases/2005/nyo/politics.htm

23

dave heasman 04.05.06 at 5:23 pm

It was the year “Countdown to Ecstasy” and “A Wizard a True Star” came out. A great year.

24

Thlayli 04.05.06 at 5:37 pm

Sunderland won the Cup in 1973 (over Leeds, the last Cup Final to date in which none of London, Liverpool, or Manchester were represented).

25

engels 04.05.06 at 9:36 pm

The good old days

Steve – Where in the post does Chris say that the world in 1973 was better than today? Or is your objection that he wrote about it at all without including a ritual denunciation of Yoorpean Commienism?

26

jet 04.05.06 at 9:45 pm

Engels,
Since Steve was obviously responding to Lemuel Pitkin, your comment is kind of nonsensical.

27

Chris 04.06.06 at 7:38 am

Although I love the inverted commas around “businessman”…one of the worst insults in the Bertram lexicon?

28

Chris Bertram 04.06.06 at 7:44 am

Not at all. It just reflected the fact that I was unsure about what the person described as a “businessman” by Panorama actually did.

29

lemuel pitkin 04.06.06 at 11:27 am

Life was better before 1973. Actually it was better in 1973, for most people — the 1970s were the golden age for blue-collar workers.

30

digamma 04.06.06 at 1:31 pm

Most city-dwelling Americans can probably name the head of their local transport workers’ union.

31

lemuel pitkin 04.06.06 at 5:03 pm

Outside of NYC? Are you joking, digamma? I worked for unions in DC and Chicago, and had no idea who the heads of the transit unions were. Even here in New York, Toussaint is familiar to most people only because of the strike — and even to interested observers like me probably only because of his extraordinary personal history.

32

Bob B 04.06.06 at 5:18 pm

“Life was better before 1973.”

By some lights, the 1950s and 1960s comprised a Golden Age of Capitalism which finally came to an end either with Nixon’s announcement of the decision to sever the link between the Dollar and gold on 15 August 1971 or (more credibly) the oil price hike of 1973, after the Yom Kippur war that year, and the downstream consequences that followed from the oil price hike.

“The golden age, from 1950 to 1973, saw a degree of convergence between the US and other advanced capitalist countries (western Europe and Japan) coinciding with a new liberal international order. Indeed, Japan, despite just having emerged from a decade of economic stagnation, has had the fastest growth, its per capita income growth increasing sixfold during the golden age, at 8% per year compared with 4% in western Europe.”
http://www.oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php/aid/1295/Golden_age.html

What followed the oil price hike in America and Europe during the rest of the 1970s was dubbed “stagflation” by economists – an apt tag to describe a combination of markedly higher inflation rates and stagnant GDP growth. It was a time when the limits came to be recognised of the conventional Keynesian prescriptions for cutting unemployment. Callaghan, Britain’s prime minister 1976-79, officially rang the death knell on Keynesianism:

“We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists….”
http://www.wsws.org/articles/2005/jun2005/call-j10.shtml

The prevailing official orthodoxy of the early 1980s in many countries with advanced market economies became monetarism. In 1995, the IMF officially wrote off monetarism with this:

“…instability of monetary demand, especially in the context of supply shocks and declines in potential output growth, complicated the task of monetary authorities. As a result, during the 1980s most central banks – with some notable exceptions – either abandoned or downplayed the role of monetary targets”.
IMF World Economic Outlook, October 1996, p.106.

And by accounts, it seems that Milton Friedman agrees:

“In an interview with Milton Friedman (published in the Financial Times 6 Jun 2003) Milton Friedman even seems to repudiate the monetary policy of monetarism and is quoted as saying ‘The use of quantity of money as a target has not been a success,’ … ‘I’m not sure I would as of today push it as hard as I once did.'”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monetarism

33

Bob B 04.06.06 at 7:43 pm

Addendum:

“As the US economy was becoming increasingly globalized, the gap widened between the wages paid to more-skilled and less-skilled workers as measured by educational level. In 1979, for example, male college-educated workers earned 30 percent more than their high school-educated counterparts. By 1995 the premium for college-educated workers had risen to about 70 percent.

“The effect of this increasing wage disparity among American workers has been compounded since 1973 by a fall in average real wages. US average real weekly earnings peaked in 1973 at nearly $320. They then fell to under $260 by the mid-1990s and recovered to only $280 last year [2000]”
http://www.iie.com/publications/papers/paper.cfm?ResearchID=408

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