Winter of Discontent- UK '79

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Devrim's picture
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Mar 9 2013 17:59
Winter of Discontent- UK '79

I have just read a pamphlet called 'To Delightful Measures Changed'*. It is about the events of 78-79 in the UK. It is stitched together from stuff by Dave Wise and Henri Simon (and if you know their stuff you can clearly see which bits come from whom).

I found it quite interesting, and I think that the topic is very interesting. The working class effectively brought down three governments in the 1970s. I would be interested in hearing from people who were around at the time (and of course others) what they think of both the pamphlet and the period.

It isn't something that is talked about on the left that much, which is quite surprising as I remember reading somewhere that it was the second biggest mass strike/strike wave in history** after the Italian 'hot autumn'.

Links to interesting articles would also be appreciated.

Devrim

*It is a reference to the same speech in Shakespeare that the phrase 'Winter of Discontent' comes from if anybody was wondering.

**Of course how you count this could give you varying results.

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Mar 9 2013 18:29

Cheers for starting this thread, Devrim, as I've read very little about the Winter of Discontent, basically just what we've got in our tag here.. do you reckon you could upload that pamphlet to the library?

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Mar 9 2013 18:49
Ed wrote:
do you reckon you could upload that pamphlet to the library?

No, sorry, because I have a hard copy that a borrowed from a friend, and I couldn't find it anywhere on the internet.

Devrim

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Mar 9 2013 18:50
Ed wrote:
Cheers for starting this thread, Devrim, as I've read very little about the Winter of Discontent,

I can just remember it, but I was too young to really understand what was happening. A lot of the things in the pamphlet are quite familiar to me, as I was working and involved in strikes in the UK in the mid to late 80s.

Devrim

wojtek
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Mar 9 2013 19:55

http://akuk.com/non-fiction/labour-history/-to-delightful-measures-chang...

boom

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Mar 9 2013 22:08

Seriously, don't romantasise this. I would say the working class 'ineffectively' brought down 3 governments. Things didn't get better, they got worse, ending up with good old Maggie. It was a miserable time for all. The streets were full of garbage - the stink was awful, although. at a guess, I doubt this was true in the streets of Mayfair. A hollow 'victory'.

wojtek
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Mar 9 2013 23:14
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The streets were full of garbage - the stink was awful, although. at a guess, I doubt this was true in the streets of Mayfair.

Should've transported all the rubbish over to the streets of Mayfair, etc. ala Ken Keating and the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers.

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Mar 9 2013 23:22
Webby wrote:
Seriously, don't romantasise this. I would say the working class 'ineffectively' brought down 3 governments. Things didn't get better, they got worse, ending up with good old Maggie. It was a miserable time for all. The streets were full of garbage - the stink was awful, although. at a guess, I doubt this was true in the streets of Mayfair. A hollow 'victory'.

Hmmm...I don't know Webby. Just because there were three victories and a loss (Thatcher--who was undoubtedly part of a wider tide of neo-liberalism), it doesn't mean those earlier struggles were in vain. Know what I mean?

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Mar 9 2013 23:36
Webby wrote:
Seriously, don't romantasise this. I would say the working class 'ineffectively' brought down 3 governments. Things didn't get better, they got worse, ending up with good old Maggie. It was a miserable time for all. The streets were full of garbage - the stink was awful, although. at a guess, I doubt this was true in the streets of Mayfair. A hollow 'victory'.

Do you remember it personally or are you just repeating things that you have been told about it latter? I am not old enough to remember it politically, but can remember the events vaguely. By the mid 80s I was working myself in one of the industries, which still maintained those sort of traditions from the 70s.

I don't remember these times as being miserable at all. On the contrary, I remember them as times when there was power within the working class, and the idea of class solidarity was still a common everyday thing.

Devrim

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Mar 9 2013 23:42

Yeah, I'm sure there's some truth in that but the flippancy of my post was just a balance to the rose coloured specs view of events in the opening post.
Also, I was there and any wider gains doesn't alter the fact that continual black outs and rats in the streets made for a very bleak existence for us working class folk at the time. As I said, I doubt it was as tough for those that were being fought against.

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Mar 9 2013 23:44
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Hmmm...I don't know Webby. Just because there were three victories and a loss (Thatcher--who was undoubtedly part of a wider tide of neo-liberalism), it doesn't mean those earlier struggles were in vain. Know what I mean?

I don't think that the victory of Thatcher in the 1979 election seemed like that big a loss at the time. Thatcher then certainly didn't appear like she does in retrospect. In 1981 the government tried to take on the miners and ended up backing down. Until the Falklands' War, the arhat her government was the most unpopular one in post war history.

At the time it was more like "here come the Tories, we will kick them down next".

Devrim

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Mar 9 2013 23:45

Also, how is one shit government being replaced by another shit government a victory?

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Mar 9 2013 23:50
Webby wrote:
Yeah, I'm sure there's some truth in that but the flippancy of my post was just a balance to the rose coloured specs view of events in the opening post.
Also, I was there and any wider gains doesn't alter the fact that continual black outs and rats in the streets made for a very bleak existence for us working class folk at the time. As I said, I doubt it was as tough for those that were being fought against.

I don't remember rats in the streets, and I lived in a major UK city at the time. I do know that the guy who took the famous rats in the streets picture had to wait around for hours for them to come for him to be able to take the photo.

Power cuts happened, not as much as in the early 70s, but yes they happened.

I am not sure what your point is here though. It seems to be "Don't struggle, it may inconvenience people".

Devrim

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Mar 9 2013 23:55
Webby wrote:
Also, how is one shit government being replaced by another shit government a victory?

I don't think it was. However, the working class in the UK demonstrated that it was powerful enough to knock over governments even if it wasn't able to take it further. In periods of high inflation, as there was then, an abscence of wage militancy from the working class leads to impoverishment. The working class at that point managed to protect its living standards.

Devrim

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Mar 10 2013 00:00

That shit happened in East London. I can't speak for anywhere else. I guess my point is don't get carried away. But hey, I'm tired, ill and tetchy so take what I say with a pinch of salt.

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Mar 10 2013 00:03
Webby wrote:
Also, how is one shit government being replaced by another shit government a victory?

Yeah Webby, I expect you to have a bit more nuance than this.

Toppling the current government through a massive strike wave would be a huge victory. It would short of revolution (as you rightly seem to imply, no new government can signal a full working class victory), but in terms of defending our living conditions and beating back a series of overt attacks, surely that's more of a victory than allowing them to go ahead un-opposed?

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Mar 10 2013 00:09

I don't remember much about it personally, I was just a kid, apart from the grave diggers' strike and having a morbid curiousity about what was happening with the bodies... But what I do remember was that it was used in the 80s as a permanent, low-grade background noise when it came to anything the government did that was anti-union, whether it was in connection with steel-workers' or miners' strike or laws against secondary picketing. It was like they were saying that they have to do these things because if they didn't do these things the bad old days of the Winter of Discontent would come back, which is funny because contrary to certain current nostalgia for the 80s, it felt to me we were living in the bad times, worse that the 1970s.

wojtek
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Mar 12 2013 12:46

http://web.onetel.net.uk/~davewalton/archive/local/winterofdiscontent.ht...

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Mar 12 2013 16:08

i remember those days, I was living in Brixton at the time and had recently joined a trot group, I guess it was the tail end of a movement that was finally smashed in the 80s, it was easier to talk to people about politics, I do remember rats and rubbish but I also remember working class solidarity and political vibrancy, but yeah sure you mustn't look at it through rose tinted glasses though

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Mar 17 2013 18:28

The text Devrim mentions is now here; http://libcom.org/history/delightful-measures-changed-reflections-1978-7...