Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Good Old-Bad Old Days - 1971 UK Postal Strike


I came across a reference in a collected article by George Mackay Brown which seemed to imply a postal strike in early 1971, at the same time as the currency was decimalized. While I clearly remember decimalization (I was 12) I did not recall this strike - and found a fascinating reference.

1971: A different world.

A world in which large trades unions wielded immense and arbitrary power, backed up by the frequent use of instant-walk-out strikes - and where union leaders were household names.

Whereas now the union leaders are unknown and national strikes are rare. Indeed, there is so little 'solidarity' in UK society that it is hard to imagine organized communal action.

And in 1971 the postal strike was compensated by a multitude of private and informal postal services which (over the space of a couple of months) was able to rapidly organize and to deliver two thirds the volume of post as the normal official postal service!

Imagine such a high trust society where so many small groups of people were able to say - give us your money and we will deliver your letter - and people did give them money, and they did deliver the letters!

So, on the one hand the UK of 1971 was one in which there was enough cohesion and organization to organize frequent national strikes, and on the other hand with enough cohesion and organization to react to and compensate for disasters such as national strikes.

Now, the government and very large organizations do everything; and what they don't do, doesn't get done - and cannot get done, because people neither know nor trust each other; and all levels of social cohesion between the state and the individual have become exceedingly weak (except in their power to disrupt and destroy).  



David Duff said...

A timely reminder that we have much to thank "that woman" for!

Also, perhaps your final paragraph was a tad too gloomy. Maybe I am mistaken, I frequently am, but I sense a very lively community spirit abroad these days. I don't get involved myself, I can't stand it, but others seem to.

dearieme said...

Whenever I read some idiot complaining that Thatcher introduced greed into British society, I think of the seventies - Union greed was in charge. More recently I have reflected that when I first cycled in the early sixties I never locked my bike. When I returned to cycling, in the mid seventies, everyone had to lock his bike. Peace and Love, eh?

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - I think I posted on this topic a few years ago - I once (late 1960s) left my bike unlocked outside the newsagents, forgot about it, shop and came back a couple of days later and it was still there.

Similarly I left my bike in the recreation park for a couple of days and nights and came back to find some kids riding around on it - I thought they were naughty for not just leaving it.

We did not lock the back door overnight or when we went out - unless we were going on holiday for a week or two.


So, yes, I agree with your point!

Samson J. said...

same time as the currency was decimalized

I have to tell you, as much of an Anglophile as I am, I have never - never! - managed to understand the old British currency system, as you always hear them talking about it on Monty Python or wherever. "Two quid and a shilling, guv'ner!" Wot? What is this crazy system, anyway?

Bruce Charlton said...

I only regret that Farthings (quarter pennies) were phased out before I was born...

This (a replica from Beamish Museum, a few miles from me) is what all school exercise books had on the back when I was a kid:

dearieme said...

@Samson: couldn't be easier or more natural.

A ha'penny = 2 farthings.
A penny = two ha'pennies. A thrupenny = 3 pence. A tanner = two thrupennies. A bob = two tanners. A florin = two bob. A half-dollar equals a florin + a tanner. Ten bob = 4 half-dollars. A quid = two ten bobs. A guinea = a quid + a bob.

Piece of the proverbial.

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - What you call half a dollar, I call half-a-crown (two and sixpence).

It was actually a very important coin - being the standard gift surreptitiously pressed into your palm, your fingers folded over, and the resulting fist crushed onto the coin - by a kindly departing uncle.

dearieme said...

@B: our parents called it half a crown. Urchins called it a half dollar.

David Duff said...

Perhaps, DM, you could also explain cricket to our American friend!