The 1970s was a decade full of change and crisis. it was taken as fact that a small proportion of young people would go to university, another small number would train as skilled apprentices, but that the majority would go to work in whatever the local factory was. If you lived in the midlands, it was a car factory or a dye works, a shoe factory or a knitwear manufacturers. When you talk to older people, it seems like the route into a dead end job was pre-ordained, but that most young people didn’t mind because the pay was good.
Dead end jobs had fuelled the fashions and rock ‘n’ roll industry in the 1960s ‘never had it so good’ era. If you had an argument with your boss at the car factory in the morning, you could walk out and get a job in the knitwear factory that afternoon. But soon cheaper goods started to be imported from Hong Kong and Japan and factories brought in more automation. British manufacturing had to cut costs or go under. Gradually, there became a youth unemployment crisis that peaked round about the time of punk rock.
It was easy to say ‘I don’t want a dead-end job in a factory’ when there were no jobs. But what could be put in its place for 16-19 year-olds? Luckily, there was the dole – unemployment benefit for those without jobs. And for teenagers hanging around with nothing to do, forming a band or just being a punk was a viable possibility. This documentary from 1977 gives a real flavour of the universal depression of that era.
In the following years, governments created employment schemes, further training and ultimately tried to lure the majority of young people into higher education. This is all very well, but good art doesn’t come from busy people, does it?