In 1973, demand for coal soared as the international oil price rise saw British oil imports fall by 15%. Grasping this opportunity for a pay increase, the National Union of Mineworkers called a ban on overtime.
In January 1974, Heath responded with the Three-Day Week in which ‘most industrial and commercial premises’ operated for only three days a week. The maximum speed limit was reduced to 50mph and television went off at 10.30pm. He calculated that Britain could survive for longer on these rations than the miners could in unemployment.
During this time, loud complaints declaring a return to the Age of Austerity rang through Britain, masking the quieter and arguably more Northern tones that were, well, having quite a knees-up. Amongst this chorus of jubilant voices was my nan.
Here’s what happened when I managed to secure an exclusive interview with her…
– How did life change for you during the Three-Day Week?
I was working at the sewing factory then and I used to work five days a week, nine o’ clock till three, because I used to have to get the children to school then go to work, then be out of work at three in time to go and pick them up from school.
So when we came on this Three-Day Week we thought it was, well I thought, and a few women that I worked with thought it was, wonderful because quite a few of us had young children. When we first heard we was going on three days a week we thought ‘I hope it’s not split’ you know, but when it was Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday it was brilliant because it gave us a long weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday off. So it was ideal, it was ideal for me, because with your Granddad being a bus driver he wasn’t on three days a week, they just worked normal hours. So I was lucky because the main breadwinner, so to speak, of the family was still bringing a full wage in. It made it easier all round for me because I had those two extra days a week to sort of do more.
– How did your pay cut affect you?
We were on piece work, you see, so we only got what we earned in those three days, which was quite a big cut in money, but it didn’t bother me because it was more important to me to have more time with the children, you know? Because we could have nice long weekends- quality time, you know? So I really enjoyed it but, like I say, a lot of people did suffer very badly from it because if they’d got like their mum and dads that were on three days a week it was a big come down in their income coming in. So I was lucky in that respect. So I really really did enjoy it because money wasn’t the important thing to me, it was having a bit more time at home, a bit more time with the children. But I know a lot of people did suffer, very badly.
– What about the power cuts?
It was nice that I was at home, with the power cuts, cause I was there, cause your mum, Jacky, was quite frightened when we had a power cut, [laughs] she didn’t like it at all, especially after tea when it was dark when we had to have candles, she didn’t like that at all. I remember our Alison was at Brownies at the end of the road and, with the power cut, there were no street lights so I had to pick her up. Jacky refused to come so I left her at home, Hobson’s Choice, but when I got back she was standing on the doorstep, terrified. I remember she said ‘I thought the candle was going to burn out and I’d be in the dark.’
– How were you affected by the speed limit and television restrictions?
I don’t remember either of those. Well, we didn’t have a car in them days, did we? We did have a little black and white tele but [laughs] we would have been in bed by that time.
– What was life like when the Three-Day Week was over?
When it finished and we had to start working five days a week again I hated it, really hated it, because it just seemed… it wasn’t as nice a home life, really. So I didn’t stay [at the sewing factory] very long after that. I think that Three-Day Week made me realise how valuable it was to have more time at home so I left after a while and I got a job at the college. I did work five days a week but it was only nine till one. So I was more at home, a bit more time at home, more time to spend with the children.
Thanks to Ann Palmer