The post-war recovery of the 1950s – and the uneasy consensus between capital and labour – turns out to be short-lived.
But, during the 1950s, London offers advantages to both employers and workers, writes Paul Coleman. Park Royal, Acton, Southall, Hayes, Dagenham, Silvertown, Beckton, Thurrock and the Lea Valley contain some of the UK’s largest factories and plant. London provides capital with both high-skilled and low-paid workers.
Immigrants from the UK’s former Indian and West Indian colonial possessions bolster the workforce – often doing low-skilled and low-paid jobs not wanted by indigenous workers.
The city also teem with contractors and sub-contractors supplying all manner of goods and services. London manufactured goods are transported to all parts of the UK market via new motorways and a long-established rail network. London’s 12 upriver docks and basins and their 30,000 workers offer access to global export markets.
Various forms of manufacturing industry arise, survive and expand in London. ‘Made in London’ means a quality product in the 1960s and 70s.
In 1970, manufacturing represents 30% of UK gross domestic product and an astonishing 16.3% of total world exports. Manufacturing in London and throughout Britain generates 4-6% annual trade surpluses for the UK. Manufacturers employ 35% of UK workers.
So why does London’s manufacturing base decline?
The world’s global economy changes rapidly from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s. London’s manufacturers become less competitive than new rivals in newly emerging industrial countries in the Far East.
Trade with former British Empire countries declines as many became independent. Although these countries become part of the Commonwealth, capital interests in the UK look to the European Economic Community for new markets and largely ignore India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the West Indies, Zimbabwe, South Africa and other former colonies.
Then the oil crisis of the 1970s hikes fuel prices, reducing the competitiveness of London-based industries even further. London’s roads become more congested. Relations between capital and labour deteriorate.
Capital, based in an expanding financial sector in the City of London, begins to invest more speculatively in global markets and less in manufacturing and infrastructure in London and the rest of the UK.
Industrial disputes proliferate in London. Plant and factories close. Container vessels lead to the closure of London’s upriver docks.
- Isleworth: Pears soap factory, closes 1962
- Plaistow, Fulham, Hammersmith: sugar refineries, close 1960s
- East India Docks, 1965
- Beckton: gasworks, 1969
- Hayes: Westland Helicopters, 1971
- Whitechapel: Watney Mann’s Albion Brewery, 1979
- Whitefriars: glass, 1980
- Royal Docks, (London’s last operative upriver dock system), closes October 1980.
By the end of the 1970s, social democrat politicians have failed to develop an industrial policy that would adapt to changing world economic circumstances. Little is invested in existing and emerging manufacturing industries.
Capital and labour disputes hinder London and the rest of the UK. London’s political economy becomes mired in transition. Working people feel angry and insecure. Capital wants to be free of the shackles of a shrinking UK economy. Thatcherism will soon provide a political vehicle for that desire. Manufacturing in London and throughout the UK will suffer contraction and near extinction.
© London Intelligence