Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Then and now: starting work
In 1981 new technology hadn't yet arrived: we employed shorthand typists (now virtually extinct), all our accessible records were stored on paper, and all communication with my colleagues was either face-to-face or via the telephone - no emails, just conversations. Health and safety? Well, there were no mobile phones to enable us to keep tabs on housing officers on their rounds (solo of course), and smokers puffed away wherever they liked. Meanwhile, despite the area's ethnic diversity, staff were predominantly white - and usually British - and inappropriate comments and attitudes were commonplace.
But there were other, wider, differences between then and now. Not only did we enjoy the protection of a strong trade union, but new teenage staff like myself actually knew what a union was, and understood the benefits of membership. And we had job security (thanks to NALGO), and loyal staff who had been with the council 10, 20 or more years, and fully expected to remain until retirement. Wholesale privatisation of in-house services... compulsory competitive tendering... these were still glimmers in the eyes of zealous Tory councillors who were only just beginning to privatise services like refuse collection.
The summer of 1981 was filled with riots and unemployment figures reached 3 million; and yet, leaving school, I had every reason to believe that I would find work. Yes, I had some anxiety, of course, but newspapers were full of job ads, not stories about desperate graduates unable to find even bar work; whereas today's school leavers and graduates are scrabbling for jobs at a time of savage, widespread cuts and fierce competition. And sadly, I think that is the biggest difference between then and now: not advances in technology, equal opps and smoke-free buildings, but the existence of HOPE, and the knowledge that decent job vacancies - for which even an inexperienced teenager like me stood a chance - did actually exist.
I'm told A Level results are due tomorrow. I'll be praying for the people who don't make the headlines, the ones who don't get five A*s or whatever, the ones who need help, to keep their hope and self-belief alive.