I grew up in the 70s and ran a business for over 20 years from the mid-80s through to early 2000s.
I remember things like the 3-day week, the bread shortages, the power strikes. I remember the strikes at British Leyland (where I worked) and that being the cause for M and I to move south, for different jobs and a better life.
My working life started in those days of the things I mentioned before and the power of the unions and the constant battle between the government and those unions.
And then came someone who promised us change and change for the better. Where hard work would be rewarded with a better life, more money, a sense of purpose and riches beyond our wildest dreams.
The first thing to do, of course, was to rid the country of those all-powerful, self-serving unions.
And that was done, more or less. So, here we were, going onwards and upwards towards a much better future.
And, then, for reasons more of accident than purpose, I ended up running a business.
It was also the time that M & I split and V came on the scene.
I suppose I could have been a good businessman, a successful businessman were it not for one thing – me.
You see, I had a problem. What I “had” was a business that felt more like a family – a community of like-minded people. As time went on, we employed more people and the business grew. And that was where the problems started. I understood that it was a cut-throat world in business. I understood that the suppliers were in this game to make money out of us and that we were there to make money out of our customers. What I could never get to grips with was that some of the people within the company itself were there to get what they could – even at the expense of the company.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that before the 80s people were, somehow, kinder, more willing to help one another, etc. Nor am I saying that during the 80s and onwards, there were no people who were kinder and helpful because that would not be true.
And it’s not like I’m looking back with rose-coloured spectacles either. In the 70s, the unions, with that huge amount of power, were not interested in doing the best for the country but only in getting the best deal for their workers (and, for those at the top of the union, for themselves). In the 70s, with the destruction of the unions, the time came for the industry heads and the rich to have their way. That was the change.
And, so, we went from the selfishness of the unions to the selfishness of the bosses.
And, I was one of those “bosses”. Well, when I say that, I was the Managing Director. And this is where the problem came in.
I found, as the business grew that more and more often I was disappointed. Not immediately, but after I had time to think about it.
First, I would be angry. Someone would do something that was stupid or, more likely, against the general good of the company. I became very angry. How dare they do this thing? What are they trying to do, bring the company down?
But, after a number of hours or days, my anger would morph into disappointment which, in turn would turn to disillusionment and, finally, resignation. But, certainly, the disappointment would remain. And grow with each occurrence. And, in the end, I had had enough.
And, whilst it looks like I am blaming everyone else, be assured that this is not the case. For I realised that the real cause of all this was myself. It was my inability to fully understand the world that was created in the 80s and 90s. It was my inability to see that the selfishness that became the by-product of the rush to make something of yourself, on your own and stuff who it hurts or destroys, had been made into a positive thing. Something to strive for. Something to laud and praise. And that was my fault.
Of course, the conflict arose because, whilst it was perfectly OK for us to “stuff” the customer, it was not OK for my employees to do the same to us.
Thereby causing conflict in me.
I was trying to be a good businessman whilst, at the same time, trying to safeguard the company – not for me but for everyone in it. And that was the problem. Not everyone thinks the same.
And, leaving that behind was a great relief. The conflict (and the sleepless nights – which were almost every night) disappeared and I became more relaxed and happy with myself.
Until last week when, again, the anger at the way that people thought rose up and engulfed me as it used to do which has, already morphed into disappointment and is fast changing to disillusionment.
And then this little old lady died. And it helped me to understand the problem. For it was she that spearheaded the drive to “self”. It was her that, rather than clip the wings of the unions, destroyed them and, with it, any pretence of people working together – so much so that, during the 90s there was much made of team building – necessary because the whole thing had changed and it was all about oneself and not the general good.
Don’t get me wrong, the unions needed to be curbed – just not destroyed. The over-large, mammoth nationalised industries needed to be reformed, just not broken up, sold off to the highest bidder and then dismantled. The annoyance that BT (British Telecom), for example, no longer care about serving the British public but only about making a profit seems incongruous if it comes from the right-wing thinkers. That was, in the end, what they stood for and that is why this now-dead lady sold them off – so they could pursue profit above everything else.
I came to understand that during my time as a “businessman”. The pursuit of profit was, of course, important but not at the expense of everything and everyone. And that’s why I couldn’t understand those people who were, of course, Thatcher’s children – children who had grown up believing that it everything was up to you and you should ignore anyone who stood in your way destroying or, at least, leaving behind those who were less fortunate than yourself.
I don’t have any strong emotion for the little old lady who died. I don’t know her after all. And I don’t hate her for what she was. She was, after all, a product of the age, of the self-serving union’s super-powers and she was lucky that, at that moment, many people (and even me!) agreed that “something” had to be done.
But, in the end, as people in power (the unions in the 70s and Thatcher and Blair in the 80s and 90s) do, they took it too far and destroyed the very fabric of the country and, for that, I was angry which has turned, in time, into disappointment then to disillusionment and, finally, into resignation. It is the way things are.
Was she responsible? Yes, to a certain extent, she was. Should she be vilified? Well, yes, if that lights your candle – but do it in private or use it as an example of what to do right or what to do to fix it. And remember that although she may be typical of “that kind of person”, she was just one of them. The problem is that she, as a result of becoming the Prime Minister and having so much power, created a whole world filled with the same type of people. Those people without compassion. Selfish and ignorant to to the needs of those around them. Less of a team than a collection of individuals, each striving for their own goals.
Some,of course, would say that that was alright. Certainly those who are Thatcher’s children and benefited from this way of thinking.
For me, I am glad I am out of it. I am glad I don’t think like that. I realise that, as a result, probably, I am and will never be rich and powerful – but that’s OK by me.
Now to get through this stage (this current one from last week) and move on. This time, retaining enough of the anger/disappointment/disillusionment to make sure that I move on, not only in my mind, but also in reality.
Finally, am I glad she’s dead? No, I’m not. In the end, this fragile little old lady died. Alone in a hotel room. We’re all alone when we die but I would like someone to be there to hold my hand. Maybe she didn’t want or need that but I somehow doubt it and, for that, I am sad for her.
And, although I don’t particularly like him (possibly because he IS one of Thatcher’s children), this piece from Russell Brand is rather good.