Mail masks Thatcher’s true legacy: Unions busted, hours extended, productivity held back

The legacy of Margaret Thatcher was fewer workplace rights, longer working hours and less productivity in the UK.

Yesterday’s Daily Mail celebrated the fruits of Thatcherism, with a headline that trumpeted:

Thatcher’s legacy: UK ‘is the only nation working harder than in the 1980s’

It joyously declared:

“Britain is the only country whose people work harder than they did in the 1980s, an international study has found. Margaret Thatcher’s workplace revolution has seen Britons working more hours per week than when she was in Number Ten.

“The former Tory prime minister’s success at cracking down on union restrictive practices and freeing the country’s entrepreneurial spirit means we work much harder than we used to. Meanwhile, across Europe, people now work fewer hours than they did in the 1980s.”

It quotes OECD data that shows that while working times have been falling in recent years across developed countries, they have been rising in the UK. In fact, as this 2009 EU data shows, British employees work longer hours than their counterparts in almost any other country (source : Eurofound):

All things being equal, this would make us (with Romania and Malta), the richest people in Europe. Unfortunately, our productivity lags far behind our main northern and western European neighours, according to this OECD data:

When did the UK fall behind? Well a big chunk of the ‘productivity gap’ fell into place in the 1980s, under Thatcher. Lets compare changes in productivity since 1979 between blessed economically liberated Britain and that union-infested tyranny of unreconstructed statism, France ( Again, sourced from the OECD):

As you can see, France sped ahead with productivity gains in the late 80s, just as Thatcher’s reforms kicked in. After the UK took a productivity hit in the mid-80s, the gap stabalised and finally closed under Labour. While Thatcherite reforms may not have been responsible for the loss of relative UK productivity, lack of them did not appear to hold back France. In fact, unsuprisingly, shorter working hours can be a spur to productivity. As an ETUC paper puts it::

“Protecting workers from excessive long working hours can be a driver for productivity. It prevents unproductive employers being ‘bailed out’ at the expense of workers’ time, instead forcing them to invest in a more productive organisation of the work place.”

So there you are – the Thatcher revolution: Longer hours, lower productivity: Something  of which only the Daily Mail could be proud.

26 Responses to “Mail masks Thatcher’s true legacy: Unions busted, hours extended, productivity held back”

  1. salardeen

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail masks Thatcher's true legacy: Unions busted, hours extended, productivity held back: //bit.ly/lDOmeo reports …

  2. Trakgalvis

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail masks Thatcher's true legacy: Unions busted, hours extended, productivity held back: //bit.ly/lDOmeo reports …

  3. Prateek Buch

    @leftfootfwd "the Thatcher revolution: Longer hours, lower productivity: Something only Daily Mail could be proud of" //bit.ly/j7xofg

  4. Other TaxPayers Alli

    .@DanielElton of @leftfootfwd on an incredibly stupid Daily Mail article on Thatcher's legacy //bit.ly/lDOmeo

  5. Chris

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail masks Thatcher's true legacy: Unions busted, hours extended, productivity held back: //bit.ly/lDOmeo reports …

  6. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail masks Thatcher's true legacy: Unions busted, hours extended, productivity held back //bit.ly/lGFCnJ

  7. angela lynch

    RT @OtherTPA: .@DanielElton of @leftfootfwd on an incredibly stupid Daily Mail article on Thatcher's legacy //bit.ly/lDOmeo

  8. Eleanor Besley

    RT @OtherTPA: .@DanielElton of @leftfootfwd on an incredibly stupid Daily Mail article on Thatcher's legacy //bit.ly/lDOmeo

  9. Νέα Νέμεσις Εργασίας

    @leftfootfwd Curiously, you didn't show a graph from 1960 to the present day? 70's productivity under Labour? UK //bit.ly/lGFCnJ

  10. punkscience

    RT @OtherTPA: .@DanielElton of @leftfootfwd on an incredibly stupid Daily Mail article on Thatcher's legacy //bit.ly/lDOmeo

  11. Lawrence Shaw

    Rule Britannia – we're working longer than ever, producing less and making less money into the bargain. Shitain. //digs.by/jiowpj

  12. Gavin

    Mail masks Thatcher's true legacy: Unions busted, hours extended, productivity … – Left Foot Forward: Left Foo… //bit.ly/jNJm2W

  13. RedfishUK

    I have worked in the IT industry for over20 years and since 1994 worked freelance/contract, so I have experience of a wide range of different clients. It always struck me that the more “Thatcherite” an organisation (tightly managed, long inflexible hours, fewer benefits), the less productive in real terms they are.
    The most productive environment was the HQ site of a Government department; it was very structured, and ran like clockwork. The staff were well trained, supportive of each other and the working environment was excellent, with a nursery and even a social club on site!
    I then moved to an Investment Bank, I was warned by a colleague that the systems were s**t, they even passed the root password for the machines around. Eventually the BoE put them on notice and very expensive consultants were brought in. The working environment was as you would expect; long hours etc but at the end of the day the output was “more heat than light”.
    Another horror show was a software house which to make up the time had people working in excess of 50 hours a week, but everyone was so tired productivity was through the floor, and the number of mistakes / bugs being produced through the roof (but very good if you were paid by the hour!)
    These were extremes but generally the rule is, laid back attitudes, better working environments and shorter hours produce the most productive workers and a better product. Interestingly it is the larger and more successful companies seem to have these conditions.

  14. Anon E Mouse

    With all the criticism of the work place reforms and considering the huge majority in 1997 am I alone in thinking that the Labour Party, THE LABOUR PARTY did nothing to reverse this in thirteen years?

    Do you think that it’s because your stupid socialist wishes have been rejected the world over and you just need to grow up?

    Could be…

  15. modernity blog

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail masks Thatcher's true legacy: Unions busted, hours extended, productivity held back: //bit.ly/lDOmeo reports …

  16. 13eastie

    Complete twaddle from start to finish.

    Your second chart uses the USA as the datum. The av working week in the USA is 46 hours, but you didn’t include this in your first chart.

    Why are only four minor European countries able to best the US with it’s longer week and far less holiday?

    What happened to productivity in the decade prior to 1979?

    And let’s combine that with a look at the contribution of your beloved unions:
    ________________________________________________________________
    Annual Days Lost to Industrial Disputes per 1,000 workers:
    ________________________________________________________________

    1970-1979: UK: 569 France: 286 USA: 507

    1980-1989: UK: 332 France: 119 USA: 123
    ________________________________________________________________

    ( Source: //bit.ly/mcrgdk )

    The reduction in wasted man hours under Thatcher was enormous. To portray this as anything other than an achievement for productivity and output is disingenuous.

    Your analysis is flawed completely by the fact that you make the phoney assumption that the only input required is measured in man-hours.

    Businesses cannot exist without investors. And investors do not pay wages; they provide capital.

    You forget conveniently that you need capital as well as labour to make businesses work.

    And that businesses have overheads as well as operational costs.

    Have you ever actually run a business?

    Every day wasted by the unions, capital goes unused, R&D grinds to a halt, food spoils, textiles go out of fashion, overheads still accrue, productivity goes down, output goes down, investors get itchy feet. There are also secondary effects elsewhere in the economy. And the country as a whole loses.

    To the eternal gratitude of our international rivals.

    Fire up the Quattro!

  17. Daniel Elton

    @13eatie – Thanks for your comments. I’ll take two points 1) why can only five European countries equal or surpass the united states, and 2) that reduction in days lost for strikes should be set against productivity gains. 1) The main point of the article was to challenge the idea that ‘Because Thatcher meant we work longer hours, this was a good thing’ – and showing examples where people work shorter, more productive hours makes that point.

    There is a seperate issue on U.S. versus European productivity, but what’s interesting is that plenty of economies with less ‘anglo-saxon’ models of capitalism get closer to the U.S. than we do, although to make a proper comparison you have to take account of differences in economic sectors.

    2)The reduction of strikes was a good thing about the outcomes of the 1980s, but interestingly your data shows there was a greater proportionate reduction in France than the UK. I think there were other ways to go about it than Thatcher’s reforms. Although Thatcher was the punishment unions got for many years of irresponsibility, in particular it was commupance for their blocking of In Place Of Strife (//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Place_of_Strife), which would have led to a more continental, partnership model of industrial relations. I think if it had passed the economic history of the country may have been very different.

  18. Daniel Swedin

    Intressant om Thatchers "revolution": //t.co/yCLT53K

  19. Juan Voet

    “@OtherTPA: .@DanielElton of @leftfootfwd on an incredibly stupid Daily Mail article on Thatcher's legacy //t.co/etS9kBD” what did u x

  20. 13eastie

    Daniel,

    You do rather make my point for me.

    The two countries you identify in your data (France; USA) as having fared better than the UK in the productivity stakes both curtailed destructive union disruption far more severely in the early 80’s than we did.

    What Thatcher did was necessary for us to remain remotely competitive, and your data actually supports the argument that she didn’t do it enough.

    Why did you choose “productivity” as a metric anyway? It is not something unions or their members are in the slightest bit interested in, and it does not correlate with living standards or quality of life. You could have chosen far more meaningful indices, but then they might not have to the conclusion at which you set out to arrive.

    I’ll take Thatcher’s red Porsche 924 and Docklands loft over Callaghan’s power cuts and unburied dead any day of the working week (including weekends).

  21. Dr. Matt Lodder

    ★ " Mail masks Thatcher’s true legacy: Unions busted, hours extended, productivity held back //bit.ly/jb1sDJ "

  22. frederick

    What the hell are these Trolls up to with bogus comparisons from the 1970’s talk about playing the outdated politics of the past. Address the comparative point we work stupidly long hours for little gain. Learn to debate!

  23. Fred Z

    “It always struck me that the more “Thatcherite” an organisation (tightly managed, long inflexible hours, fewer benefits), the less productive in real terms they are.”

    I have never seen any evidence, none, zero, zip, de nada, keines, that Thatcher was in favour of “tightly managed, long inflexible hours, fewer benefits”. Thatcher was in favour of freedom, no more, no less.

    As for the main post, Worstall drilled you a new one. Dumbass. //timworstall.com/2011/05/05/where-does-left-foot-forward-get-these-numpties-from/

  24. 13eastie

    Frederick,

    It was the OP who brought both the unions and the 70’s into the discussion.

    If you find these subjects taboo in some way, you might better direct your comments to the editor.

    On a blog where every other contributor falls over himself to bring Thatcher into the proceedings you sound ridiculous.

  25. Billy Donohoe

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail masks Thatcher's true legacy: Unions busted, hours extended, productivity held back //t.co/MrkMZ2B9

  26. Scot Walker

    RT @leftfootfwd: Mail masks Thatcher's true legacy: Unions busted, hours extended, productivity held back //t.co/MrkMZ2B9

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