MINERS all over Britain had gone on strike in early January as a result of disagreements between them and the Government over pay and on Februay 9 a state of emergency was declared. Two days later the three-day working week was introduced to save electricity.
The impact of the strike was felt in all kinds of ways in this district, with power blackouts causing misery to many.
Local firms experienced drastic cuts in production and possible closure as a result of the massive restrictions imposed on the use of electricity by the Government.
One Spalding engineering firm had been forced to close four days a week and many others feared almost complete shut-down because of the lack of power. An order forcing small firms not to use any electricity on Sundays and three other days of the week had come into effect.
Larger firms had also been required to cut their consumption of electricity by half. H Leverton & Co had been forced to close four days a week and Spalding’s largest employer, Geest Industries Ltd, feared the effects of the power restrictions on business. At one stage, £25,000 of bananas in Geest’s ripening rooms had been in peril, in danger of rotting if power cuts had continued into a sixth day. At Smedleys in Spalding almost the entire workforce was laid off during “high risk days” while at Lockwoods of Long Sutton only a skeleton staff worked on days when a blackout was likely.
An order banning the use of electricity for heating offices, shops, public halls, catering establishments and premises used for recreation or sport was also in place.
At one stage, local authorities in the area appealed to the public to show restraint in flushing toilets and the use of water generally because the sewerage works could not cope as the power cuts grew in length and frequency.
Schools were forced to close, either because of heating problems or because of difficulties in providing school meals, and there were fears over a shortage of hospital beds locally for elderly people forced out of their homes by the power crisis.
As power supplies dwindled, the area faced its worst blackouts “since wartime restrictions were lifted”, declared the Spalding Guardian of February 18, 1972. Cuts of up to 11 hours a day were forecast by an East Midland Electricity spokesman, although he emphasised the emergency could worsen, causing blackout times to be even longer than forecast.
However, the miners’ struggle found sympathy with the farm workers. Delegates at the annual conference of the Holland County branch of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers heard general secretary Reg Bottini declare: “The struggle of the miners is our struggle. If the miners go down, we all go down.”
He told the conference the union had expressed solidarity with the miners because the Government was seeking to turn the country against the miners. Gordon Dales, Spalding chairman of the conference, said he would have liked to have seen farm workers out on strike with the miners. In fact, a week later, farm workers furious that their latest claim for an £18 basic wage had been turned down, contemplated a hunger strike.
Some local residents showed resilience in the face of the crisis, with people finding any number of ways to beat the blackout.
For instance, at the height of the power crisis Holbeach ironmonger Andrew Hawkins rushed to France to bring back a truck load of gas canisters. While on the ferry he was twice offered cash to take his load straight to London, but he said: “I couldn’t let the Holbeach people down.”
Gleed School’s answer to the coal strike was Operation Woodchop, with pupils sawing up wood from various sources and taking it to old folk. It became a full-scale operation, with pupils given designated ‘beats’ to deliver wood, in the process helping hundreds of people.
Bertie Fen resident Bryan Gibson came up with an ingenious method for beating the blackout.
He rigged up his own electricity generator from an old engine and could get enough power to light his kitchen and living room.
It was SADOS that ensured the show would go on, however, thanks to the inventiveness of Jack Gernert and his helpers.
With a generator and two large flood lights they ensured their production of Oklahoma went ahead at the Corn Exchange in Spalding.
“Against a background of almost unbelievable difficulties”, the report in the Lincolnshire Free Press of February 22, 1972, stated, the stage was lit and the orchestra provided with lights run from car batteries.
The miners returned to work on February 28 and life returned to normal – let’s hope our current difficulties are over as quickly.