Nostalgia: Out go the lights across Fife as the three-day week bites

1974 and the three-day week as reported by the Fife Free Press
1974 and the three-day week as reported by the Fife Free Press

The phrase ‘three-day week’ will bring back memories for a generation of Fifers.

It came in 1974 as the lights, literally, went out, as part of a bid to conserve energy supplies during the miners’ strike.

An NUM official picket during the 1974 strike

An NUM official picket during the 1974 strike

The plan, devised by the Tory government led by Ted Heath, saw households stockpile candles to use when the power went off.

Television stations – all three of them – were switched off, pubs closed early, and factories and businesses were limited to three- day working.

The restrictions had a massive impact on daily life

As a new year dawned and the miners stayed out, local industry drifted back after the festive shutdown to discover lay-offs and lighter wage packets.

This advert in the FFP told of the restricted use of electricity

This advert in the FFP told of the restricted use of electricity

Nine jobs were lost at the Kirkcaldy depot of Rossleigh Ltd, part of the Scottish Automobile Company.

There were fears that existing contracts would be difficult to fulfil in the allotted time, and, according to the Fife Free Press, a real danger that bids for new work might be rejected because of uncertainty over supplies of raw materials and delivery dates.

Interestingly, one of the hardest hit were...hairdressers.

The industry’s time for power was between 18 and 20.5 hours on alternate weeks, which businesses said simply wasn’t enough.

Mr Arthur Nevey, chairman of Fife Hairdressers’ Federation, said this would mean some of the region’s 300 hairdressers going out of business.

”This latest crisis will probably mean more people than ever leaving this trade permanently, and this, of course, will present an even greater staff problem once things get back to normal,” he said.

Among local hairdressers, Mr Len Dow, with a ladies’ and gents’ business in Kirk Wynd, said the situation was “the most serious thing that has ever happened to the profession”.

He added: “The staffing position in hairdressing is chronic under normal circumstances and, with only three hours’ work each day, the girls’ wages are going to be cut by half. You can’t even pay overheads on these hours, never mind wages.”

The picture was just as bleak across many businesses in Kirkcaldy.

At Mitchelston Industrial Estate, Carron Hydraulics, the engineering firm, said it was being hit “disastrously” by the three-day week which, for it and others on the estate, was Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

It employed about 80 people and a spokesman said it stood to lose about 40 per cent of its production.

“We have several orders and, in fact, a very full order book,” he added. “More than half of them are export orders which will be hit crucially. We stand in danger of losing some fairly large contracts.”

Like other firms, Carron was virtually closing down on its days without power.

GEC Telecommunications, with 1700 employees at Mitchelston, were finding the organisation of transport for Saturday working one of its biggest headaches.

Mr Fred Plumb, personnel manager, added: “Production is obviously going to be affected by three-day working, and, at the moment, we are just cutting our coat according to our cloth – but we certainly cannot survive for very long in a situation of just three working days.”

A.H. McIntosh introduced a new bonus system, for 470 workers, but warned of problems if the situation dragged on for more than one month.

Butler Buildings had brighter news – because of its involvement in North Sea Oil it was exempt from the three-day week. Fife Forge was also hoping for some exemption from the Department of Trade and Industry for its work on the rigs. Others unaffected were Burntisland Engineering and Fabrications, British Aluminium, and United Glass.

Rank Strand had concerns over getting raw materials, while Nairn was allowed 65 per cent of its power requirements.

At Caledonian Mill in Prime Gilt Box Street, the spinning and dying process had been allocated end-of-week working hours, so workers received time and a half for turning up on Saturday.

Allen Litho tried to make alternative arrangements to keep staff on a 40-hour week despite having power only Thursday to Saturday,

Garages across town also had to concentrate repairs on the days they were allowed to operate hydraulic ramps.

As for retail, it was too early to assess the impact.

Woolworth had an emergency generator to boost power, but lack of light in stockrooms was becoming a problem, while Tesco in the Mercat used camp lights to illuminate its shelves of dry goods.

The Co-op brought in extra lighting, but Littlewoods was concerned about the lack of supplies.

The issues persisted for another month before the three-day week was formally lifted on February 8.