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Under the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, unemployment across the country rose sharply. The South West was not immune and many jobs were shed as companies closed down or laid-off workers.

By 1983 there were around 250,000 people out of work, including a quarter of all those under 25 years old. The TUC supported a People’s March for Jobs that set off from Land’s End towards London on 11th May. Twenty unemployed marchers were selected to represent the South West.

As they marched through the region they generated press coverage that helped highlight the plight of those looking for work. In Gloucestershire, trade unionists led an initiative called Gloucestershire Campaign for Jobs and Recovery. It brought together a range of partners and concerned individuals to organise against unemployment and to develop ideas to develop the local economy. A large meeting of unemployed people was held in Gloucester Cathedral and protest marches were held against cuts in public services.

TUC unemployed workers’ centres were established across the South West to provide advice and support.

Tramping to Internet

When craft printers found themselves without work some would ‘tramp’ from town to town in search of employment. The system was encouraged by the early union societies to relieve unemployment and prevent employers from cutting pay. A ‘Tramping Relief’ system was developed under which members could report to the local secretary. A Relief Map gave mileage allowances to be paid and overnight expenses. Advice would be given on available work and those vacancies to avoid if the employer refused to pay the rate or recognise the Society. So effective was the system that non-society workers would try to forge cards. This led, in 1830, to the formation of the first national union to oversee the scheme. This tradition was maintained through the payment of Unemployment Benefit and job search assistance.

Co-operative training

In the 1990s printing faced technological changes and cut backs. In Gloucestershire unemployed print workers formed a unique co-operative training and employment service. Members could learn the very latest technology, get news on vacancies and help with CVs and job applications. The Graphical Employment and Training Group was very successful, helping hundreds back into work.