Factory workers on strike

21: A new society

Major change

Compared with the early 21st century, the Wales of the immediate post-war years was a very different place. In 1945 30% of the Welsh male workforce was employed in the coal and steel industries and 10% in agriculture. Less than one family in 10 had a car, and a working-class family with an income of £10 a week was considered to be doing very well.

In the immediate post-war years, expectations in Wales were high.

Large areas of the country still lacked electricity and tap water. Apart from for the affluent, cooking meant a coal-fuelled range, washing a hand-wound wringer and the telephone a roadside kiosk.

Although the Milk Marketing Board enabled some farmers to become accustomed to a monthly cheque, subsistence agriculture was still characteristic of much of Wales.

By the end of the century, the coal industry had virtually vanished. The major steel-producing plants at Shotton, Ebbw Vale and Cardiff had ceased to exist and employment in agriculture had more than halved. Service industries burgeoned, the electronics industry became a major employer and professional and administrative occupations greatly expanded.

The countryside was transformed. Urban comforts arrived and rural dwellers directly dependent upon the land became a small minority. Change, while creating a vastly enhanced standard of living, was not without problems. Localities in which the majority felt alienated from the mainstream of society were probably more numerous by the early 21st century than they had been in 1945.

Politics and the economy

In the immediate post-war years, expectations in Wales were high. The Labour government which came to power in 1945 - massively endorsed by the Welsh electorate - established the welfare state and the National Health Service, provided an extensive system of support for agriculture, and carried out a programme of nationalisation, reforms which enjoyed a high degree of consensus until the 1970s.

The nationalisation of coalmining, the primary industry of Wales, was particularly warmly welcomed. Over subsequent decades, changes in the sources of fuel for heat and energy, especially the replacement of coal by oil and gas, led to the collapse of the coalfield's markets. In 1945 Wales had 124,000 miners, a figure which fell to 33,000 in 1975 and to less than 1,000 by the 1990s.

Until the late 1980s, however, coalmining loomed large in the nation's life, as was proved by the impact of the coalminers' strikes of 1973 and 74 and the trauma of the strike of 1984-85. The attack upon this consensus, led by Margaret Thatcher, resulted in the denationalisation of the industries and services brought under public control by the post-war Labour government.

By the early 21st century, other aspects of the achievements of that government - in particular the National Health Service and the support for agriculture - were also facing serious challenges.


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