Fernando Torres, a footballer, moved home yesterday. He moved from Liverpool Football Club to Chelsea Football Club, a distance of about 200 miles. For this no doubt considerable inconvenience to Mr Torres it’s reported that Chelsea paid £50m. The story has made the national ‘news’ in England because it’s the first time the £50m barrier has been broken for a transfer fee in the domestic football market.
In 1979, Andy Gray (recently in the headlines for what must be the most ludicrous non-story of the year) achieved similar notoriety. He moved home from Aston Villa to Wolverhampton Wanderers (a far more manageable 7 or 8 miles) for what was then the highest transfer fee ever paid between British football clubs – £1.5m.
In 1979 factory work was a fairly well paid job in England. In Grantham, for example, where I live, there were several sizeable factories employing significant numbers of people. They were factories that made highly engineered products requiring people with considerable skill to make them. The town has a proud engineering history (though we’ll draw a veil over the fact that it produced the first battlefield tanks, and remained an arms maker into the 1980’s). Workers normally worked a standard forty hour week with weekend work paid at overtime rates. Now I don’t know what the average wage was for a general operative back then, and it isn’t easy to find out, but if I said about £3 an hour, I’m probably slightly overestimating.
Today all of those big factories have now died (murdered would be a slightly more accurate description); but there are a few small engineering firms doing quite well in the town (green shoots of recovery and all that). I don’t know what general operatives are paid there these days, and I can’t be bothered to find out; but if I said it was about £7 an hour, I would probably be exaggerating (given that the minimum wage is currently £5.91, and modern employers are not famous for paying much more than absolutely necessary).
Now then, 1979 was quite a significant year for something else; for that was the year that a grocer’s daughter became the first female Prime Minister of Britain. And Thatcherism was born. “We’re all in it together” could have been a catch phrase her army of propagandists might have employed as she rolled up her sleeves and set about decimating the bedrock of the British economy – its industry.
Today’s equivalent of Andy Gray costs his employer more than thirty times what would have been paid in 1979. If a factory worker’s wages had increased at a similar rate, she would be on about £100 an hour.
Of course we’re all in it together. I never doubted it for a minute.