Before Thatcher came to power, the UK was literally covered in gigantic piles of garbage

1979 Garbage Strike LondonPiles of garbage accumulate on the sidewalk in front of businesses during a strike by council employees in London’s Leicester Square in 1979.

Margaret Thatcher came to lead the U.K. in 1979 after a series of disputes between the government and Britain’s then-powerful trade unions.

The new British Prime Minister set out to wage war on what she saw was the “enemy within” the U.K., and many people supported her in this fight.

To understand why Thatcher had this support, check out these photos of central London from 1979s “Winter of Discontent”, which show trash piling up on the streets after U.K.’s dustmen (a.k.a. garbage collectors) went on strike.

1979 Garbage Strike LondonRubbish piles up in London’s Soho, Feb. 1, 1979, during a strike by dustmen in the London borough of Westminster.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Leicester Square is pretty much the epicentre of London’s glamorous West End — a tourism hot spot where movie premieres are held.

1979 Garbage Strike LondonA man sleeping on the ground awakens in front of a mound of garbage that has accumulated during a strike by council employees in London’s Leicester Square in 1979.

These photos show the incredible effect the unions (and union strikes) had on the average citizen’s life, and — amazingly — they occurred under Thatcher’s predecessor, Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan, a left-wing leader who relied on the union’s support!

1979 Garbage Strike LondonPart of the three-quarter mile backlog of rotting garage in London’s Finsbury Park, waiting to be cleared in 1979.

Just a few months after these photos were taken, Callaghan lost a confidence vote in the House of Commons and was obliged to call an election. Thatcher was voted in to power in the U.K., and the Conservative Party enjoyed 18 years of government.

These are very visceral images, but they really only scratch the surface of how much tensions between unions and governments effected the average citizen’s life in the 1970s.

In another notorious example, the British government imposed a 3-day week in early 1974 for commercial users of electricity after industrial action by miners.

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