Dundee, De-Industrialisation and Deprivation

“The utterance of household names like Timex, Levi’s, NCR and now Michelin sends shivers down the spine of ordinary Dundonians.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 06/07/2020 [Online] Available: https://www.eveningtelegraph.co.uk/fp/michelin-closure-takes-us-back-to-dark-days-of-1972/  [Accessed: 2020, Jul 01] 

The utterance of household names like Timex, Levi’s and NCR are enough to send shivers down the spine of the ordinary Dundonian and, last Tuesday, Michelin added its name to that illustrious list. It was a deeply sad day as the factory closed its doors for the final time after half a century’s worth of tyre production in Dundee. Hundreds of emotional employees left the Baldovie site to the beautiful sound of bagpipes and rapturous applause from proud friends and family members.

As many numbered among this newly unemployed tribe leave behind the world of work, some consider the world into which they will re-emerge. The fortunate ones resurface in new jobs, others into early retirement but more have yet to secure work and some have lost jobs that were lined up due to – you guessed it – coronavirus. It may be hard to believe but it is truly is a sobering thought that the pandemic has rendered the world of opportunity as unattractive as when Michelin opened in 1972.

Work is only the best route out of poverty if work exists in the first place. Otherwise, the promise of an end to austerity as one emerges into the sunlight of prosperity is but a vacuous notion. This brave new world has a current unemployment figure of 2.1 million projected to rise to 3.5 million when the job retention scheme is wound down in October. It is also a world in which new job vacancies are at an historic low and where new Universal Credit claimants can wait five weeks until their first payment.

Dundee itself has always had an uneasy relationship between de-industrialisation and deprivation. The 1970s was a scarred period riven by strikes, power cuts, double-digit inflation and the three-day week. It was a time in which we launched ourselves headfirst into the sunlit uplands of a European Economic Community just as the oil crisis occurred and brought to an end the economic boom in Europe. Into that dark era, Michelin opened only two years after the doors of the last jute mill creaked shut.

This is a city that has been dismantled by a domino effect of de-industrialisation over the last five decades but, in 2018, Dundee was winning awards and riding the crest of a wave. When the closure announcement was made that November, 3.5 per cent of the employed population in Dundee called Michelin their place of work and many found out about forthcoming redundancies when news was tragically leaked online. The demise of Michelin could dispense with efforts to drive deprivation out of Dundee.

As the die of de-industrialisation is cast once again in Dundee, it is like alighting a time capsule in 1972 when unemployment is riding perilously high and thousands are looking for jobs that do not exist. However, on this occasion, the culprit is not a politician with a brown envelope but a violent and indiscriminate pandemic.