London in Winter 1968


“I’m Backing Britain” Campaign

Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, endorsed the ‘I’m Backing Britain’ campaign, encouraging workers to work extra time without pay or take other actions to help competitiveness, which was spreading across Britain.“There is too much knocking of Britain,” he said. “What we want is ‘back Britain’ not back-biting.”

In January 1968 a movement to rejuvenate Britain’s  economic state began with the slogan “I’m Backing Britain.” The movement had started after five women typists at Colt Ventilation and Heating Ltd in Surbiton made a New Year’s resolution to work an extra half an hour a day without extra pay. The story was picked up by the media and soon other companies announced that their employees would also be working an extra half-hour. “I’m Backing Britain” badges, mugs, car stickers and T-shirts were all the rage. It turned out that many of the items had been made in Portugal. As was to be expected, the trades unions were not keen on a campaign that involved unpaid overtime. By the end of March, the campaign had been reduced to general patriotic slogans to “buy British”.

On March 17, 1968, a demonstration in London’s Grosvenor Square against U.S.involvement in the Vietnam War resulted in 91 police injured and 200 demonstrators arrested.

Remembering the Anti-War Protest in Grosvenor Square

“The American invasion of Vietnam wasn’t a British war, not even a blunder of the British empire, but the Wilson government publicly supported the Americans, though it did manage to avoid—that time—sending troops as proof of their support.”  “What the Americans were doing in Vietnam was startlingly clear; everywhere people watched TV reports and read in newspapers of a world power napalming peasant villages in the hunt for an ill-equipped guerrilla army, in the name of US security.” ” If what America did wasn’t my fault, I had no doubt that it was my responsibility to stand against it.”  Jenny Diski, The Sixties; read her book for a vivid account of an anti-war march on the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square.

The following remembrances are excerpts from The Guardian, May 21, 2008

Chris Morris photographed the Grosvenor Square riot for an Italian news magazine. “So did 1968 achieve anything? It was a year, concludes Morris, that ‘showed what was possible. Forty years on, I still feel outraged by governments duping voters and ignoring their feelings. Far from becoming more conservative with age, I feel more leftwing the more I’m patronized.'”

For Geoff Wolfe, “capitalism is good at absorbing protest. Most of the protesters went on, like me, to have good white-collar jobs.” It is easy to be nostalgic, he reckons, but “every generation must find its own 1968.”

For Gordon Coxon, who was still at school at the time, “This must have been the first big demo I’d been on. I recall marching down Oxford Street, putting anti-war stickers on to cars and shop windows. It had certainly kicked off by the time we got to the square. It was quite scary being caught up in the crush. I actually fainted. May ’68 had a big impact on the outlook of many of my generation, and on the political culture we inhabited,” he feels. But then, he wonders, “What do I know? I ploughed my way through my Marcuse along with the best of them, [but] pretty soon after I was living in a commune in south London, consuming large quantities of pot and playing drums in a rock band. Then came the hallucinogens – and the world really changed.”



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