I spent part of the last transit of Saturn through Virgo (1979-1981) in London, where I was a student and held a variety of odd jobs under the table because I didn’t have a work permit.
Rebuffing opportunities to join London’s ubiquitous sex trade, I was able to eke out an existence without turning tricks by laboring as a barmaid, a nanny, and a word processor. In fact, one owner of an office-temp agency seemed genuinely surprised that I would rather type up the specs for an architectural project for 5 quid an hour than make a quick tenner performing a sex act.
Another place I toiled was a consulting firm that was conducting a study on the fallout of the deindustrialization of the North of England. British readers may recall how the value of sterling soared in 1980 and then plummeted in 1981, as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Bank of England sought to rein in inflation. The rising pound helped drive industry out of Britain to lower-cost destinations because it made wages expensive relative to other places in the world. Britain’s trade unions are notoriously resistant to change, which may have accelerated the exodus of jobs.
I remember a cartoon in one of the British papers in 1981 had a man dressed up as a robot going off to work. When his wife asks what he’s doing, he replies, “I don’t want to get the sack at Leyland,” a British carmaker that was investing in robots for its assembly line.
Ever seen The Italian Job with Michael Caine? Besides Caine, the stars of the 1969 film are Austin Mini Coopers. The sun was already setting on British industry by the late 1960s, but there was a time when Made in Britain was synonymous with quality and craftsmanship. It still is for the newly rich Chinese and Indians who are buying Bentleys.
Back when I was in London, sheikhs who’d gotten rich from the oil shock of 1979 were fond of taking their entourage to shop at Harrods. These days, it’s the Russian oligarchs who are enjoying the best that Britain has to offer, even to the point of buying soccer teams, the way that Roman Abramovich has with the Chelsea Football Club.
Owning a football club is the ultimate status symbol in England. As Britain has surrendered its hegemony in world politics and its manufacturing prowess, the pride of its citizens is firmly fixed on the one arena where the country is still a dominant player — soccer. Of course, finance, literature, theater, and music are other sectors where Britannia often rules.
Back when Russia was still in the iron grip of communism and a command economy, Saturn in Virgo was decimating the working class in the U.K. This helped fuel the punk rock movement, whose martyrs were Sid Vicious and his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen. Oddly enough, Vicious and Spungen died on Feb. 2, 1979, the day after a revolution installed a theocracy in Iran.
Vicious and his band the Sex Pistols mocked the British class system, with royalty at its pinnacle, in their classic God Save the Queen.
The class rage embodied in the punk cultural movement was fueled by the loss of meaningful work and loss of faith in the future. The British class system functioned efficiently, if unfairly, when there were jobs for the working class, who didn’t have much mobility in the calcified structure of Britain’s social and economic pecking order.
When I lived in London, louts and yabbos shaved their heads and went “Paki-bashing,” or beating up immigrants of color. Some of these alienated British youth called themselves “skinheads.” They preached white supremacy and formed a dangerous fringe political movement that exists to this day.
Flash forward to Upstate New York in 2008. Saturn is once again in Virgo and manufacturing jobs have been scarce for some time in the area, a trend much commented upon by blogger and author Jim Kunstler, who lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
A former college comrade who considers himself a “thinking conservative,” was recently harassed with racial epithets while riding his bike. In his blog post, he wonders why he is being called the “N” word when he’s white and why hooligans are screaming “Obama Sucks” at him.
As the London consulting firm where I worked during the summer of 1981, the study I typeset carefully documented the side effects of unemployment — alcoholism, drug addiction, and violence. Rage at not having work finds a target — whether it be “Pakis” in London, a presumed Obama supporter on a fancy bicycle in Albany, or Jews in Nazi Germany.
The dangers of the deindustrialization of America, which has been going on since the last time Saturn was in Virgo, are becoming quite apparent now that our financial and housing bubbles have burst.
Any economist can tell you that wages have been stagnant in the U.S. for years. We’ve only managed to persuade ourselves that our standard of living has been increasing by working more hours and borrowing more money. Britain’s class lines blurred a bit under Tony Blair’s Labor government, but debt was the lubricant that made mobility possible on the other side of the Atlantic.
Now that credit is drying up and the only jobs to be found for working-class Americans are at Wal-Mart or in the U.S. Army fighting an endless war on terrorism, a new generation of angry young men is starting to awaken. Will the outlet for their aggression be a new musical movement or a string of hate crimes?