Jimmy Reid 1932-2010: The best MP Scotland never had
by Craig McDonald and Tom Hamilton
Daily Record (UK)
August 11, 2010
He beat the Tory axemen and saved a Scottish way of life -
at least for a while.
And in the process, Jimmy Reid, who has died aged 78, became
a folk hero to workers worldwide.
Reid was a Clydesider, a shipbuilder, a union man, a leader,
a communist, a self-taught intellectual, a journalist, a
husband, a dad and a grandad.
Pundits called him "the best MP Scotland never had".
But perhaps above all, Reid was a man who understood that
there is far more to working life than making profits for
He understood that Glasgow's shipyards were the city's
backbone, and he knew how to win the battle to defend them.
"We don't only build ships on the Clyde," he told the
workers of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1971 as they began
the long fight to save their jobs. "We build men."
To Edward Heath's Tory Government, only one thing about the
five UCS yards - John Brown, Charles Connell, Fairfield,
Alexander Stephen and Yarrow - that mattered. They weren't
making money, so they had to close.
While other countries were spending millions preserving
their vital shipbuilding industries, Heath was content to
let the five Clyde yards - and at least 6000 of their 8500
workers - sink or swim.
But Reid - and his fellow union leaders Jimmy Airlie and
Sammy Barr - had other ideas.
They understood that if they went out on strike, the Tories
would simply shut the yard gates behind them.
But they wouldn't take redundancy either. They would "work
in" - filling every order on their books. They would prove
they could still build great ships and show the Government
that their yards had a future.
Reid's speech announcing the work-in was broadcast around
the world, and few who heard it ever forgot it.
He told the workers: "We are taking over the yards because
we refuse to accept that faceless men can make these
"We are not going to strike. We are not even having a sit-in
"Nobody and nothing will come in and nothing will go out
without our permission.
"And there will be no hooliganism, there will be no
vandalism, there will be no bevvying, because the world is
The men bought into the idea, working on for 14 long months
as their city rallied round them.
Kids held fundraising sales on street corners, hard-up old
folk gave money from their pensions and thousands marched to
Glasgow Green to show their support.
Reid once said: "Believe it or not, we got regular
contributions from a Conservative constituency that thought
the Government were wrong.
"The money poured in - and then from abroad, all over
Former shipyard worker Billy Connolly gave his backing. And
even Beatles legend John Lennon got involved, sending a
£5000 cheque stuck to a huge wheel of red roses.
Reid was bemused - no one had ever sent him flowers before.
Because the first name was obscured, he told his colleagues
the cheque was from "some bloke called Lennon", and a
grizzled, old, shop steward from Dumbarton replied: "It
cannae be Lenin. He's dead."
Four hundred miles away in Downing Street, the pressure on
Heath intensified as the Clyde men kept the work-in going.
And when the climbdown came, it could hardly have been more
Heath was forced to announce £35million in support for yards
he had branded lame ducks.
Two of the yards were saved and a third was sold as a going
concern. And within three years, shipbuilding on the Upper
Clyde had received around £101million in public grants and
It was Jimmy Reid's finest hour. The boy from Govan had
bloodied the nose of the Establishment.
A career in politics beckoned. And when he fought the
Dunbartonshire Central seat for the Communist Party in 1974,
he polled an impressive 6000 votes but failed to win. So
Reid went back to his roots, working as an engineer and shop
steward at the Marathon yard in Clydebank.
In 1976, he caused a sensation by leaving the Communist
Party. He was still a Marxist and a socialist, but he was
tired of the "dogmatism" of the party he had supported all
Reid joined Labour in 1979 and tried again to reach
Westminster, this time losing to SNP leader Gordon Wilson in
Despite not having the letters "MP" after his name, Reid
remained a major political figure in Scotland in the years
But many believe he made his greatest speech back in 1971,
when he was elected rector of Glasgow University.
In the stirring language that made him famous, Reid told the
students to reject individualism and greed - and remember
their common humanity.
He said: "A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're
"Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt
your critical faculties to all that is happening around you,
that would caution silence in the face of injustice, lest
you jeopardise your chances of self-promotion and self-
"This is how it starts. And before you know where you are,
you're a fully paid-up member of the rat pack.
"The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity
and human spirit.
"Or as Christ puts it, 'What does it profit a man if he
gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?'"
Many in modern Britain would say the speech was 40 years
ahead of its time.
The New York Times printed it in full, and described it as
the greatest since Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
Reid's childhood, and the harsh lessons it taught him,
shaped his life and career.
One of his first big campaigns, a drive for higher pensions
in the 50s, was inspired by the hardships endured by his
"The effect she had on me was most profound," Reid once
"When I was involved in my first campaign which became
public - the fight for a decent wage for the apprentices -
my mother encouraged me.
"I regret that she didn't have a better chance for herself.
"Even holidays were hard work for her. We could never afford
a hotel or boarding house so we took a room and kitchen at
Saltcoats. All it was for her was a change of sink."
In his later years, Reid used his natural eloquence and
intellect to become a respected journalist.
He wrote columns for the Daily Record, the Daily Mirror, The
Herald and The Scotsman, and hosted a chatshow, the Reid
Report, on Grampian TV.
And in 1984, he wrote and hosted a series of BAFTA-winning
documentaries on the Soviet Union, Reid About the USSR.
Reid's political journey continued in 1997, when his
disillusionment with Tony Blair's New Labour led to his
resignation from the party.
He gave his support to the SNP, joining the party in 2005.
Reid suffered a suspected stroke in 2002 and his last years
were blighted by ill-health.
He retired to Rothesay, where he suffered a brain
haemorrhage this week. He passed away at Inverclyde Royal
Hospital in Greenock on Tuesday night.
Reid leaves wife Joan, daughters Eileen, Shona and Julie,
and three grandchildren.
The shipbuilding industry he fought so hard to defend is now
a shadow of its former self. The money men got their way in
But Reid never doubted that the UCS work-in was right.
"We were victorious," he said.
"We saved thousands of jobs, guaranteeing years and years of
employment in the yards and other industries. There were
benefits for thousands of families."
How he rallied the troops
We are taking over the yards because we refuse to accept
that faceless men can make these decisions.
We are not going to strike. We are not even having a sit-in
Nobody and nothing will come in and nothing will go out
without our permission.
There will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism,
there will be no bevvying, because the world is watching us.
Jimmy Reid, 1971
blog posts from the Aberdeen-Mad site, the unofficial Dons
site (Aberdeen Dons football (soccer) team)
was looking on YouTube for his 'Work In' speech but canna
"We are not going to strike. We are not even having a sit in
"Nobody and nothing will come in and nothing will go
out without our permission.
"And there will be no hooliganism.
"There will be no vandalism.
"There will be no bevvying.
"Because the world is watching us."
R.I.P. Jimmy. You were inspirational - "He told the truth,
often at great cost to himself."
"NOBODY had ever sent Communist shipyard union leader Jimmy
Reid a bouquet before.
A voice shouted: "Hey Jimmy you've got a big wagon wheel of
roses for you."
Reid recalled: "I'd never received flowers from anybody -
not the done thing in Clydeside for a man to get flowers and
so I said: "Who's it from?"
He said: "I don't know but there's a cheque here."
He looked and all he could see was Lennon, L-e-n-n-o-n.
He said: "Lennon, some guy called Lennon".
One of the old communist shop stewards, from Dumbarton,
said: "It cannae be Lenin, he's dead".
It turned out the wagon wheel of red roses was actually from
the Beatle John Lennon.
And tied to the flowers was indeed a huge cheque sent in
support the actions of the workers at Upper Clyde
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