Wednesday, 11 August 2010

A great man Jimmy Reid has passed away

What a horrible start to my day to wake up to the news that the great Jimmy Reid has died overnight. For anyone who doesn't know he was the UCS shop steward who, along with Jimmy Airlie and Sammy Barr, led the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Work-in in the early 70s. It wasn't a strike, it wasn't a sit in, it was a WORK in. The yards were facing closure but he was determined that they would finish the orders they currently had and demonstrate the validity of the upper Clyde.

The company had gone into liquidation and Ted Heath's Tory government refused to loan them money which could have saved the yards and thousands of jobs. Clyde shipbuilding had a global reputation of which we can all be proud but the industry was about to collapse and Jimmy Reid was having none of it.

I "remember" it but seeing as I was 5 at the time and living in either Germany or the South of England and despite the fact that TV footage went all round the world, it's more likely that I heard so much about it in later years that I just think I remember it. Certainly the tales of Billy Connolly going to entertain the "workers-in" and John Lennon sending them a donation were legendary. And the actual impact of what he did was tremendous.

Who can forget his famous speech where he told fellow workers that the eyes of the world were on them and therefore:

"There will be no hooliganism,
"There will be no vandalism,
"And there will be no bevvying".

It was a brilliantly organised, disciplined, principled action that eventually pressurised the British Tory Government into saving two of the yards.

As a daughter of ship building town Greenock, my interest in politics started at the age of 13 in 1979 when I was in first year in high school. Every Monday morning we would sit in registration class and hear which of our friends' dads (and sometimes mums) had been made redundant from the shipyards the previous Friday. We knew what a first class reputation our yards had so it was hard to fathom why nobody would intervene - again, a Tory government was in power, this time under Thatcher. At one point there was barely anybody's parents working apart from my mum and dad who were both psychiatric nurses and for whom there was plenty of work around at that time!

I think what's most upsetting about Jimmy Reid passing away is that we have lost someone with rare qualities in public life. I believe he did what he did purely because he believed it to be right. There are many who do similar today but how many do it purely for that reason? In all the times I met him I never once sensed an ego at play. I know many good politicians and trade unionists who do a great job but they still like to hear that they've made a great speech or they're loved and appreciated. (I try my best but I can't totally exclude myself from that description sadly.) I really never got that from him. He was a lovely, down to earth, principled man who didn't look for special treatment or ego stroking, he just did what he believed to be right.

And of course I was very proud that he chose some years back to join the SNP. I think it finally put paid to the lie that you couldn't be a socialist and be in the SNP. For those of us with left leaning tendencies and a commitment to international co-operation, it was a great day when someone of his stature became one of us.

Jimmy Reid will be missed by many, not least of course his wife Joan and his three daughters. He will be missed by the trade union movement, by political activists and by his country - Scotland was a better country for having Jimmy Reid around.

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