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Jimmy Reid 1932-2010: The best MP Scotland never had


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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 shareholders.
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 decisions.
"We are not going to strike. We are not even having a sit-in strike.
"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."
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 Europe."
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 humiliating.
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 credits.
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 his life.
Reid joined Labour in 1979 and tried again to reach Westminster, this time losing to SNP leader Gordon Wilson in Dundee East.
Despite not having the letters "MP" after his name, Reid remained a major political figure in Scotland in the years that followed.
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 human beings.
"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-advancement.
"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 mother.
"The effect she had on me was most profound," Reid once said.
"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.


http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/editors-choice/2010/08/11/obituary-jimmy-reid-86908-22479995/


Added: Aug-13-2010 
By: englishresistance
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Tags: Jimmy, Reid, trade, union, communist, socialist, Britain, Scotland, labour, worker, strike
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