Jimmy Reid: A working-class hero and the saviour of Clyde yards

A bouquet of red roses was a rare delivery to the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. Addressed to Jimmy Reid, the union shop steward, the blooms were accompanied by a cheque for £5,000.

The conversation was overheard by one of the old communist shop stewards who replied: "It cannae be Lenin. He's dead."

The former Beatle was not alone in supporting the workers. Reid and his colleagues took particular pride in the number of Conservative associations who sent regular donations in protest against their party's action.

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Upper Clyde Shipbuilders was formed in 1968 from the amalgamation of five major firms including Fairfields in Govan and John Brown in Clydebank. Labour had pumped 20 million into the yards which were losing money, but the new Conservative government led by Ted Heath refused in the summer of 1971 to continue funding what they classified as "lame duck" assets which were 28 million in debt. Over 6,000 jobs were threatened by the yards' closure, but instead of going on strike, Reid and his fellow shop-stewards persuaded the staff to stage a "work-in", take charge of the yards and complete the existing orders for 13 ships.

As Reid declared: "We are not wildcats. We want to work. The real wildcats are in Number 10 Downing Street. We don't only build ships on the Clyde, we build men. They have taken on the wrong people and we will fight."

After 14 months, Mr Heath was forced to make a humiliating climbdown and announced 35m for the yards at Govan, Scotstoun and Linthouse. Within a further three years, shipbuilding on the Clyde had received about 101m of public grants.

The legacy of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders' "work-in" can be seen today in naval ships still built on the Clyde at BAE Systems, according to Ian Tasker, the assistant secretary of the STUC.

"Of course, shipbuilding has fallen, but they made the case for retaining shipbuilding and if that work-in had not taken place we could not have had shipbuilding on the Clyde at all today," he said.

"Had they lost control of the yard, it would have hastened the closure," said Mr Tasker.

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