Jimmy Reid

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

James Reid (9 July 1932 – 10 August 2010) was a Scottish trade union activist, orator, politician and journalist born in Govan, Glasgow. His role as spokesman and one of the leaders in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in between June 1971 and October 1972 attracted international recognition. He later served as Rector of the University of Glasgow and subsequently became a journalist and broadcaster. Formerly a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Reid was later a Labour Party member. After supporting the Scottish Socialist Party in the late 1990s, he joined the Scottish National Party in 2005 and fully supported Scottish independence.[1] He died in 2010 after a long illness.[1]

Early life[edit]

Reid was born in Govan, Glasgow, then a major British shipbuilding centre. In his youth, Reid joined the Young Communist League and was later a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. He was involved in organising a major apprentices' strike at the Clyde shipyards in 1951.[2]

Union career[edit]

Reid came to prominence in the early 1970s, when he led the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in to try to stop Edward Heath's Conservative government from closing down the shipyards on the River Clyde.[3] The government had decided that the shipyards should operate without state subsidy, which would have resulted in at least six thousand job losses.[3] An engineer by trade and shop steward of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, Reid, along with his colleagues Jimmy Airlie, Sammy Gilmore and Sammy Barr,[3] decided that the best way to show the viability of keeping the yards open was by staging a 'work-in' rather than by going on strike.[3] This meant that the workers would continue to complete what orders the shipyard had until the government changed policy.[3]

In a famous speech given to the workers, Reid announced the beginning of workers' control of the shipyard and insisted on self-discipline while this was in force:

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, and it is our responsibility to conduct ourselves with responsibility, and with dignity, and with maturity.

The occupation received support from across the world, with a series of fundraising events and foreign unions, celebrities (such as John Lennon and Billy Connolly) and members of the public providing donations.[3] The campaign was successful in persuading Heath to back down the following year, and the Clyde shipyards received £101 million in public support over the next three years.[3]

Political career[edit]

CPGB years[edit]

He was elected as a Communist councillor in Clydebank, where, prior to the local government reform of the mid-1970s, there were a few Communist councillors. He stood for the Communist Party of Great Britain in East Dunbartonshire in the 1970 general election.

Reid also served as Rector of the University of Glasgow, elected in 1971, largely on the back of his union activities. When installed as Rector, he gave a critically acclaimed speech, which became known as "the rat-race speech".[4] The New York Times printed the speech in full and described it as "the greatest speech since President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address".[5][6][7]

Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. 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 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 put it, "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?"[8]

In the February 1974 general election, Reid stood for the Communist Party in Central Dunbartonshire, which was dominated by the town of Clydebank, against sitting Labour member Hugh McCartney. He got 14.6% of the vote, the best result for a Communist Party candidate in Britain for some time, but it seemed like a disappointment, as some thought he might win. It was a controversial campaign; the ballot paper described him as "Engineering Worker," which some thought was disguising his Communist identity.[citation needed] One Roman Catholic priest gave a sermon advising his parishioners only to vote for candidates whose beliefs were consistent with Christian principles. In his speech at the count, Reid described his opponents as "Falangists," in reference to their perceived Catholic nationalism. He stood again in October 1974, when his vote was down to 8.7%.

Leaving the CPGB for Labour and journalism[edit]

Around 1975, Reid left the Communist Party. The breakaway Scottish Labour Party considered recruiting him, but its leader Jim Sillars said: "If we have that chap in he'll be taking time away from me on the box".[9]

About a year after he left the CP, Reid joined the Labour Party. He was their candidate in Dundee East in 1979, but lost to then Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Gordon Wilson.[3] The decision by Dundee East Constituency Labour Party to select him as their candidate was controversial, as he had been a party member for less than the two years normally expected. He is sometimes referred to as "the best MP Scotland never had".

Reid then became a journalist and broadcaster,[3] writing opinion columns for various newspapers, including The Daily Mirror, The Herald, The Sun and The Scotsman. He also presented a chat-show called the Reid Report for Grampian Television. In 1984, he wrote and presented a series of documentaries entitled Reid About the USSR, when his previous status within the Communist Party gave him unprecedented access and resulted in two BAFTA awards.[3] In 2000, he helped establish the Scottish Left Review, a bi-monthly publication. He also wrote an "As I Please" column in Tribune, emulating George Orwell.

During the UK miners' strike (1984–1985), Reid was highly critical of the strike and its leader Arthur Scargill in his newspaper column. Reid argued that the working miners could not properly be referred to as strikebreakers, as no national ballot was held and no local ballot had passed a resolution to strike. He said on the matter:

A scab is someone who participates in a vote in which the majority are for taking strike action and then refuses to honour the decision. If you are denied the right to vote it is impossible to be a scab.[10]

Reid's stance led to his coming under strong criticism from many former supporters in the Labour movement; he was described by Mick McGahey as "Broken Reid".[11]

Leaving Labour for the SNP[edit]

Reid continued to support Labour up until the 1997 General Election, but thereafter became disillusioned with the New Labour phenomenon. In 1998, he urged people to support the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in the first elections to the new Scottish parliament.[12] In the 2004 SNP leadership contest, he urged SNP members to support Alex Salmond for leader and Nicola Sturgeon for deputy leader, and he joined the party in the following year.[3][13]

In 2007, a play by the writer Brian McGeachan about Reid's life was performed. Entitled From Govan to Gettysburg, it starred John Cairney and toured as part of Jimmy Reid's 75th birthday celebrations.

Later life[edit]

Reid retired to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute.[7][14] On 10 August 2010, Reid died at Inverclyde Royal Hospital.[7][14] He had suffered a brain haemorrhage earlier in the week and had been in poor health for a number of years.[3][15]

After a private service in Rothesay, his hearse was driven into Glasgow for a secular funeral service at the Govan Old Parish Church on 19 August. The cortege passed the BAE Systems Surface Ships yard in Govan, one of the Shipyards saved after the collapse of UCS, where hundreds of workers had gathered outside in tribute. The funeral service at Govan Old was attended by notable figures including Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown, Alex Salmond, Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Billy Connolly.

He was survived by his wife Joan, three daughters and three granddaughters, one of whom, Joani Reid is a Labour Party Councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham.[3]

The left-wing think tank and advocacy group, the Jimmy Reid Foundation, was established in his memory by the Editorial Board of the Scottish Left Review.[16]


  • Jimmy Reid. Reflections of a Clyde-built Man (Souvenir Press); ISBN 978-0-285-64824-1


  1. ^ a b "Shipyard union leader Jimmy Reid dies – BBC News". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  2. ^ "Jimmy Reid (1932–2010)". Scotland's History. Education Scotland. Archived from the original on 18 May 2014. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Shipyard union leader Jimmy Reid dies". BBC News. 11 August 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  4. ^ Reid, James (28 April 1972). "Alienation" (PDF). University of Glasgow Publications. Retrieved 5 September 2011. Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society. In some intellectual circles it is treated almost as a new phenomenon. It has, however, been with us for years. What I believe is true is that today it is more widespread, more pervasive than ever before. Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It's the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.
  5. ^ Gray, Rebecca; Paterson, Stewart; Murray, Graeme (12 August 2010). "Jimmy Reid Tributes: A working class hero". EveningTimes.co.uk. Herald & Times Group. Retrieved 12 August 2010. In 1972, Reid was installed as rector of the University of Glasgow. On his installation day he gave a memorable address, which became known as the "rat-race" speech. It was printed in full in the New York Times which hailed it 'the greatest speech since President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address'.
  6. ^ Stephen McGinty (12 August 2010). "Jimmy Reid: A leader of men who took on the system ... and won". Scotsman.com. Johnston Press Digital Publishing. Retrieved 12 August 2010. Jimmy Reid, the trade union icon who helped to save an industry and, in a speech described by The New York Times as comparable with The Gettysburg Address, declared that the rat race "was for rats"...
  7. ^ a b c Brian Wilson (11 August 2010). "Jimmy Reid obituary". Guardian.co.uk. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 12 August 2010. When, in the wake of the UCS triumph, as he swept into the elected rectorship of Glasgow University, his rectorial address was printed in its entirety by the New York Times, which compared it favourably to the speeches of Abraham Lincoln.
  8. ^ "Man is a social being. Real fulfilment for any person lies in service to his fellow men and women". heraldscotland.com. Herald & Times Group. 13 August 2010. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
  9. ^ H.M.Drucker Breakaway: The Scottish Labour Party Edinburgh: EUSPB (1977)
  10. ^ Amos, David (December 2011). "The Nottinghamshire miners, the Union of Democratic Mineworkers and the 1984-85 miners strike: scabs or scapegoats?" (PDF). University of Nottingham. p. 294. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  11. ^ Brian Wilson (11 August 2010). "Jimmy Reid obituary". Guardian.co.uk. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 12 August 2010. However, his bitter criticism of the conduct of the miners' strike of 1984–85 and the leadership of Arthur Scargill was regarded by many of his old comrades as an apostasy too far. Mick McGahey branded him "Broken Reid".
  12. ^ "Jimmy Reid, Stalinist union leader who betrayed Scottish shipyard struggle, dies at 78 – World Socialist Web Site". Wsws.org. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  13. ^ "Union stalwart Reid backs the SNP". BBC News. 20 April 2005. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  14. ^ a b McDonald, Craig; Hamilton, Tom (11 August 2010). "Jimmy Reid 1932–2010: The best MP Scotland never had". dailyrecord.co.uk. Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail Ltd. Retrieved 19 August 2010. He retired to Rothesay, where he suffered a brain haemorrhage this week. He passed away at Inverclyde Royal Hospital in Greenock on Tuesday night.
  15. ^ "Union chief Jimmy Reid suffers stroke". BBC News. 18 September 2002. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  16. ^ "About Us – The Jimmy Reid Foundation". Retrieved 30 June 2013.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by
John Moss
National Secretary of the Young Communist League
Succeeded by
Barney Davis
Preceded by
Gordon McLennan
Secretary of the Scottish District of the Communist Party of Great Britain
Succeeded by
Alex Murray
Academic offices
Preceded by
George MacLeod
Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by
Arthur Montford