12 August 2010

Jimmy Reid

You may have read that Jimmy Reid died yesterday. Who was Jimmy Reid? If you’re from Scotland and my era, you wouldn’t ask that question.

Jimmy Reid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimmy_Reid) was a celebrated shop steward who led his union workers in an infamous fight against the then Prime Minister, Ted Heath. Heath wanted to stop subsidising the Clyde shipyards with government, i.e. public, money and close them down. Instead of going on strike, Reid led a work-in at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and proved that it was inefficient management, not the workers, who were making the construction and cost of ships, built on the Clyde, prohibitive. Heath backed down and the rest, as they say, is history.

I remember going down to the shipyards when I was a boy. Long before safety smothered everything you do, I would go into the yard with my cousin and watch the men hammer in red hot rivets to hold the plates of steel together. I would stand no more than a couple of feet away, surrounded by manufacturing chaos and watch in awe as the red hot rivets were delivered to the riveters and I would talk and joke with the workers - possibly even Billy Connolly who worked there in those days. Today, that would just not be allowed, no matter how interested you claimed to be.

At the time, Reid was castigated as a Communist and indeed he was a member of the Communist party and so was my pal, Eddie.

Not long after I joined the blue suited, white collared world of IBM, Eddie said he was going out on the Saturday and did I fancy going with him. I turned up at a hall in Springburn, Glasgow to find that it was a meeting of the Communist Party! I sat in the gallery watching the meeting desperately worried that on that particular day, MI5, who regularly attended and secretly filmed the meetings, would ignore me – the thought of my bosses in the ultra-capitalist IBM, finding out I was attending Communist party meetings was just too difficult to comprehend.

After the meeting finished, off they all trooped off to the Trades Union Halls just over the Clyde and had a real shindig running well into the evening. I never met Jimmy Reid but I was introduced to  Mick McGahey the infamous union official who made Reid seem like a pussycat. As I shook his hand somebody took a photo and for the second time that day, I thought my hoped-for career in IBM would be doomed before it had even started.

Maybe I am in an MI5 file somewhere but if I am, it didn’t seem to do me any harm.

Jimmy Reid – R.I.P.   

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