Mostly unknown on these shores, the late Jimmy Reid was a heroic Scottish union leader who came to international prominence in the early 1970s when he led the famous “work-in” of thousands of shipbuilders, in the process thwarting government efforts to close the profitable shipyards of the Upper Clyde river. The “work-in” was not a strike, the workers actually continued to do their jobs. If the shipyards were to lose their government loan, over 6000 jobs would have been lost. In a speech to the workers, Reid, a member of the Communist party, laid out the plan:
“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.”
Reid’s principled leadership was essential in gaining the support of the majority of Glasgow’s residents. A demonstration in support of the union saw 80,000 people march through the city. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were amongst those who donated to the cause of the workers, giving £5,000, which was a substantial amount of money at the time. Reid and the shipbuilders won, and the Edward Heath government backed off on cutting the shipyard’s subsidies.
Another speech, one Reid made to students as rector of Glasgow University on “rejecting the rat race,” is a legendary piece of rabble-raising oratory. The New York Times printed the speech in full and declared it to be on par with the Gettysburg Address. It’s been republished lately in several British papers (here from The Independent) on the occasion of Reid’s death on August 10th and the memorial service held for him today. I highly recommend reading it. It’s surely as relevant today as it was when he first spoke these words. Fans of great writing and speechification, take note, you’ve not heard these thoughts expressed in quite this same way ever before and these words will move you and stay with you for a long time. Seriously, considering the shape the economies of the West are in and what this shitstorm has meant for the common and uncommon man alike, I think this should be considered MANDATORY READING right about now.
I can vividly recall listening to a BBC radio broadcast in 1983, during the apocalyptic miner’s strike going in Britain at the time. I was sitting in the sunny backyard garden of a squat where I lived in the Brixton area of south London. Jimmy Reid was the main guest. It was thrilling for me, as an American, to hear someone say such… Communistic things on the radio. One of the other people who lived there, a Scot himself, made a big deal of it and bought some beers and rolled some joints, insisting that I listen with him in quiet contemplation of what the heroic Jimmy Reid had to say. I was glad I listened and you’ll be glad, too, if you click here and read the entirety of Reid’s “rat race” speech yourself.
Here is an excerpt from Jimmy Reid’s famous speech. It’s a pity it’s not on YouTube, but there is a clip of a young Reid in his fiesty prime embedded below.
To the students [of Glasgow University] I address this appeal. Reject these attitudes. 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?”
Still irresistible, a working-class hero’s finest speech (The Independent)
Final farewell for Glasgow shipyard leader Jimmy Reid (includes video of comedian Billy Connolly’s eulogy and additional links to more reporting on Reid’s life) (BBC News)
Another winner today suggested by Paul Gallagher