Jimmy Reid: Scottish Socialist

“I believe in socialism. I believe it will become abundantly clear that globalisation driven by multi-national corporations will be a disaster. I think there will be a resurrection of the idea of socialism…”

R.I.P Jimmy Reid. You will be sadly missed. One of the fascinating things about his political life was his movement from Communist to Labour to nationalist and the republican path this represents. It’s something none of the commentators and ‘tributes’ have focused on as it doesn’t fit the narrative they are creating that is basically to keep Reid firmly as a historical character, an anomaly and to concentrate on his individual character and to repeat the comical ‘no bevvying’ quote – keeping it al light, jokey-Jocks style. If they do mention his shift to supporting independence for Scotland it’s in passing and normally used as an example of his political views mellowing or of the failure of socialism, for as we all know in Scotland, Socialism=Labour.

The audio’s not great on this but it’s worth listening to…

Gregor Gall puts his life-work in perspective in the Guardian:

“Reid had the kind of political imagination, flair and charisma which is sorely needed today as the now shrunken left faces up to the task of whether it can create an effective “coalition of resistance” against the coalition government’s cuts and privatisation programme. Reid secured his place in the pantheon of popular revolts because, along with fellow Communist party members and fellow travellers such as Jimmy Airlie and Sammy Barr, he led not only one of the most important postwar struggles but one which did not end in glorious defeat.

Instead, the revolt ended after 18 months of hard struggle in a stunning victory with the nationalisation of the yards. This was one of the first nails in Edward Heath‘s political coffin, as he became a lame duck prime minister who was forced to make umpteen U-turns.

The success and significance of the Upper Clyde shipbuilders’ struggle was threefold. First, faced with redundancy and closure, there was an innovation in tactics. The action was not a strike that put the workers outside the gates. Instead, the work-in maintained control of the yards, the half-built ships and equipment by occupying them. The work-in was also a challenge to the employers and government by continuing the building of the ships. The workers showed they could not be categorised as mindless militants or layabouts.

Second, the campaign did not just confine itself to the yards or other workplaces. While there was a mass sympathy strike, the campaign garnered support throughout communities becoming a movement as the ramifications of closure sunk in. These communities demonstrated this solidarity and self-interest in huge public marches showing the campaign had built a robust alliance of workers and citizens.

Third, there was the language and discourse of the work-in. While the campaign could have easily and explicitly latched itself onto the heritage of “Red Clydeside”, instead it deployed other resources. One was that shipbuilding was an iconic industry in the west of Scotland. It was said that men too were built in the yards. This was fully utilised as was the emerging shape of progressive Scottish national identity, whereby the sense of a grievance being done to the whole of Scotland was disseminated.

Reid is acknowledged as the leading architect of these strategies and tactics. He helps provide the left with valuable lessons for today if they want the credibility and respect that is needed to create and lead mass struggles.”

Read the full piece here (including pitiful after-comments): http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/11/jimmy-reid-true-radical-giant

Read Kenneth Roy on Jimmy Reid: http://www.scottishreview.net/KRoy5.shtml

Hat-tip to Pat Kane for this link: http://theplayethic.typepad.com/JimmyReidNYT1972.pdf

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  1. bellacaledonia says:

    Re-reading this piece by Peter Kravitz on ‘a culture of failure’ [http://www.variant.org.uk/13texts/Peter_Kravitz.html ] reminds me of why Jimmy Reid was significant, he was a success, a Scottish success for the labour movement before it was broken by Thatcher and defiled by Labour.

  2. bellacaledonia says:

    Charles Woolfson, author of ‘The Politics of Upper Clyde Shipbuilder’s Work-in: Class Alliances and the Right to Work’ has written:

    ‘In his day Jimmy Reid was a towering figure epitomizing working-class determination in a crucial struggle to achieve social and economic justice, and for this alone he deserves an honorable place in the history of the labour movement, whatever the subsequent twists and turns of personal biography and ideology. Few individuals who have led such struggles have left a wholly uncontested legacy, and Jimmy Reid was no exception. It is our collective responsibility to identify in the contribution of each one of us, the forward movement and the positive elements that have enduring significance and worth. Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in was a victory for the working people of Clydeside and of Britain, one of precious few, and all the more important for that reason. Jimmy Reid played a pivotal role in achieving that victory.’

  3. Dave McKay says:

    “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?'”

    RIP Jimmy Reid.

  4. bellacaledonia says:

    STV have added an extract from his Memorial Address here:

    http://video.stv.tv/bc/news-100820-reidfuneral/

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