Saturday, November 02, 2019

A Man of the Clyde

by New Worker correspondent
Len McCluskey speaking

Jimmy Reid: A Clyde-Built Man by WWJ Knox and Alan McKinlay. Published by Liverpool University Press (2019).

Last Friday saw the launch of a new biography, authorised by his family, of Jimmy Reid: A Clyde-Built Man by WWJ Knox and Alan McKinlay, and published by Liverpool University Press for £24.95 for the paperback edition. Held at the Glasgow HQ of Unite the Union, it began with a ‘light lunch’ of steak pie with roast potatoes followed by chocolate pudding. The vegetarian option was macaroni and cheese, a very 1970s meal to commemorate the life of the leader of the 1971–72 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) work-in.
 Present-day leader of engineering union Unite Len McCluskey described Reid as a “working class hero” who inspired him in his youth and compared his speech on his becoming rector of Glasgow University as being like the Gettysburg Address. One of the two authors described Reid as being one of many “Philosophers in Overalls” on the Clyde. Knox said that Reid’s political life was a “life in three acts”. That indeed was true. Soon after the work-in that was successful in saving some shipyards, albeit at the expense of others, Reid rapidly went downhill.
Jimmy Reid’s leading role in the workers’ occupation of the Clyde shipyards threatened with closure made him a national figure during the UCS “work-in”. Backed by other unions at home and abroad, the UCS workers were publicly backed by famed Scottish comic Billy Connolly and the former Beatle, John Lennon. Reid was a leading member of the old Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and he soon achieved iconic status in the party led by a fellow Scot, John Gollan.
But Reid’s fame was illusory. His hopes of entering parliament on the CPGB ticket were dashed at the general election of February 1974. Although he did get 14.6 per cent of the vote, the best communist vote for years, he predictably lost to the sitting Labour candidate. His support plummeted at the second snap poll in the autumn of the same year.
In 1975 he left the CPGB to seek his fortune in the Labour Party, which only the previous year he described as “Falangists”. A career in print and broadcast journalism followed. He wrote for the {Glasgow Herald, The Scotsman}, the {Daily Mirror} and tellingly, the {Sun} when it was a rabidly Thatcherite Tory rag.
During the 1984–85 miners’ strike he launched a vicious attack on Arthur Scargill in the Tory {Spectator} magazine at the behest of the Labour leader Neil Kinnock, who wanted his own hands kept clean. A former comrade, Scottish miners’ leader Mick McGahey, somewhat aptly called him “the broken Reid”.
Some charitable souls suggested that Reid was simply desperate for cash to acquire the vast quantities of a noted Scottish beverage that had long been a feature of his life. Soon after Tony Blair came to power he urged support for the Scottish Socialist Party in the first Scottish Parliament elections, but he soon found a home in the Scottish National Party (SNP). He died in 2010 and he is remembered in the Jimmy Reid Foundation, the publisher of the {Scottish Left Review}, a journal of the left in Scotland.

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