words by Grace Franklin. photographs by Stuart Maxwell
Two hours of tribute to Jimmy Reid who died on 11 August were not enough. The shipyard worker who led the 1970s work-in which saved shipbuilding on the Clyde, was given a worthy send-off on Thursday 19 August at Govan Old Parish Church.
And his legacy will live on because Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond told the congregation of more than 800 which overflowed into the church yard, that Jimmy Reid’s famous address when he was installed as Rector of Glasgow University, will be sent to every school along with video and back up material.
‘I want every pupil to have the chance to listen, see and be inspired – as we were inspired,’ he said.
‘In 2000 years time people will still recognise it for the masterpiece it is.’
The speech was printed in full at the time by the New York Times which described it as the greatest speech since President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address.
His opening words were ‘Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today.’ He went on: ‘A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats, we’re human beings,’ and appealed for the rejection of the ‘insidious pressures in society that blunt your critical faculties.’
Coming so soon after the work-in where he impressed on the shipyard workers who were going to lose their jobs because of Government plans to stop shipbuilding on the Clyde, he said: ‘There will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying because the world is watching us.’
And using that memorable phrase, his wife Joan and their three daughters had printed on the order of service: ‘The family requests that during this celebration of Jimmy’s life there will be no bevvying..’
That was not the only humour on the poignant day. Billy Connolly who said he was ‘ten years younger’ than Jimmy who was 78 when he died, admitted spending ‘many happy hours with Jimmy. Smoking, drinking and talking nonsense.’
Opening his speech, Billy Connolly said he was in deep trouble because: ‘everyone before me has spoken for a fortnight. I’ve only got a quick word.’ He then regaled the audience with stories of the shipyards when he was a tea boy to Willie McInnes and drew a colourful word picture of life in the yards at that time. ‘I loved Jimmy,’ said Billy with real emotion. ‘I’m going to miss him terribly.’
He went on: ‘He put complex things so beautifully simply that it knocked me back. His powers of observation and his love of fairness were simply amazing.’
Quoting actor John Sessions, Billy said: ‘So dies one great example of a Scot of working class character, verve, intellect and grace.’
From his trade union background, Bob Thomson of the Scottish Left Review and Jimmy Cloughley, formerly both colleagues of Jimmy, paid tribute to their fallen comrade.
‘Jimmy always believed that mergers of unions would make them stronger.’ said Bob Thomson. ‘He was a campaigner, strategic thinker and eloquent speaker. Altogether a charismatic man and a true internationalist.’ Once asked which university he had gone to, Jimmy replied: ‘Govan Library.’ Critical of all political parties, Jimmy always said ‘it is the ordinary family that pays the heavy price for the politician.’ recounted Bob, a friend for nearly 50 years.
Jimmy Cloughley was one of the co-ordinating committee when Jimmy Reid was the ‘electrifying orator.’
He said: ‘Jimmy gave us inspiration and hope. It was awesome to see Jimmy and Jimmy Airlie in operation. They were pivotal to the success of the work-in.’
Setting the industrial and political scene of the 1970s he described ship yard workers as ‘industrial gypsies.’ He said there was massive unemployment, but Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) had £19 million worth of order in June 1971 taking work forward to 1974. ‘But the Government was saying NO to £6million investment of working capital. Jimmy Reid told us we should be under no illusion that closure of the shipyards would be the death knell of Upper Clyde communities; sacrificed to political dogma. He refused to accept that faceless men made these decisions and told us to conduct the work-in with ‘maturity and dignity,” remembered Jimmy Cloughley.
Sir Alex Ferguson shared his memories of Jimmy never playing football but always having books under his arm. ‘But he was a great supporter. He was a great friend of the Iona Community and helping under priviliged people was his life’s mantra. He was a man who knew where he was going. When he spoke at an annual meeting of the Football Players League he was spell binding. He left us all with a bit more belief in ourselves. It was a great moment for me and all of us in football.’
Television personality and journalist David Scott, was the master of ceremonies for the service of celebration. A close friend of Jimmy’s from the 1970s, he thanked everyone who attended – some from as far away as Indonesia. He said: ‘We have lost a true son of Scotland.’
And while there was grief: ‘Joan has lost a loving and caring husband, their three daughters have lost a doting Dad and the grandchildren have lost their Papa. I’ve lost a dear and trusted, loyal friend; there is much to celebrate. Jimmy was a trade unionist, an orator, a lecturer, raconteur and journalist among many things. Undoubtedly he is one of the great British speechmakers and his words are as relevant today as when he made them. But Scotland feels diminished by his passing.’
An earlier service has been held in Rothesay on the Island of Bute where Jimmy lived. The funeral procession then went by ferry and road to Govan where he had been brought up. Passing the BAE Systems shipyard at Govan, the workforce stood along the route to pay their respects as the cortege passed. The yard hooter sounded and the flags were at half mast. On that day, appropriately, 20 apprentices started on three year craft apprenticeships as fabricators and welders with ten as technician apprentices working in Govan and Scotstoun yards.
Said current union representative Jamie Webster: ‘This wouldn’t have happened without Jimmy Reid and Jimmy Airlie. There would be no shipbuilding here without those two incredible men. When were were going through our own struggles in recent times, Jimmy phoned me to say we were doing fine and we’d get there. That was like the seal of approval from the Messiah.’