Scotlands History

Jimmy Reid (1932 - 2010)

Jimmy Reid, seen by many as a true working class hero, was born in Govan, Glasgow, into a large family, which suffered deeply from the unemployment crisis of the 1930s. He left school at 14 to work as a delivery boy before becoming a clerk with a Glasgow stockbroker's firm.

By this time he had already developed a strong interest in politics and in the labour movement that was flourishing on Clydeside. Reid soon joined the Labour League of Youth, and over the coming years rose to international prominence as a trade union leader. His charismatic personality and fiery oratory made him a familiar and popular figure.

The Labour party did not satisfy Reid's radical principles for long, and he joined the Young Communist League. After taking up an engineering apprenticeship with Bristol Polar Engines in Govan, he came to the attention of national trade unions by organising an apprentices' strike in 1951. By the following year Reid was National Chairman of the Young Communist League.

The UCS work-in

While Reid was working as a fitter in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) and serving as a local councillor in Clydebank, the Conservative government under Ted Heath commissioned a damning report recommending liquidation of the UCS and consequent loss of jobs. In the industrial action that ensued, Jimmy Reid emerged as a hugely inspiring leader.

A 'work-in' won massive popular support and propelled Reid to national recognition as a political force to reckon with. Heath was finally forced to admit defeat and the UCS was reprieved for a number of years during which it filled its order books with oil-related construction work and the building of warships.

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In 1976 Reid renounced communist politics and became an author, journalist and broadcaster. He was famously elected Rector of Glasgow University in 1972, where he delivered his world famous Rectorial address. Reid remained a shrewd and witty observer of the political scene not only in Scotland but also across the world.

  • A photo of Jimmy Reid addressing shipyard workers
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Jimmy Reid's Rectorial address

The video below is an extract from Jimmy Reid's famous Rectorial address given to students at the University of Glasgow in 1972. You can download the whole speech as a PDF, which is published here with the kind permission of Archive Services, University of Glasgow.

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Jimmy Reid - Pride of the Clyde

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A black and white aerial view of the Clyde shipyards, March 1957

The decline of the Clydeside shipyards

By the late 1950s foreign shipyards were more competitive than Scottish shipyards, because of huge subsidies, new construction methods and modular designs.