Scotlands History

Decline of the shipyards

By the late 1950s foreign shipyards (as in Korea and Japan) were more competitive than Scottish shipyards, because of huge subsidies, new construction methods and modular designs. The mid-1960s was an era of poor industrial relations and frequent strikes, making many Clydeside yards increasingly uneconomic. Harland & Wolff’s Linthouse yard closed, while Fairfield’s of Govan faced bankruptcy.

The government response was to create Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) in 1968 with around 8500 workers in five yards – Fairfield’s and Stephens on the south bank, Connel’s and Yarrow’s on the north bank, and John Brown’s at Clydebank. 

In 1971 UCS went into receivership and was refused a government loan. The unions, led by Jimmy Reid and Jimmy Airlie, organised a work-in to complete the orders in place. There were mass demonstrations and world-wide support for the campaign. ‘The government were trying to do what the Germans had failed to do in the war’, said the provost of Clydebank.

In February 1972, the Heath Government caved in and retained two yards, currently run by BAE Systems: Yarrow at Scotstoun and Fairfield’s at Govan. Both focus on technologically advanced warships. At the site of John Brown’s yard the 800-tonne Titan crane still stands as a lasting memorial to the many great liners and warships it once helped to fit out.

  • Aerial view of the Clyde shipyards, March 1957
  • Black and white aerial view of shipyards on the River Clyde
Click on the image to view a larger version.

Launch of the MV Cienfuegus in 1959

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