Death of a Working Class Hero

Written By: - Date published: 10:49 am, August 28th, 2010 - 14 comments
Categories: class war - Tags:

200 odd years of capitalism has thrown up countless working class heroes. Most got buried in obscurity in life and by a collective amnesia in death. The education system of ‘our betters’ is partly to blame. It taught and teaches us of the establishment heroes, of the generals and the explorers who furthered the glorious civilising project of colonisation. And our popular culture seems incapable of offering us anything beyond sports stars or imaginary comic book heroes with impossible powers.

But this month the life of a real hero was marked.

Jimmy Reid was a man who you’ve probably never heard of.

Jimmy Reid is an example of the type of person we need to remember. Not for their sake. But for ours.

Some hold that the actions he helped to instigate on the Clyde shipyards were a glorious failure. And perhaps that’s the case. Perhaps if the workers back then had taken the crucial final small step and assumed full and permanent self-management of the ship yards rather than merely working the yards to force the hand of the government to keep them open, we might be living in a very different world today.

There was a famous speech he gave back in 1972. The NY Times printed it in full on its front page and compared it to the Gettysburg Address. Think about that for a second. A mainstream US newspaper likening the speech of a foreign unionist to the Gettysburg Address. And yet I’ll wager you’ve never heard of it. Let alone read it. It reads as fresh today, half a century and half a world away, as it did back then.

You should read it. And when you have done wondering at the chasm between what msm carried back then as compared to now, you might want to remember or realise a little of that human reality which sits within us all and persists despite the swirling miasma of imposed mainstream cultures and media.


14 comments on “Death of a Working Class Hero”

  1. r0b 1

    Thank you Bill.

  2. DeeDub 2

    Wow. Thanks for that.

  3. john 3

    Hi I have found this article saying Reid wasn’t quite the hero for the workers as this post says! In fact he was like many of our own Unionists won over by the boss class, but read for yourself!

    • IrishBill 3.1

      Ah yes the world socialists. A bigger bunch of “lefter than thou” types you’ll be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

      Here’s what they have to say (in the same article) about workers self-organising in cooperatives:

      “..workers seeking to continue, or even organise, their own exploitation.”

      Because according to the philosophy of the WS working to feed yourself in a capitalist society (even if you have taken control of the means of production) is an act of class treachery.

      Quoting them is like quoting the Libertarianz to prove ACT are traitors to the business class.

    • Bill 3.2

      There were sections of the authoritarian left that despised Jimmy Reid. You’ve provided a nice example of that.

      Fact is, if the authoritarian left vilify you, then you must be doing something right.

      Reid became disillusioned with ‘really existing cmmunism’ in the early 70s and left the Cmmunist Party when it was politically trendy to join…hardly a Stanilist then, eh?

      And then the authoritarian left got all upset all over again by his, as it turned out accurate assessment of Arthur Scargill and the NUM…who, incidentally has just been expelled from the NUM (link at bottom of comment beneath Reid quote.)

      “Arthur Scargill’s leadership of the miners’ strike has been a disgrace. The price to be paid for his folly will be immense. He will have destroyed the NUM as an effective fighting force within British trade unionism for the next 20 years. If kamikaze pilots were to form their own union, Arthur would be an ideal choice for leader.”

  4. prism 4

    Someone to remember. This morning on Kim Hill RadioNZ writer Val McDermid, whose father or grandfather used to be a miner, talked about how he wouldn’t let his sons go down the mine. He didn’t get the mine lung disease but many others did. He got tuberculosis in his bones. Probably the boys went into the dockyards. She said that Margaret Thatcher and her crowd were full of spite towards the unions because of their activism.

    Jimmy Reid’s obituary said that he became a journalist. Val also became a journalist but found it in the end soul destroying. And that was about the time that the rich guys got control of the papers. She had believed that the tabloids should give the public information and interesting news. She doesn’t think much of the msm now I don’t think.

    Jimmy Reid showed the breadth of intellect that can reach from physical work and trades to the scholar and said how important good education is. We should listen to this in NZ. These are people who have experience and understanding that make their thoughts and opinions ‘truly meaningful[‘.

  5. Bill 5

    As a wee addendum. I was trying to find audio/visual record of the speech and came across this press release from the Scottish Government, which I found heartening given our propensity to forget.

    First Minister Alex Salmond today pledged to make union leader Jimmy Reid’s famous 1972 Glasgow University Rectorial address available to every secondary pupil.

    “The Rectorial Address, along with biographical and other material, including video and audio clips, will be brought together over the next few weeks to form not just a comprehensive tribute but also a comprehensive learning resource.

    “I will also ensure it is promoted to teachers as very suitable for inclusion in cross curricular activity within the Curriculum for Excellence. In that way, it will match the many other new resources for Curriculum for Excellence already on line or being developed.”

  6. joe90 6

    Black lung Prism and when I worked for the old NZED in the early seventies more than a few of the tradesmen who were refugees from the miners strike of 1969 were to suffer from the disease later in life.

    I also worked along side a few old school tub thumping unionists who’d endured the Tyneside strikes of the sixties and those men with their sense of fairness and justice made a lasting impression, a bloke by the name of John Warner in particular, on a young fella.

    No coincidence that the union busting ambitions of the tories were realised in the early ninties with the retirements and passing of such men.
    RIP Tony Leary and the CEWU.

    • prism 6.1

      My general education as a child was to think of unionists like Tony Leary as dissidents that wished to cause chaos. When I gained maturity (at about 40 years) I realised that he had more than a few good points and that unionism while not always being right, was not always wrong. Knowing about the working conditions of people from mining jobs to those like the salary men of Japan, sleeping at their desks, alienated from their families by the business culture and long working hours with some dying from overwork shows unionism support essential.

  7. Lazy Susan 7

    Thanks for that Bill. What an amazing speech.

    When reading the part of Jimmy’s speech regarding the centralisation and bureacratic control of power I could not help but be reminded that in a couple of months time all Aucklanders will be living in the Super Shitty. That shameful front, developed by NAct, for the wholesale theft of assets that the hardworking people of Auckland have taken decades to develop.

    The double speak of NAct is sickening. On the one hand they talk of “opportunity” and “aspiration” while on the other they create complex structures that will enable the stripping of control and ownership of the assets of NZ’s largest city from it’s citizens.

    To NAct I pose the same question that Jimmy did – “Where and how in your calculations did you quantify the value of a community?”

  8. Jimmy Reid’s political trajectory was complex, in complex times. From the shop floor, he became a focal point in the UCS occupation and its exemplifying of opposition to the Heath Government, and the subsequent debate about workers’ control in a capitalist system. The context of, for example, alternative economic strategies, the impact of studies of Mondragon and the Emilia Romagna phenomenon, the “prefigurative forms” (of socialism) debate, mixed with strong worker mobilisation and strongish unions, added up to something very difficult to understand at this distance. The nonsense about ‘class betrayal’ comes from a mixture of the ultra-Left (who never had to take any responsibility for defending jobs on the Clyde) and a disgruntled CP (which Reid left), which still thought the sound of Russian tanks in Prague was music. He was flawed as we all are, but he was a worthy man, for a’that.

  9. Bunji 9

    Wow Bill, that’s an amazing speech.

    As you say, sadly as fresh today here in NZ. So much for progress.

  10. M 10

    Wow, it blew me away – I\’ll be forwarding this to family and friends.

    Capitalism must ultimately fail because of what it does to people and the environment.

    David Harvey, interviewed by BBC Hardtalk putsn it very well as to why capitalism must fail:

  11. There is an excellent obituary for Jimmy Reid in 12th August edition of the Independent UK. available on the net. Well worth the read,

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