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HISTORY

Pamphlet No. 9

New Series

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The 1971-72 UCS work-in revisited How Clydeside’s workers defeated a Tory government by John Foster


Published by the Communist Party December 2012 ISBN 978-1-908315-21-2

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HISTORY

Our History No.

Pamphlet No. 9

Communist Party www.communist-party.org.uk

New Series

£1.50

The 1971-2 UCS work-in revisited

How Clydeside’s workers defeated a Tory Government

by John Foster

CONTENTS page Preface 2 “Put in a Government Butcher” 4 “We are now in charge” 11 UCS Unlimited: the stewards battle for control 17 The government retreats 20 Danny McGarvey to the rescue (of the government) 26 The Shop Stewards’ Strategy and the Communist Party 31

Professor John Foster, is the Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences, Paisley University. He was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at St. Catherine's College, Cambridge from 1965-68. A citizen of Scotland for almost four decades now, he was Lecturer in Politics at Strathclyde University, 1966-81. John was the Secretary of the Scottish Committee of the Communist Party from 1988-2000 and is currently the Party’s International Secretary. As well as numerous Party publications his prior publications include: "Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution" (1974), "The Politics of the UCS Workin" (with C Woolfson, 1986); "Paying for the Piper: Capital and Labour in Britain's Offshore Oil Industry" (with M Beck and C Woolfson - 1996) UCS 1971-2: How Clydeside’s Workers Defeated A Tory Government


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Preface In July 1971 8,500 shipyard workers took control of four shipyards on the Upper Clyde: Govan, Linthouse, Scotstoun and Clydebank. They did so to stop their closure. Two months before the Conservative government of Edward Heath [1] had withheld further financial support from the semi-state company running the yards, Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS). The government’s intention was to force the company into liquidation and sell off all the yards. The workers’ resistance stopped this. The shop stewards remained in control for the following fifteen months and only ended their ‘Work-In’ when the government had fully capitulated and financially guaranteed the survival of all four yards. This action on the Clyde had a much wider national impact. The workers’ successful enforcement of their right to work gave encouragement to workers in hundreds of other workplaces facing closure during the recession years of 1971-73. The network of supporters groups formed across Britain became a powerful organisational resource for all workers in struggle, including the miners in 1972, while the occupation of the yards, [1] Sir Edward "Ted" Heath (1916 – 2005) served as Prime Minister from 1970 to 1974 and as Leader of the Conservative Party from 1965 to 1975 when he was succeeded by Margaret Thatcher.

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strictly illegal under the law, gave encouragement to the wider trade union movement to defy the imposition of the Tory government’s 1971 Industrial Relations Act, a measure eventually defeated by mass action. [2] In Scotland it was the UCS shop stewards who initiated the convening of the first Scottish Assembly – the body which launched the demand for a Scottish parliament with the economic powers to stop closures and to defend people’s right to work in their own communities. [3] It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the UCS Work-in represented one of the key turning points in the history of the later twentieth century. It helped reestablish workers’ confidence in the organised power of labour, brought about the policy U-Turn which ultimately derailed the Heath government and transformed the image of Scotland and its workers. The history of the UCS has been told many times and celebrated in film, poetry and drama. The objective of this pamphlet is to do two things. One is to examine the detailed tactics of the government now that its records have been opened. The second is to examine how the shop stewards, and in particular the Communists among them, developed such effective tactics in response.

[2] See CPB History Group pamphlet OH7 “The Pentonville 5: dockers in action and the antiunion laws” (2012). [3]The incoming Labour Government held a referendum to establish a Scottish parliament in 1978. A substantial majority voted in favour - but not enough to meet the ‘majority of the electorate’ requirement inserted as a wrecking amendment to the Bill. A further referendum in 1997 resulted in the formal establishment of a Scottish parliament in 1999. Ridley became a leading member of the Thatcher governments from 1979. In the aftermath of the 1974 miners’ strike he drew up a Report on Nationalised Industries for the Conservative Party which outlined the steps needed to defeat the miners’ union. This was leaked to the Economist 27 May 1978.

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“Put in a Government Butcher” In December 1969 Nicholas Ridley MP travelled to Clydeside to talk to leading Tory industrialists.[4] He did so as the representative of Keith Joseph, member of the Conservative Party’s shadow cabinet responsible for drawing up industrial strategy ahead of the 1970 general election. Ridley, a member of the family that had dominated Tyneside shipbuilding for three generations, met Sir Eric Yarrow, whose family had owned the main warship yard on the Clyde, and also, it seems, Sir William Lithgow. Yarrow’s yard had been incorporated into Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1968 when the Labour government had consolidated four loss-making private yards around the Fairfield yard in Govan. This had already been taken into semi-state ownership in 1966. The owners of the four private yards had been given places on the new board – as well as being paid very significant financial compensation. Lower down the lower Clyde Sir William Lithgow controlled the biggest of the remaining shipyards. His father had been the dominant figure in Scottish industry before the war acting on behalf of the Bank of England to rationalise the production of coal, steel and ships by closing down up to half the total capacity. Sir William was himself a leading figure on the Scottish Council for [4] Ridley became a leading member of the Thatcher governments from 1979. In the aftermath of the 1974 miners’ strike he drew up a Report on Nationalised Industries for the Conservative Party which outlined the steps needed to defeat the miners’ union. This was leaked to the Economist 27 May 1978.

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Development and Industry and had been appointed ‘industrial adviser’ to the Heath government. After the meetings Ridley wrote a report to Joseph. He described UCS as a ‘cancer’ which was poisoning industrial life on Clydeside – a reference to the belief of Yarrow and his colleagues that the preferential wages and conditions negotiated by workers in the Fairfield yard after 1966, and then transferred to UCS, were undermining the profitability of surrounding firms. Ridley’s solution was for an incoming Conservative administration to ‘put in a government butcher to cut up the UCS to sell (cheaply) to the Lower Clyde and others’.[5] At some point in 1970-71 Ridley’s report was leaked and by summer 1971 had become a major embarrassment to the government. It seemed to indicate that the closure had been premeditated and was not the simple result of insolvency – causing anger not just among workers but also among the two thousand business creditors and the shipping companies that had placed orders with advance credit and who stood to lose millions. The government denied that the report had had any influence on policy – even though Ridley had become Parliamentary Under Secretary of State with responsibility for shipbuilding in the new government. Government records, or those that have been made available, do not decisively answer this question. They do, however, make it quite clear that the government did have policy to close existing shipyards - whatever the social consequences. They also reveal that even the original stages of the process were somewhat more complicated than Ridley or his colleagues had envisaged. These complications tell us a great deal about the nature of the [5] Where not otherwise indicated, sources are to be found in Foster and Woolfson, The Politics of the UCS Work-In, Lawrence and Wishart (1986)

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Conservative Party and its relationship to the ruling class. Just prior to the election, in Febuary 1970, the Conservative Party held a policy conference at the Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon to resolve internal differences on economic and industrial policy. On the one side was the hard-line monetarists led by Keith Joseph. They argued that only a complete break with Keynesian full employment policies and state support for industry could reassert the industrial discipline needed for a profitable economy. This wing drew its support from the regionally based industrial barons, such as those on Clydeside, together with those Alex Murray pamphlet—the Communist strategists of the ruling class who were alarmed at growing shop stewards militancy Party was central to the campaign and mounting inflationary pressures. They were particularly critical of the impact on wages rates of the regional subsidies to incoming US firms – brought in by the strategists of the City of London to shore up Britain’s languishing balance of trade. Heath, on the other hand, represented these interests. These included the great City institutions and the British multinationals associated with them, such as Shell, ICI and BP. Their main aim was greater access to European markets through membership of the Common Market and a drive to consolidate and modernise British industry in preparation. They were hesitant about any direct confrontation with organised labour and sought to continue the Labour government’s policy of strengthening the powers of union leaderships over shop floor militancy and unofficial action. Neither side paid much attention to the interests of small or medium business at regional level or to the mass of professional and managerial staff who ran the vast array of state and semi-state institutions that had developed during UCS 1971-2: How Clydeside’s Workers Defeated A Tory Government


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the period of managed capitalism since 1945. The outcome of the discussions was a compromise, the Selsdon Agreement, by which the incoming Conservative government would end subsidies to semi-state industry (‘lame ducks’), drastically cut regional subsidies, allow unemployment to rise somewhat, proceed with Common Market membership and introduce legislation that would ban unofficial strikes and require trade unions to register and themselves discipline strikers. When the Conservative’s won the election in June 1970 it was one of Heath’s allies, John Davies (1916-1979), a former oil company executive and, until 1969, the Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), who was placed in charge of Tony Benn’s giant Ministry of Technology, shortly to be renamed the Department of Trade and Industry. [6] Davies set out his and Heath’s desire to avoid state intervention in industry in a speech to the House of Commons in November 1970: ‘We believe that the essential need of the country is to gear its policies to the great majority of people, who are not 'lame ducks', who do not need a hand, who are quite capable of looking after their own interests and only demand to be allowed to do so.’ Beneath Davies as Secretary of State were two junior ministers, Sir John Eden and Nicholas Ridley, both hardliners. Ridley had responsibility for shipbuilding. The 1964-70 Labour government had sought mergers of individual shipyards into groups. The Shipbuilding Industry Board (SIB) was set up by the 1967 Shipbuilding Industry Act to oversee and fund the process of merging yards into a dozen semi-state shipbuilding companies. It was [6] Hansard, 5th Series, volume 805, column 1211). The CBI is even today the main employers’ association in the UK, with some 200,000 businesses affiliated to it, including four-fifths of the FTSE 100 companies and around half of the FTSE 350 companies.)

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chaired by Sir William Swallow. Ridley’s first recorded meeting with the Shipbuilding Industry Board took place in September 1970. The meeting was notably frosty – in part no doubt because the government had already confirmed that the Board would be abolished within a year. Ridley came with two apparent intentions. One was to emphasise that no more government money would be provided to the SIB beyond the £600m already allocated [£12 billion in 2012 money – allowing x20 for inflation]. The other was to demand that money be made available to allow Yarrows to be separated from UCS. Unfortunately for Ridley, Swallow was able to demonstrate the inconsistency of the two demands. Swallow argued that the £600m was quite insufficient to meet the needs of modernisation and development in the twelve different firms supported by the ministry. Ridley denied this – but, on the basis of his ‘recent discussions with Sir Eric’ also asked for a significant increase in the £122,000 already allocated to Yarrow. ‘Mr Ridley said that it should be understood that there was no question of ministerial pressure’ but … `Yarrows should not be allowed to go bust’ and `Yarrow’s shareholders must have a fair deal, in view of the “shotgun merger” ’. Swallow then gave a detailed refutation and Ridley left – commenting that matters ‘were now much clearer’. [7] Over the previous month the SIB had received financial statements from the UCS which indicated that its trading position, although still in deficit, was improving, that there had been sustained increases in productivity in terms of steel throughput and that the loss-making orders taken on in 1967-68 were being replaced by profitable ones. Two weeks before Ridley’s visit, Ken Douglas, managing director of UCS, had addressed the Board outlining a general improvement in performance but warning that the management of [7] National Archives (NA) FV 37/138.

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Yarrow’s, still represented on the UCS Board, was intent on sabotage: `it was in Yarrow’s interest to see the downfall of UCS, as Yarrow could only manage men in a heavy unemployment situation’. [8] Inconclusive negotiations on the separation of Yarrows continued through the autumn of 1970. At the end of October, following a further meeting between Ridley and the SIB, the government pulled the trigger on UCS. The consortium was refused further trade credit guarantees. Again the outcome was not as anticipated. The UCS Board managed to secure additional funds of £2.5m mainly, it seems, in further credits from the shipping companies. [9] On the other hand, the reason for the inconclusive negotiations with Yarrows became apparent. Sir Eric was forced to reveal a black hole of £4.5m losses in his own company. In January 1971 the Ministry of Defence had to make loan of £4.5m available to allow the separation to go ahead. [10] Shortly after, and to avoid accusations of partisanship, trading credits were temporarily restored to UCS. Then in February, the government suffered another [8] NA FV137/37 K. Douglas 8 September 1970. [9] NA CAB 134/3378/10 Davies 22 January 1971 on additional funds. So confident was the government that UCS would collapse in December that they had drafted a press release expressing their regret: T. Lister 31 December 1970. Scottish Record Office SEP 4/3983 f.4. [10] Internal DTI document ‘Sequence of Events’ prepared in August 1971 NA FV 36/77 f 18; CAB 134/3378/10 Davies 22 January 1971.

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reverse. A star firm of the private sector, Rolls Royce, went bust. Rolls had contracts for the US firm Lockheed to develop the revolutionary new RB211 engines - also of military importance to Britain. This private sector ‘lame duck’ now had to be rescued by the government and nationalised. In April 1971 the Tory Minister for Industry moved a short Bill to lift the statutory ceiling of £400 million to £700 million on the power to give guarantees, which had been laid down by the Section 7 of the 1967 Act, on the financing of orders for ships placed with British shipbuilders. Yet many companies, not only UCS but also Cammell Laird and Harland & Wolff, had still run into financial difficulties, so the one year extension of the life of the SIB, as permitted by the Act, was now promulgated. It was only three months after the Rolls Royce affair, in May 1971, that the government thought it safe to re-set the trigger for the bankruptcy of UCS. On 17 May Lord Rothschild presented a paper from the Central Policy Review Staff to Cabinet endorsing the proposal from the Minister for Industry (Eden) that the government ’should not bail out the shipbuilding industry, subject only to the overriding interests of national defence’ (presumably referring to Yarrows). He concluded: ‘shipbuilding companies should be allowed to collapse’ and the government should ‘encourage private enterprise to re-establish’. [11] In June the UCS faced a solvency crisis, largely as a result of the previous loss of trade credit guarantees. On 13 June it asked the government for a £6m loan. On 14 June this was refused.

[11] NA CAB 134 3379/45.

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“We are now in charge” The senior stewards had been long aware that at some point in the near future the government would act. Their response now was instantaneous and comprehensive. On Saturday 12 June a mass meeting of 200 shop stewards endorsed the proposal for a ‘work-in’: the workers would take possession of the yards and continue production. The meeting also endorsed the proposal to create a Joint Coordinating Committee to handle all negotiations. The following day discussions took place with leading figures at the STUC. Additionally, local Labour MPs were briefed for Monday’s Commons debate and a statement of support secured from the leaders of both the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church. Arrangements were made for a mass meeting of all workers in Clydebank Town Hall on the evening of 14 June straight after the Commons debate - to which the leading stewards flew down by plane. That evening the Town Hall meeting agreed that the stewards would take possession of the yards immediately the government sanctioned closure. Any worker made redundant by the liquidator would immediately be re-employed and paid from the fighting fund. The following day hundreds of shipyard workers travelled down by special for a mass lobby of parliament. The swiftness and effectiveness of this response depended on two factors in particular. One was the authority which had been won over the previous five years by the Joint Shop Stewards Committee representing workers in all four yards. The second factor was the sophistication of the shop stewards’ understanding of strategy. The leading stewards were UCS 1971-2: How Clydeside’s Workers Defeated A Tory Government


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Communists. They advocated not just a militant response but one that sought to exploit all the contradictions within the government’s position and the splits within its own class base. No less important, they realised that the government itself would seek to split their own ranks by negotiating directly with the right-wing officials who led the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions (the CSEU or more usually ‘the Confed’, a loose alliance of unions with the Boilermakers, AEU and TGWU then dominating). It was for this reason that the stewards moved quickly to assert the authority of the Joint Coordinating Committee and call for a strategy that gave the workers physical possession of the yards. The stewards’ ability to exercise such authority itself had a history. It derived largely from the way the stewards had responded to the changes in workplace organisation following the ‘Fairfield Experiment’ of 1966 – when the bankrupt Govan yard was taken over by a consortium that included the government, local business interests and also, as shareholders, a number of trade unions. The new board sought to break with old styles of shipyard management and introduce productivity bargaining and flexibility between trades. In these circumstances the shop stewards became the key negotiators and succeeded in winning conditions and wages considerably in advance of those elsewhere. When UCS was created in 1968 these advances were extended to the other yards and a Joint Shop Stewards Committee created that included not just all yards but also all grades of employees up to and including technical and scientific staff and junior management. By 1971 a workforce once notorious for its craft divisions had been largely won to see the material importance of workplace unity. The key Communists in the leadership were Jim Airlie, shop stewards convener in the Govan Yard, Sammy Barr convener in Scotstoun and from UCS 1971-2: How Clydeside’s Workers Defeated A Tory Government


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1970 Jimmy Reid in Clydebank. Jimmy Airlie (1936-97) served his apprenticeship as a fitter with the Renfrew shipyard Simon and Lobnitz. It was Airlie who was the strong man behind the scenes, a supremely skilled tactician and a fearless negotiator with a biting wit. [12] Jimmy Reid (1932-2010) was unquestionably the voice of UCS. He joined the Young Communist League when he was sixteen, worked as an engineering apprentice in British Polar Engines in Govan, chaired the Clyde apprentices strike committee in 1951 and went on to become YCL national secretary. From 1967 he served as Scottish Secretary of the Communist Party and then in 1969 returned to his tools as an engineer in John Brown’s in Clydebank. He was elected a Communist councillor for Clydebank Town Council, becoming part of the four strong Communist group. [13] Sammy Barr (1931-2012) began work in the yards as an apprentice welder with Charles Connell and Company in Scotstoun, later becoming boilermakers’ shop steward and yard convener. Closely associated with veteran Communist Party industrial organiser Finlay Hart, Barr served on the party’s Scottish Committee from the late 1950s, was a powerful and effective speaker and a frequent writer for the party press and Labour Monthly. [14] [12] In 1979 Airlie became a local full-time officer for the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU, later AEEU). He was the first Communist in over a decade in 1986 to win an executive council seat for Scotland in the now thoroughly right-wing engineering union. An attempt was made to undermine this formidable base by giving him UK national responsibility for Ford’s but this only increased his profile. Airlie kept his Communist Party membership up until 1991 but, even as he joined Labour, he described himself thus: “I am a Communist. I have been a Communist all my life.” [13] Students at Glasgow University elected Reid Rector in 1972. Famously, in his inaugural speech, he said that ‘the rat race is for rats’, arguing for a fairer, more compassionate, and better society. He stood three times as a Communist candidate in General Elections for Dunbartonshire Central in 1970 and twice in 1974. In February 1974 he tripled the Communist vote to just short of six thousand, beating the Scottish Nationalist. Reid left the Communist Party in February 1976 and became a journalist and broadcaster in the latter part of his life.

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On the JSSC, Airlie, Reid, and Barr worked closely with fellow stewards in the Labour Party and were supported by around a dozen other Communist shop stewards. But compared to the size of the total workforce, the Communist presence was not large. The shipbuilding branch membership was no more than 60 and this included workers from both Yarrow and the Lower Clyde. At the beginning of 1971 daily sales of the Morning Star were a little larger but not by much. In Govan yard they were 25, Scotstoun 20 and John Browns in Clydebank 20 – with another 30 in Yarrows. [15] The Left’s influence had stemmed from its tested ability to secure workplace gains and the degree to which long-term trust had been developed across the yards. But it did not necessarily extend to political support. Most workers were not engaged politically: a majority would have voted Labour and a significant minority Progressive, the Glasgow front for [14] Sammy Barr stood for Parliament in Glasgow Garscadden three times - in February 1974, in a byelection in 1978, and finally in 1979. In 1977 he ran for the office of assistant general secretary of the Boilermakers Society, topping the poll in the first round, only to be beaten in the run-off. As an Executive Committee member of the Communist Party in the1970s and early 1980s, some would say that his refusal to leave the Party prevented him from becoming a leader of the Boilermakers which merged with the GMB in 1982. After his retirement, Sammy was president of the retired members' association for the GMB. Two years before the UCS occupation Tony Benn, then Minister for Technology, recorded in his diary for March 14 1969 details of the stormy meeting he had held in Glasgow with the UCS shop stewards: "It was pretty tough and there were a few shouts. One guy called Sam Barr, a Communist shop steward, said they simply wouldn't accept redundancies." [15] Alex Murray papers: File B - unpublished article for Comment by John Kay written September 1971 (letters from Paul Olive 21 September 1971 and 27 October) [CPB Scottish office].

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the Conservative Party. Sectarian divisions were also present. It was therefore a major gamble as to whether the workforce as whole could be won to take on the government in a far more political battle. Over the previous fifteen years yard after yard had closed on the Clyde with only limited resistance. There was no clear indication that UCS would be different. The first six weeks were something of a phoney war. In the debate on 14 June the government got severely mauled. Davies stuck to the government line that UCS had been responsible for its own misfortunes and the government was pledged to rescue the economy from the inefficiencies resulting from state subsidy. Labour MPs accused the government of itself causing the liquidity crisis and pulling the plug at a time when UCS productivity was improving. Tony Benn quoted sections from the Ridley Report – though at this stage without revealing that he had an actual copy. The government, to provide itself with political cover, announced it was both seeking the appointment of a Liquidator on a provisional basis and setting up an expert committee to consider whether any part of the consortium could be made commercially viable. This was to report at the end of July. Meanwhile, work continued in the yards on the existing basis. The stewards used the intervening weeks well. Within one week, on 21 June, they had organised an all Scottish conference of shop stewards and gained Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) backing for a demonstration two days later on 23 June. [16] This then extended to a halfday strike across much of industrial Scotland. On the day some 50,000 travelled to central Glasgow and marched through the city with numerous [16] The Scottish Trades Union Congress was established in 1897 as the trade union centre for Scotland. It is independent of the British TUC.

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trade union leaders and Labour MPs in the vanguard. At the demonstration Reid, Airlie and Barr stressed that their fight was not just about jobs in one shipbuilding company. It concerned the right to work of all working people and did so at a time when government policies were for the first time since the 1940s driving unemployment over the million mark. The government seems to have paid only limited attention – focusing on getting the Industrial Relations Bill through parliament and negotiations for Common Market entry. Davies and his ministers continued on the assumption that they would be able to close all the yards and then let commercial interests pick up the bits. The expert report when it arrived on their desks on 26-27 July was itself a blow. It argued that a viable commercial entity could be created from two of the yards with some initial government funding. In a confidential memo to the Cabinet Davies expressed his dismay: ‘this cannot readily be squared with our industrial policy and would be widely resented in sectors of industry (and not just shipbuilding).’ However, ‘we should have great difficulty in defending a refusal to back the recommendations of the Group, which we certainly should not be able to keep secret’. [17] ‘Reluctantly’, therefore, Davies recommended accepting the proposals but making any implementation conditional on the unions accepting new working practices and a new company being set up. If, however, these conditions were not met, the government would announce the closure of the two ‘saved’ yards, Govan and Linthouse, in November. The two surplus yards, Scotstoun and Clydebank, would close within two months. Davies’ Commons statement on 29 July was the signal for the stewards. Immediately a mass meeting of UCS workers was convened in order to ratify the earlier decision to impose a work-in.

[17] NA CAB 129 158 Paper from Davies 27 July 1971.

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UCS Unlimited: the stewards battle for control The meeting held considerable potential for disunity. Workers in two of the yards, Govan and Linthouse, had been told their jobs were safe if negotiations started on the government’s terms. If they demanded such negotiations then any prospect of a united work-in would end. The interventions by Reid and Airlie averted this danger. Their appeals for unity built on the mass mobilisations across Scotland over the previous two months. They projected the work-in as a new assertion of working class control that could protect the jobs of all workers and which exemplified a wider working class unity. 'The world is witnessing the first of a new tactic on behalf of workers. We are not going on strike. We are not even having a sit-in strike. We're taking over the yards because we refuse to accept that faceless men in Whitehall or anywhere else can take decisions that devastate our lives with impunity'. Over the following eight weeks the stewards demonstrated similar tactical skill in defending the unity of the work-in against increasingly serious challenges from both the government and right-wing leadership of the Confed. Initially, Davies seems to have thought that switch to a two-yard proposal would be enough to get a settlement. He arranged a visit to Glasgow for 3 August to announce that the Scottish financier Sir Hugh Stenhouse had agreed to become chair of the proposed new company 'Govan Shipbuilders'. He hoped to win local business leaders for the proposal. He soon discovered his error. The day before his visit the Progressive Group on Glasgow City Council broke with the Conservatives and sided with the Labour Group in demanding retention of all four yards. At his meeting on 3 August with business leaders and trade union representatives Davies found the government's position attacked on all sides - including by the UCS 1971-2: How Clydeside’s Workers Defeated A Tory Government


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sizeable group of UCS creditors who were in the process of taking legal action to stay liquidation. Again the shop stewards moved quickly to consolidate their position. An all British meeting of workplace representatives was held on 10 August which agreed the call for a further half day unofficial strike and established a network of support committees. On 11 August a conference of Scottish Local Authorities was convened by Clydebank Town Council and agreed to call for financial support from council funds for the work-in from councils across Scotland (here the presence of a four strong group of Communist Councillors in Clydebank had been critical in initiating the call). On 16 August there was a specially reconvened meeting of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the first ever, which gave its full backing to the work-in, and set up a Committee of Inquiry into the conduct of the government. 18 August saw the second half-day strike and the biggest demonstration that Glasgow had ever witnessed: 80,000 in total. Rightwing leaders of both the TUC and the Labour Party had to march arm in arm with shop stewards who were involved in precisely the type of unofficial political strike action they had previously condemned. On 19 August the stewards outmanoeuvred the government’s first public attempt to involve the right-wing leadership of the Confed in backing its ‘Govan Shipbuilders’ proposal. This took place at a high profile meeting organised in Glasgow by Sir John Eden. The stewards had identified a local businessman, probably only interested in the scrap value of the yards, willing to declare that he would take over all four yards as a going concern. Reid and Airlie demanded that the meeting discuss these proposals and thereby side-lined both the Confed officials and the discussion of a ‘two yard’ Govan Shipbuilders. Eden was forced into a position where he appeared to be snubbing proposals from local business and needlessly threatening the workforce with mass redundancies. On 23 August the Glasgow Herald’s editorial warned of the dangerous consequences of the stewards’ ability to control the negotiating agenda and dominate media attention. UCS 1971-2: How Clydeside’s Workers Defeated A Tory Government


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‘It might be thought that the official opposition should be winning such a game. It is not. Neither the political nor industrial wings of the official labour movement can win. They have lost the leadership to the shop stewards. It is the shop stewards who best understand the rules of the UCS and have shown constant political and publications skills of the highest order’. It was in the following weeks that a far more dangerous right-wing threat emerged. It appears to have been initiated behind the scenes at the special meeting of the TUC’s Economic committee held in Glasgow on 17 August. The TUC general secretary Vic Feather and the Confed chair Danny McGarvey, also general secretary of the Boilermakers, developed a proposal for a Clydeside Development Agency. This was to have the remit of finding employment for those laid off from UCS. After the set-back of 19 August the government itself now realised it could only secure its objectives with the coordinated support of the trade union right-wing. On 20 August Eden’s PPS wrote to the prime minister’s private secretary at Downing Street: ‘privately, however, my minister has spoken to Lord Robens and he has agreed to discuss urgently with Mr Feather – on a completely confidential basis – ways in which we could move forward from the present awkward labour position’. [18] On 31 August Davies himself took over negotiations. He called for ‘flexibility’ on the part of the stewards and opened public negotiations directly with McGarvey. By early September he felt he had made enough progress to give the go ahead for the Prime Minister to visit Clydeside. The briefing document supplied by his officials to Heath stated that: Mr McGarvey, whose attitude is flexible and moderate, has now secured authority from the Executive of the CSEU to continue discussions with the Government and eventually it is hoped with the embryo Board. On this he seems to have outmanoeuvred the Communist leaders of shop stewards. He is to meet the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on 13 September. [19] [18] Pollitt to Gregson 20 August 1971, SRO SEP4/4423 f.23. [19] NA DTI briefing to PM PREM 15 6/2.

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The following three weeks were to be the most testing of all. The Liquidator stepped up the weekly number of redundancies to hundreds. The press started to call for a ‘sensible’ compromise to save as many jobs as possible and accused the Communists of manipulating vulnerable workers for their own political ends. The Labour supporting Daily Record called for McGarvey to take control. At the 13 September meeting the stewards found themselves excluded. On 21 September Davies gained Bobby Starret, a UCS worker, became the Cabinet approval for a formal official cartoonist for the campaign Commons announcement of the establishment of Govan Shipbuilders as the basis for a ‘fresh attempt’ to seize the initiative from the shop stewards who had ‘secured a monopoly of publicity in the press and on TV’ and managed to ‘pre-empt the government efforts to put the true facts’. [20] In requesting Funds and gifts came from public funding for the two yard company he claimed the whole world, including that he did so on the basis of John and Yoko Lennon the Confed’s support for an end to the uneconomic work practices of UCS. The day after the Common’s announcement the stewards called a mass meeting of all workers in the yards. There was a real danger of a split. The press and the union leaderships were backing the two yard ‘compromise’ offer. There was talk of funding to assist redundant workers find other employment. [20] NA CAB 128/49.

Ticket for UCS workers’ benefit concert at the Glasgow Apollo

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Workers in the two ‘saved’ yards were told that this deal was the last chance to save their own jobs. Reid and Airlie needed all their skills of persuasion to maintain the workin. Their central argument was that the workers must not give up their greatest bargaining tool: possession of the yards. Airlie appealed for the Govan workers to show solidarity with Clydebank and Scotstoun and not betray the trust of the tens of thousands who had contributed funds and struck work in support. Reid seized upon the government’s claim that even the ‘saved’ workers would have to take pay cuts and work anti-social hours. He argued: ‘..Don’t let there be division in our ranks ... if the Government succeeded in the butchery of our industry I’d rather be on the dole than among the two and a half thousand that would be left to grovel, accept wage reductions and all sorts of other things.. and I’m telling you it would be a short term solution.. it’s like a murderer who wants to murder us, we’ve found out, we’ve defended ourselves against the murderer and people say ‘please negotiate with the murderer, you might stop him piercing your heart but he can cut off your legs and arms and there’s a sensible compromise’. And when you’re lying bleeding they will tell you in a year or two, wi’ you minus the legs, why aren’t you standing on your own two feet? And brothers our proposals therefore spring from a sense of responsibility to ourselves and to our families and to our community and in the last resort to the British working class..’ The stewards won the meeting and the work-in held. Davies and his company chair Sir Hugh Stenhouse remained locked out. McGarvey’s authority was broken.

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The government retreats The week following the 24 September mass meeting saw the beginning of the government’s U-Turn. In order to rescue his putative company Stenhouse had no alternative but to include the stewards in negotiations. At the same time the government was facing a wider political crisis it could no longer ignore. The STUC’s Inquiry had started its public hearings on 2 September. The panel was chaired by the Professor of Sociology at Aberdeen and included George Perry, managing director of General Motors Scotland and Frank Cousins, previous General Secretary of the T&G. Supportive witness statements came from Ken Douglas, managing director of UCS, Sir Charles Connell, previous owner of the Scotstoun yard, Robin MacLellan, President of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce as well as representatives of the creditor firms. Sir William Swallow, previous chair of the Shipbuilding Industry Board, sent a memorandum establishing that UCS was on the point of commercial viability when funding was withdrawn. The same week the stewards published the full text of the Ridley Memorandum. 100,000 copies were distributed as part of a professionally printed broadsheet newspaper. The TUC came the following week. The shop stewards’ presence in the gallery underlined the magnitude of their achievement. They had demonstrated that technically illegal tactics could secure results – if made the focus of co-ordinated support from across the trade union movement and the wider community. Their presence, plus the memory of the summer’s two unofficial (and now illegal) political strikes, played no small part in the TUC’s decision to refuse to comply with the government’s new Industrial Relations Act. In a major blow to the government and the rightwing, Congress voted to expel any union that registered. In Scotland itself the Conservative Party was in serious disarray. Large sections of business were calling for a change of policy and Scottish UCS 1971-2: How Clydeside’s Workers Defeated A Tory Government


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Secretary Gordon Campbell was politically isolated. In Whitehall the senior civil servant responsible for regional policy at the Ministry of the Environment wrote to advise the Secretary of State that the repercussions of the collapse of UCS on unemployment and on opinion in Scotland would be grave. `..It is true that there was a conviction on the part of many ministers that their approach to industrial policy required greater realism about the treatment of “lame ducks”… Unfortunately the term “lame ducks” has proved to be a complete misnomer – the enterprises involved have been more like “lame brontosaurians” in terms of the repercussions in terms of unemployment in areas already terribly hard-hit by unemployment.’ He then went on to highlight the contradictions between these consequences and the government’s manifesto commitments to maintain an active regional policy. [21] Still more worrying were the conclusions of the Central Policy Review Staff headed by Lord Rothschild. The CPRS had been undertaking an assessment of the government’s strategy during its first year. The findings were circulated by Burke Trend, Cabinet Secretary, on 30 September as the basis for a weekend strategy meeting at Chequers. The section on ‘Industrial Relations’ was particularly damaging. It noted the government’s success in securing the passage of the Industrial Relations Act and continued ‘there were at one stage signs that the trade union movement was beginning to come to terms with the situation in practice’. More recently, however, ‘extreme militancy has become more rather than less evident than it was 15 months ago’ – and instances as one cause ‘the UCS situation’. The report goes on to identify problems needing to be overcome for the Act’s successful imposition. One was ‘how to lower the currently inflamed temperature of debate about industrial affairs ... Government actions have given an impression of lack of concern over the plight of individual groups of workers which has led to a more general disillusionment among the trade union movement. If the climate of industrial relations is to be significantly improved in the short-term, the Government must, as a matter of urgency, take steps to demonstrate, [21] NA EW7 1457 f. 4 David Caplan 23 September 1971.

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unequivocally, that it is as compassionate towards the unfortunate as it is tough towards the inefficient’. [22] Five days later, in a subsequent memo, the Prime Minister singled issues of ‘prices, unemployment and Scotland’ as areas where the presentation of government policy had been particularly weak: ‘our attitude to ailing industry, especially in Scotland, has been interpreted as hard-hearted rather than hard-headed’. [23] It was in this context that the U-turn began. The government’s key priority was the successful implementation of the Industrial Relations Act. The crisis at UCS was now seen as dangerously prejudicing this objective – particularly by boosting the shop stewards movement at the expense of the right-wing leaders on whom the government depended for implementation. The press carried stories that one outcome of the Chequers meeting had been a decision to sack Ridley and Eden at the earliest opportunity. On 1 October a meeting took place between Stenhouse and Davies at his constituency home in Knutsford to consider options and report on the informal meetings which had taken place with stewards the previous week. Davies’ Private Secretary wrote to the PM’s Private Secretary outlining what he understood to have taken place (‘I am sure you will appreciate security considerations made a complete report over the telephone impossible’). Stenhouse appeared to have proposed that the third Scotstoun yard be included in his feasibility study and that he might hold out the consideration of ‘running the [Clydebank] yard’ if a ‘suitable proposition emerged’. [24] On the same day, probably as a briefing for Davies’s meeting, the Head of the Shipbuilding Policy Division at the DTI, EV Marchant, had circulated a confidential progress report ‘Shipbuilding on the Upper Clyde’. This detailed the stewards’ refusal over the previous month to enter discussions with Stenhouse or allow him access to the yards (‘obstructive as ever’). The situation had changed, however, on 29 September when Stenhouse [22] NA CAB 129/159 ff. 104. [23] NA CAB 129/159 f. 107. [24] NA EW7 1457 f.12 1 October Twyman to Armstrong.

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brokered a meeting at which he offered to make Ken Douglas, the UCS managing director and a strong supporter of the Work-In, Deputy Chair and to examine the feasibility of including Scotstoun. Marchant warned: ‘in order to achieve this improvement Mr Stenhouse seems to have gone dangerously far in agreeing to consider both Scotstoun and Clydebank in this new company. He was shown on BBC television on 30 September saying to Mr J Reid (the Communist shop steward) that it was up to the Government and the workers to make it possible for Clydebank to be retained ... This would amount to nothing less than a revival of UCS which the Government has consistently said it would not contemplate.’ [25]

[25] NA EW7 1457 f.7 EV Marchant.

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Danny McGarvey to the rescue... of the government The government now faced a very difficult dilemma. It had to find ways of concealing, or at least reinterpreting, what was in fact a very serious policy defeat and avoid giving any further credibility to the shop stewards. At the same time it wanted to use its policy shift to re-establish relations with local business leaders and, no less important, to enable Danny McGarvey and the right-wing union leaderships to take back control of negotiations, side line the stewards and bring the work-in to an end. There was intense internal discussion prior to the key cabinet meeting on 12 October. Davies was now urging that monies be made available for maintaining work in the yards beyond the end of the year by supplying the credits required by the shipping companies to reinstate orders: ‘My Secretary of State recognises it is a most unattractive prospect but he believes that the consequences, social, economic and political, in turning back now that we have gone so far, would be worse’ (Eric Wright to Armstrong 1 October EW7 147 f.1]. In response, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 5 October warned that ‘giving into pressures from the Unions and buying their agreement by keeping some form of activity going’ would ‘wreck any chance of getting the labour forces to work properly’. Any financial guarantees must be dependent on new working conditions [EW7 1457 f. 13]. On 11 October Caplan at Regional Policy noted that ‘since the Government decided in July that they must accept the Robens Advisory Group’s recommendation to back a salvage operation for the Govan and Linthouse Yards of UCS, the situation has become increasingly difficult for them to control’. He was concerned that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry appeared to be ‘clutching at straws’ on the pledges on working conditions ‘given by the Unions’ [that is, the Confed leadership]. However, ‘the fact of their being given might help to show that the government’s further “engagement” on the Clyde was “different” now and not an outright shift over “lame ducks”’. ‘Ministers alone can gauge whether they can go as far as Mr Davies now proposes while at the same UCS 1971-2: How Clydeside’s Workers Defeated A Tory Government


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time preserving – if they regard this as necessary – any vestiges of credibility over their former lame duck doctrine’. The Cabinet meeting on 12 October reflected all these dilemmas. In a handwritten and rather ungrammatical summary of its conclusions (marked ‘Secret’) the Cabinet was reported as ‘not prepared to authorise the acceptance of additional extensive commitments of an open ended nature’. ‘The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry should inform Mr McGarvey that without public assurances from the unions on cooperation with Govan S and real negotiations on working practices and wages, and these assurances later to be repudiated by shop stewards, the Government would not be prepared to proceed.’ [26] Everything now depended on McGarvey getting firm commitments from the stewards on working conditions. The government’s new line was to be that, while they had shown compassion on the issue of unemployment, they had still achieved their wider objective of eliminating the Upper Clyde wage differentials. This outcome would blunt the criticism from the hard-line industrial barons like Lithgow and side-track the powerful monetarist faction led by Keith Joseph. At the same time it would address the political crisis in the West of Scotland and help re-establish the dialogue with the trade union movement that was essential for the implementation of the Industrial Relations Act. But everything depended on Danny McGarvey. Davies duly drew up a declaration which was signed by both himself and McGarvey on 12 October. The next three months saw increasing desperate attempts to get the stewards to sign this declaration and to recognise Govan Shipbuilders as the legal entity. The pressure on the government was now two-fold. First, parliamentary approval was needed to authorise major sums needed to keep the shipyards working and to launch the new company – and the government’s new line [26] NA EW7 1457 f. 20.

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meant it could not go to parliament without the assurances. Existing financial cover would run out by January at the latest. Second, the longer the work-in continued as a focus for working class mobilisation and solidarity the more difficult it would be to halt the swing to the Left in the trade union movement and the rapid erosion of the government’s political base in Scotland. The decision to convene a Scottish Assembly for February 1972, initiated by the UCS stewards and endorsed by the STUC, threatened a further deepening of this crisis. Meanwhile, workplace occupations were spreading. In July workers at Bryant Colour Printing in London had occupied. In September the big Scottish plant of Plessey’s was taken over. In October similar action was taken by workers at the Firth Brown steel works in Sheffield and the massive BSA plant in Birmingham. On Clydeside the stewards remained adamant: no further concessions till Clydebank was guaranteed. On 19 October Davies told Cabinet that there was still doubt as to the stewards agreement and that it was important that the ‘stewards were not seen to be dictating terms’ ‘in light of the government’s general industrial and employment policies’. [27] Heath stressed the importance of getting an agreement on reduced wages. It was in these circumstances that McGarvey was set up to be the saviour of the Clydebank yard, the man who finally found the firm that would guarantee the jobs. The US company Breaksea, a builder of liquid gas container ships, had been showing interest over the previous month. At a meeting with Davies on 22 November it was agreed that the government would privately assist McGarvey in negotiations – though McGarvey alone would front them. [28] A further meeting between Davies and McGarvey on 7 December planned a high level public announcement in Glasgow on 22 December with only Davies and the Confed officers present in order, as McGarvey put it, ‘to keep the shop stewards out of the limelight’. [29] Clearly it was hoped an agreement with Breaksea would have been achieved by then. But Breaksea proved evasive. Instead, on 22 December [27] NA EW7 1457 f. 20.

[28] FV 36/79 f. 9.

29] FV 36/79 f. 18 Note of meeting.

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Davies was drafting a letter to McGarvey reproaching him with failing to control the stewards and appealing ‘can you do anything to get negotiations going as we both intended?’. [30] This was the background to McGarvey’s bizarre flight to Breaksea’s Houston headquarters on 8 January. Again this was projected in the press as a solo mission by McGarvey - though in fact planned in detail at meetings at the DTI on 31 December and 5 January. [31] The meeting with Breaksea proved as abortive as the earlier ones. However, while in Houston McGarvey was put in touch with Marathon, a firm which the DTI had been in contact with earlier in 1971 about oil rig building. [32] These negotiations seemed to hold more prospect of success. Yet for the government this was too late. Commons approval for new funding for Govan Shipbuilders would no longer wait. To compound the government’s difficulties Lord Strathalmond had replaced Stenhouse, who died in a car crash in November. Strathalmond, an old friend of John Davies and previously a leading figure in British Petroleum, proved even more difficult to control than Stenhouse. He insisted that the new firm be financed entirely by public money – despite Davies pointing out that this would seriously annoy the ‘government’s supporters’ – and, as to subsidies, took the position that every other shipbuilding industry in the world was subsidised and Britain’s should be as well. [33] McGarvey made one final attempt on 20 January to persuade the stewards to give ground without firm guarantees on Clydebank – on this occasion threatening to make a direct appeal to the boilermakers over the heads of the stewards. A mass meeting of stewards held firm. After this the government had little alternative but to proceed with its request to the Commons for £35 million to finance the new company (the [30] FV 36/79 f 21A. [31] FV 36/79 f 25 Notes of meetings.    [32] FV 36/95 contains correspondence back to 1970. According to the Liquidator Sir Robert Smith, the contacts were provided in January 1972 through Lord Strathalmond and BP (Witness Seminar Glasgow University Business Records 24 August 2012). [33] FV 36/79 f. 26 Note of Meeting 12 January 1972 and f. 53 Briefing 4 February 72.

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key meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Policy was on 23 February). [34] The workforce was still in occupation. No concessions had been made on wages and shift patterns – despite last minute pleas by Heath. [35]This massive allocation of funds, five times what was asked in June 1971, was the first stage of a much bigger reversal of policy on regional aid and industrial investment to be announced in March when Ridley and Eden were finally sacked. Protests from the ‘government’s supporters’ were not slow in coming. Lithgow, in a letter almost incoherent with rage, complained to Heath that ‘private enterprise in shipbuilding is even further undermined than when I visited you a year ago’. The government had put ‘a premium ... on militancy’ – with the result that he himself now had to justify not paying wage increases costing “over £1 million a year”. [36] Yarrow, having made his protest, tried to use the occasion to wheedle yet more money out of the government. [37] The workers remained in occupation of the yards for another six months until Marathon had, with the required financial provision from the government, guaranteed the jobs in Clydebank.

[34] CAB 134/3487. [35] FV 36/79 f 49 28 January 1972. [36] Lithgow to Heath FV 36/79 7 March 1972. [37] Yarrow to Davies FV 36/79 f 79 29 February 1972. [

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The Shop Stewards’ Strategy and the Communist Party This outcome was the exact reverse of what the government had intended in June 1971. At that point it seems to have been quite confident that it could eliminate a key centre of industrial militancy and do so under the cover of promoting industrial efficiency. Instead, lasting damage was done to the unity of the Conservative Party, its Scottish electoral base was severely undermined, the Left enabled to seize the initiative within the trade union movement and the government’s key strategic objectives put at risk. This outcome would not have been possible without the very specific tactics adopted by the stewards. The term ‘Work-In’ itself illustrates the sophistication of stewards’ leadership. It was a word invented by the stewards, apparently clumsy and almost naive. But it was tailored exactly to a specific situation. It took advantage of the deep divisions within regional capital and the unwillingness of the banks and other creditors, now legally represented by the Liquidator, to see their own profitability sacrificed for political objectives which they did not necessarily share. Combined with the faitaccompli of occupation and with the relatively active support of top management around Ken Douglas, it opened the possibility of gaining the very major resources needed to continue the building of ships. Simultaneously, such a ‘work-in’ also represented a key ideological blow at the government. At a time when the government was deliberately increasing unemployment by cutting back regional subsidies, it enabled the UCS workers to exemplify the ‘right to work’, project themselves as champions of the regional economy and contradict the government’s portrayal of workers as workshy shirkers. The Work-In became the embodiment of the hopes of all those who feared for their employment, their communities and their businesses and showed that organisation and solidarity could beat markets and governments. Finally, and not least, physical possession of the yards also UCS 1971-2: How Clydeside’s Workers Defeated A Tory Government


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put the stewards, rather than McGarvey, in control of negotiations. However, the Work-In was itself essentially a tactic. It only made sense within a wider strategic understanding that was characteristically Communist and quite different from the social democratic mind-set of trade unionists such as McGarvey. He would have settled for a compromise settlement within the terms offered by the government – one that did not involve a wider class mobilisation and which would have confirmed the authority of a right-wing trade union leadership then under active challenge by the Left. Two points in particular need to be made about the role of the Communist stewards and the Communist Party. One is about its style of work; the other about this strategic perspective. The handful of Communist stewards were heirs to a tradition of work that had been developed, by trial and often grievous error, since the 1920s. This stressed that Communists had to be part of the everyday mass organisations created by working people to defend their collective interests. In doing so they had to respect the democracy and organisational integrity of these organisations, whether trade unions or tenants associations, and on no account seek to turn them into fronts for the Communist Party. This often meant individual party members, or small groups, working for years on basic issues of bargaining and defence that would superficially have little wider political impact – although always having the objective of building workers’ confidence in their own collective organisation. Yet at the same time they worked as Communists. They would seek to win fellow workers for an understanding of the class nature of society and seek to link immediate issues of defence, in the workplace or locality, to other similar struggles taking place elsewhere. And they did so as collective members of the Communist Party: supported and informed by discussions in their party branch and more widely in the Communist Party. Bert Ramelson, as the Communist Party’s industrial organiser in the 1960s UCS 1971-2: How Clydeside’s Workers Defeated A Tory Government


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and 70s, represented the high point of this style of work. [38] He insisted that party’s prime focus should be in the workplace, in the development of factory and workplace branches, that a major portion of the party’s resources should be devoted to the education of trade union cadres and that there be effective, day by day, channels of communication by which branches and individual comrades understood the wider changes in the political landscape. The objective was not central control, definitely not external manipulation, but to enable comrades on the ground to develop their own tactics – as in the well-studied practice of guerrilla war. While the industrial organiser had a wider role in developing strategy, Ramelson’s main practical job was that of adviser and referee in face of the very frequent tactical disagreements that occurred among comrades on the ground. Ramelson’s direct role in the UCS dispute appears to have been quite limited. The main focus of concern from party centre, and of intervention, seems have occurred during late September and October 1971 when McGarvey appeared to be on the edge of taking back control and a dangerous stalemate was developing. The party’s political committee on 29 September, discussed the feasibility of another token general strike in Scotland, the need for intensified visits by the stewards across England and Wales and launching a call for a Scottish National Assembly or Convention. [39] Otherwise the tactics emerged on the ground in Scotland. The key figures were the three Communist conveners in the yards, the officers of the shipbuilding branch, the party’s Scottish full-timers, most of whom had [38] Roger V. Seifert and Tom Sibley, Revolutionary Communist at Work: a Political Biography of Bert Ramelson, Lawrence and Wishart 2012 examines his role and philosophy in detail. [39] Seifert and Sibley, p. 188-189 note that Ramelson was in informal contact with Reid throughout. They refer to a three page memo dated 17 September which put forward the proposal for a Scottish Convention and suggests the need for flexible in the use of the work-in tactic. Communist Party Archive Political Committee 15 September 1971 Agenda (Online Archives image 39) shows that Ramelson took an item on shipbuilding which would presumably have agreed this position – although no notes survive. PC 29 September, at which Ramelson was present, contains notes (Online Archives PC September 1971 image 45) which raise need to canvas for a further one day Scottish general strike and take forward the call for a Scottish Convention.

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themselves previously been workplace conveners, and probably particularly important, Finlay Hart, a veteran shipbuilding activist, the party’s British industrial organiser from 1937-39, still a Communist councillor in Clydebank and in charge of the Scottish party’s research department. Additionally, there were the Communists in the wider movement, key figures such as Jimmy Milne, deputy general secretary of the STUC, Mick McGahey in the Scottish miners, and Hugh Wyper as secretary of Glasgow Trades Council (shortly to become Scottish secretary of the TGWU) as well as the dozen or so factory conveners from across central Scotland who sat on the party’s Scottish Committee. It was from discussions among these comrades that the tactical application of strategy emerged. The tactic of the Work-In itself, as noted earlier, only made sense within a specifically Communist analysis that saw society in terms of contending classes but also identified the intensifying economic contradictions produced by the process of monopolisation and the resulting structural conflict between the concentrated power of finance capital at state level and the interests of small and medium business. Jimmy Reid articulated the implications regionally and nationally to internal party meetings over the period before the work-in (and did so in analytical terms he would never have sought to use directly in the workplace): ‘The establishment of Scottish and Welsh parliaments would give the Scottish and Welsh people greater democratic opportunities to fight for the planned development of their countries ... In the course of this struggle the great monopoly concerns and the ruling class will be exposed as the chief threat to genuine popular and national interests..’ And ‘Tory policy is hostile to the vast majority of British people – industrial workers, farmers, professional people, small businesses and traders alike... ’ [40] Two other key strategic principles informed the development of tactics. The first was the rejection of ‘rank and filism’; the second the [40] The first quote comes from Reid’s speech to the 1969 Communist Party Congress; the second from his report to the party’s Executive Committee in March 1971.

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understanding that working class mobilisation and political consciousness developed, at least in non-revolutionary situations, cumulatively. Ever since the 1920s and the arguments of Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism, Communists in Britain had been won to the necessity of working within the mass democratic organisations of the working class, above all the trade union movement, however reactionary their leadership might be. To do otherwise would be to allow the working class’s key organisational structures to fall by default into the hands of the ruling class. In Britain, as elsewhere, there had been deviations from this position in the late 20s and 1930s. By the 1960s it was central to the party’s approach to ensure that the weight of workplace political activity was directed towards winning Left-wing policy within the official trade union movement and shifting the balance against the right. When the shop stewards’ based Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions was established in 1966 the Communist Party had to defeat the attempts by Trotskyite factions to demand that it be a purely ‘rank and filist’ body. Its Chair, Kevin Halpin, insisted that to operate effectively it had to seek to win affiliations from union district committees and ultimately national trade unions if it was to mobilise the scale of action required and to be a genuinely broad and democratically based body. [41] The UCS victory itself would have been impossible without the ability to coordinate action at every level within the trade union movement from the General Council of the STUC down to the district committees of the engineers and transport workers who provided the industrial and financial muscle for action. [41] Seifert and Sibley, Ramelson, pp. 114-118. Kevin Halpin, Memoirs of a Militant, Praxis, 2012.

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The second key strategic principle was the understanding that working class consciousness and mobilisation develops cumulatively. No specific struggle, like that at UCS, could treated – as the Trotskyite Left demanded at the time - as some kind of a direct, unlimited ‘revolutionary’ challenge. A dispute had to have specific objectives. These would address the needs of those whose livelihoods were at stake and of necessity be limited. But they would, in their manner of achievement, strengthen wider class confidence and political understanding and therefore cumulatively enhance the political challenge to the ruling class. [42] Heath’s government understood this only too well. The great danger posed by the UCS was in its impact on other struggles – the workplace fights against redundancy across England, Scotland and Wales, the mobilisation of regional and national alliances against unemployment and, most fatally, on the trade union movement’s readiness to use ‘illegal’ industrial action against the Industrial Relations Act. As Rothschild had noted, trade union opposition to the Bill had faltered in the early summer. At this point the Liaison Committee failed in its bid to secure a repeat in May 1971 of the one day industrial stoppages of February and March and trade union leaderships had begun to move towards compliance. The Work-In played a very major part in reversing this retreat. While on Clydeside the objectives of the Work-In were indeed limited, being no more (nor less) than to save the yards and their jobs, it cumulatively led forward to the political defeat of Heath’s government and a major swing to the Left in the Labour Movement.

[42] Jim Phillips, The Industrial Politics of Devolution: Scotland in the 1960s and 70s, Manchester 2008 provides an otherwise very useful overview of the period but, in its critique of the WorkIn (chapter 3 and esp. Pp 100-103), fails to understand this principle.

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