Friday, August 13, 2010

Jimmy Reid - 1952 Apprentice Strike

JIMMY REID 1932-2010

"Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice, least you jeopardise your chances of self promotion and self advancement"

Jimmy Reid 1971

1952 Apprentices Strike

Jimmy Reid (Scottish Y.C.L.) Congress 1952

On Wednesday, 2 April 1952, the lads on the Clydeside, after being on strike for 31 weeks, decided to resume work, with the full inten
tion of continuing ithe strike, failing a satisfactory reply from the employers before April 20.

During the strike the employers used every means to try and split the unity of the lads. They sent letters to their parents, posing as philanthropic gentlemen only interested in the welfare of the lads! When this failed, the employers began threatening the lads
eligible for National Service with cancellation of their deferment. One employer was rash enough to send postcards threatening wholesale cancellations of the deferments.

The response of the lads was, to paraphrase Churchill, "prompt, resolute and effective". They held a demonstration through the streets and publicly burnt the postcards. Certain right-wing union officials tried to undermine the movement among the lads.

They did everything to try and prevent action being taken. But the apprentices ign
ored them and went on strike.. Yet this did not affect their attitude to the union. During the course of the strike, 1,000 took application forms for the A.E.U.

The apprentices on the Clydeside are now aiming at 100 per
cent trade unionism. Communist Leadership This feeling was not generated overnight. It was a direct refle
ction of the growing discontent amongst young people at the gradually worsening conditions they are asked to live under.

We can only bring into being and develop such a m
ovement under the leadership of the Young Communist League and with the assistance of the Communist Party, It was explained to the lads on the Clydeside that indignation was not enough, the £1 would not be handed to them on a plate, and they would have collectively to organise and struggle against the employers.We now have on the Clydeside a collective movement among the apprentices which has its roots in every factory in Glasgow. This movement has left deep impressions on the lads. It has led to a re-awakening of the class-consciousness amongst these young people. It was the first time they had participated in s class battle.

They now appreciate their own strength. It is one step from that to realisation that once workers move into action they represent an invincible force. We also learnt very valuable political lessons in regard to the press. Many had illusions
about the press which were soon shattered. The lads were q
uick to realise that if the press wrote lies about them, they wrote lies about a lot of other things.

When on demonstrations, they always wanted to march past the newspaper offices and boo them. The boys are beginning to realise the tie-up between the press and the Tory Party. This was one of the most valuable lessons they learnt.

Ready to Defend Conditions

This movement, above all else, has shown the readiness of y
oung people, given proper leadership, to go into action in defence of their living standards, and on all issues which affect them.

The decision taken at this year's annual Junior Workers Conference of the A.E.U. declares for the reduction of service to twelve months, and that to be served inside Britain. This indicates that the people, given proper leadership, are prepared to move into action on all issues which affect them.


The strike soon spread to England and an estimated 40,000 apprentices went on strike for better wages. After three and a half weeks the strike ended with a significant pay rise across numerous sectors.

JIMMY REID 1932-2010

Jimmy Reid born on 9th July 1932 in Govan, He left school at 14 to work in the yards and led his first strike, of engineering apprentices, aged 19 with Bristol Polar Engines; before long he was a shop steward. Initially a Labour supporter, he cut his teeth on rent strikes in Govan, joined the Young Communist League in 1950 (serving on its executive with Arthur Scargill) and became a Clydebank Communist councillor. Reid came out of the work-in as shop stewards’ convener at the Marathon rig-building yard, Clydebank — which he remained for several years despite being a national figure.

Reid became the Scottish Secretary of the Party in the late 1960s.

Reid's involvement with the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) came when he returned to his trade in the Govan Division of UCS in 1969, moving to the John Brown Division in Clydebank where he married Joan Swankie and was elected as one of the four Communist Party councillors on Clydebank town council.

The semi-nationalised UCS had been created in 1968 by Tony Benn to rescue five loss-making shipyards on the upper Clyde.

The Conservatives came to power pledging to kill off industrial "lame ducks" and in June 1971 they withdrew trade credits, pushing the company into administration.

Some 6,000 workers were scheduled to lose their jobs within three months.

Under the leadership of Reid, Airlie and Barr the co-ordinating committee of the joint shop stewards refused to accept this outcome and occupied the yards.

His most prominent claim to fame arose from his joint leadership of 8,000men at the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work in from June 1971 for fourteen months, even John Lennon of the Beatles backed the work in with £5000

Students at Glasgow University voted him Rector.

He stood three times as a Communist candidate in General Elections for Dunbartonshire in 1970, 1974 (twice). In 1974 he tripled the Communist vote. Securing inoneelectionover 6,000 votes.

Reid joined the Labour Party in 1979 and into new century was still involved with the Scottish Left.

Jimmy Reid on election to position of Rector at Glasgow University in 1971 stated

"Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice, least you jeopardise your chances of self promotion and self advancement"

Jimmy Reid died Rothesay 10th August 2010

UCS Statement

"We are taking over the yards because we refuse to accept that faceless mencan make these decisions. We are not going to strike. We are not evenhaving a sit-in strike. Nobody and nothing will come in and nothing will go out without our permission. There will be nohooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying, because the worldis watching us."

Jimmy Reid 1971

Michael Walker




January 27 1952 saw an event that set the ball rolling for the first major apprentices' strike since 1937, before the second world war. On that Sunday the Young Engineers Clydeside Conference was called. It took place at 1pm in Community House Clyde Street Glasgow, wages and conditions being the main subjects up for discussion. A Clydeside Apprentices' leaflet claimed, “Apprentices pay the same as journeymen for meals, travel, tools and overalls, etc.” The conference also called for Action Committees to be set up in every workshop and to pursue a claim for £1 week increase on apprentices' wages. At the conference there were 31 firms represented with 114 apprentice delegates representing all trades in engineering and shipbuilding.

Committee secretary, Jimmy Reid, stated, ”--it is not enough to feel indignation, but it was necessary to translate it into action. The committee supported 100% trade union membership among apprentices and stated, “We are the skilled tradesmen of tomorrow---and it is in our hands that the future prosperity of this country depends--.” At this time young lads were being sent to fight in Korea, Egypt, Malaya etc.


A delegation from Fairfield Shipyard, Govan, Glasgow, stated that the apprentices there believed that the next step forward was a token strike and demonstration on the streets of Glasgow. “We will make the bosses shake when they see 1,000 apprentices marching through the streets of Glasgow.” Some working conditions were described, saying, apprentices were working on water tests, up to their knees in muck and rust and earning 24 shillings a week.


The first one day strike and demonstration saw 5,000 apprentices march through Glasgow city centre. There was a roar of cheering when the demonstration was informed that 1,200 Greenock apprentices had stopped work in solidarity. At the Hydepark Locomotive works Springburn Glasgow, the management tried to get the apprentices to go to an arranged film show instead of striking. It failed miserably.

Eric Parks of Weirs Pumps Cathcart Glasgow said he was called before the apprentices' supervisor who said, “Eric my boy, you've fallen down in my respect. The employers are making sacrifices in our works--.” Eric pointed out that Weirs had made £1.25 million profit last year, or £6 per head per week.

A comment by a member of the government that a loaf of bread might soon cost 10/- (ten shillings, -50p). This was taken up as, 3 loaves of bread a week—an apprentices wage.


A delegation of apprentices interviewed employers representatives in London and it was stated in the press, that these young engineers didn't fear important looking gents in Anthony Eden hats and impeccable suits. On this London delegation were Eric Parks, Jimmy Reid, John McColl, and Ernest Skilling.


In Aberdeen 600 apprentices noisily marched through the city streets, the call for strike action was now spreading. There was now apprentice action in Glasgow, Greenock, Aberdeen, Manchester, Shefield and London.


At a delegate conference on Sunday March 2nd a resolution to call a strike for Monday March 10th 1952 was carried by 95 for and 5 against. The resolution stated, This conference of delegates representing apprentices from all over Scotland, demands a reply not later than 12am of Friday March 7th to the claim of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions for a £1 per week increase in all apprentices wages. An unsatisfactory reply or a failure to reply will be regarded as deliberate refusal to reach agreement and will result in strike action commencing on Monday March 10th at 11am..


The attitude of the apprentices was very bullish with speaker after speaker emphasising that apprentices wanted strike action in the belief that only militant action would lead to a successful campaign. At the conference Jimmy Reid stated; “Before the lads went into action the employers had no need to worry about them, but now these people are sitting up and having to take notice of the apprentices,--- the lesson is clear.” Eric Parks reminded the conference of the huge profits being made by the employers and said; “We must see the necessity of forming apprentices' committees in every factory as the main form of organisation----it is better to suffer a little hardship than to grovel on our bellies and accept the miserable and intolerable conditions of the present time.”


On Wednesday March 6th 500 apprentices from Caledonian Shipyard Dundee staged a half day token strike in support of the £1 claim. Other action, demonstrations and marches of support sprang up in London, Manchester and elsewhere.

No satisfactory answer arrived so the strike went ahead on Monday 10th March. With 5,000 Clydeside apprentices walking out at 11am that day. By March 22nd over 17,000 apprentices in engineering and shipbuilding and other key industries were on strike. At this period Birkenhead, Manchester and Shefield joined the strike. There was union and financial support form workplaces, some workplaces were levying workers 2/6 (two shillings and sixpences,12 and a half pence.) to 5/- (five shillings, 25 pence.) Workers at the Rolls Royce Works donated £150.

By March 25th nearly 20,000 apprentices were on strike. March 26th Glasgow shop stewards decided to take token action to support the apprentices strike. In Edinburgh where apprentices had decided to go back, they walked out again the same day 800 strong. Harland and Wolf's Belfast now joined the strike with over 1,000 apprentices walking off the job.

That week there was a march and demonstration in Glasgow which saw 5,000 apprentices march through the city streets. By this time Rolls Royce had donated £500 to the strike fund.


Approximately 20,000 apprentices who had been on strike for more than three weeks went back to work on the understanding that it would speed up negotiations with the employers. Delegates representing 14,500 took decisions for future action should the employers fail to give a satisfactory response. The conference adopted a strong worded resolution which expressed determination to carry the fight to a successful conclusion.

Pat McCauley, secretary of the Greenock strike committee stated; “This is only the first round in the struggle. The lads have shown their mettle and shaken the bosses. If we don't get a reply to our claim shortly, the bosses must be held responsible for what will follow--- this is a tactical retreat not a defeat. The boys are still in fighting mood.” On Friday April 25th apprentice delegates from Clydeside, Aberdeen, Manchester, Shefield and York decided in Glasgow to accept, under protest, the recent wage award agreed between the trade unions and the employers. The conference stated that this was only the first stage in the struggle for better conditions.


Eric Parks, secretary of the Clydeside Apprentices committee said that the amount employers gave which was higher than their first offer, and the fact that they negotiated a separate wage claim for the apprentices at was entirely due to the militant action taken by the lads in the workshops and shipyards. The fact that there had been a separate negotiated wage claim for the apprentices represented a terrific victory for the lads. Previously the apprentices wage increases, if any, were simple tacked on to the end of the wages agreement made with the journeymen.

The general feeling among the apprentices, especially the 1st. 2nd. and 3rd year lads was one of discontent. A discontent that said it should be accepted under protest and immediately make arrangements to go forward for a new demand.


Age-- Award.

15-- 5s 6p

16-- 6s 5p

17-- 7s 4p

18-- 8s 3p

19-- 10s 1p

20-- 11s

The 10s and 11s award was a fair bit of money to many apprentices and this may have been the aim of the employers by making it less likely that the older lads, who would be journeymen in a year or so, would be less likely to support further strike action.

Posted by John Couzin.