Paul Corby remembers Jimmy Reid

At the Upper Clyde shipyard, 1972

At the Upper Clyde shipyard, 1972

The great socialist folk singer, Pete Seeger, always said that he wanted to be with “the live hearts”, wherever they may be and in whatever numbers they were fighting the struggle. Jimmy Reid was always a “live heart”.

To begin Jimmy’s life near the end,  he eventually rejected Labour for the SNP because he felt Labour to be paradoxically a Thatcherite party.

And he was right to say that Labour had left its working class base behind, and Labour had sadly lost confidence in working class people. Most of its leaders and indeed most of the leading trade union bureaucracy no longer live, mix and socialise with the working class they represent. But Jimmy was absolutely at one with them to the end.

Jimmy’s critical analysis of Labour was uncomfortable and inconvenient to many. But it was precisely the restraining influence of the intellect, values, decency and commitment of people like Jimmy Reid that used to keep Labour on track. Without them, it was all too easy to succumb to a rootless, shiftless leadership which left people like Jimmy behind.  The Iraq war,  blind faith in the City and a lack of structural improvement of our working class base were too much for him to tolerate.

Jimmy Reid delivering his speech to the UCS workers 1971.

I attended  an absolutely packed meeting at Sheffield City Hall chaired by AUEW district secretary, George Caborn, which raised thousands of pounds from workers who had paid their own fares to get to the meeting from all over the Yorkshire Region. All present left with a real sense of direction and confidence in themselves as workers from mills, mines, foundries, factories, building sites and offices.

Jimmy spoke to the meeting of the size of class injustice,  talking  about small people struggling and giant people benefiting from their efforts and giving no reward to the little people, which led to a description of John Mcgrath’s 7-84 theatre company and the statistic that 7% of the population owned 84% of the wealth.

Jimmy brought this back to working class people’s skills at the work they did, to the politics of social justice that they believed in, and even to the music they produced – ranging from Ewan Mcoll to the Beatles, Jack Bruce and Cream with whom both Jimmy Airlie and Jimmy Reid stayed during the UCS campaign.

Jimmy railed against racism, citing the stupidity of those who practised discrimination and bigotry against those of different colour. He quoted the superb football ability of Pele, the beauty of Diana Ross, the jazz of John Coltrane and Miles Davis and the great boxer and most recognised man on the planet, Muhammad Ali.

Jimmy was the living proof of the serious mistake of those who espoused “scientific socialism” and its inevitable victory. Socialism is about humanity,  intellect and the heart -Jimmy Reid’s strengths.

Jimmy was a most handsome man, a warm character, always willing to enter into discussion with whoever was fortunate enough to enter his company.

He had style, he had intellect, he had an ability to communicate. He was a human being of immense proportions.

This was recognised by the great Scot, Sir Sean Connery, who made the film “The Bowler and the Bunnett” about the class divide in Scottish shipbuilding and the tremendous and successful social and industrial initiative in the Glasgow Fairfield shipyard. Sir Sean had both Jimmies as his advisors on the making of the film and remained their friend to the end, referring to both in his recent book “Being a Scot”.

Sadly, Jimmy was always to remain on the periphery of the Labour movement, unsuccessful in running for high trade union office, beaten by Gavin Laird and also failing to be elected to Parliament for both the Communist party and the Labour party.

I can remember travelling to work with a Communist party colleague to hear on the car radio that Jimmy Reid had left the Communist party. It gave both of us a sad feeling and concern as to what would next happen for our hero.

Jimmy Reid’s failure to achieve high Labour movement office is of itself an indictment of our defects. Many men used many means to deny him the best opportunities, handing those openings to dullards and timeservers.

Lennon was right: “a working class hero is something to be”. Jimmy Reid was a genuine working class hero and – like the trade union movement which touches and benefits the lives of millions of people who are not members – Jimmy stimulated the intellects and reached the hearts and minds of more people than he ever knew.

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6 Responses to “Paul Corby remembers Jimmy Reid”

  1. Tony Watson says:

    Jimmy Reid was a great motivator. My best memory of him was hearing him speak to a Young Communist League Congress. He was Secretary of YCL and he coined the phrase “We are on the winning side” He was right then and he is now. The lessons from the work in should be remembered by our current TU leaders.

  2. Joani reid says:

    Thank you Tom and Paul.

    My grandfather once said to me: ” Glasgow was a hard working community but we lived in slums, disease was rife and wages were pitiful. There were many who lived with plenty under the same Government and three of my sisters died of poverty under the age of 18 months. And people wonder why I’m a socialist?”

    It was this experience of the 30s which propelled my papa into activism and politics.

    It is due to the NHS, the minimum wage and all of the achievements of the Labour Party which has allowed me to be brought up in a very different world to my Papa and we should never forget that.

    Joani Reid

  3. […] Corby from Labour Uncut Jimmy was the living proof of the serious mistake of those who espoused “scientific socialism” […]

  4. james o'keefe says:

    thanks Paul, we need more live hearts in our movement again.
    I wonder what the theatre company would be named now…

  5. rev green says:

    Yep thats why the John Brown yard is a hair dressing school.

  6. david says:

    he was a great man . can any one tell me did he go to work for a torie news papper .

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