“A Rat Race is for Rats.”

Jimmy Reid addresses UCS workers in 1971, during the work-in.

Hello folks. As you might know, nearly two weeks ago on the 10th of August, trade union leader and journalist Jimmy Reid died, aged 78. On the day of his funeral, I found out that Edwin Morgan, the Scots Makar, had also just passed away. As the social networks twittered away with notes of sadness at the passing of our country’s national poet, I was still thinking about its greatest trade unionist. It was the first funeral I’ve ever listened to on the radio, and the closest I’ve ever been moved to tears by the death of someone I didn’t know.

In the 1970’s, Jimmy Reid led the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Work-In in an effort to stop the Conservative government from closing down the shipyards of the River Clyde. In a famous speech, Reid declared to the workers:

We are not going to strike. We are not even having a sit-in strike. Nobody and nothing will come in and nothing will go out without our permission. And there will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying because the world is watching us, and it is our responsibility to conduct ourselves with responsibility, and with dignity, and with maturity.

The workers did just that: worked. They proved to Edward Heath’s government that the shipyards were viable and eventually Reid led the men to victory over the Tories. The shipyards of the Clyde were saved. As Jamie Webster, union convener at BAE systems in Govan said: “there would be no Clyde shipbuilding today without Jimmy”.

On one demonstration march, the UCS asked all working men in Glasgow to come out for one day in support of the shipyards. I’m extremely proud to say that my Grandfather came out on that march and took my father with him to march in solidarity with the men of the shipyards. As you can imagine, for me the story of the UCS Work-In is incredibly inspiring. I can’t imagine a union leader nowadays doing for his workers what Jimmy Reid did for the men of the UCS and I can only begin to imagine a workforce, a whole city, being brought together in such unity, for one cause, taking on a Conservative government and winning. Nonetheless, it is possible. In an uncertain political climate, again under the rule of a Conservative Prime Minister and in the midst of a recession, we could do well to remember the things that are possible.

On the day that I found out Jimmy Reid had died, I was recording a song for my new E.P. The version below is from a live session with Jim Gellatly. The song is called “Strike!” and I hope you like it.

In 1971, Jimmy Reid gave his famous “rat-race speech” upon being made rector of Glasgow University. The New York Times printed the speech in full and called it “the greatest speech since President Lincoln’s Gettsyburg Address”.

Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. 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 lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?

Those words stir me more than any piece of poetry. They inspire me to be better.

There are more of us than there are of them.



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