Born: October 8 1939 Died: October 8, 2011.
SAMMY Gilmore, who has died on his 72nd birthday in Glasgow, was one of the principal architects of the historic Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) work-in. In 1971 Mr Gilmore, along with Jimmy Reid, Jimmy Airlie and Sammy Barr, led 8500 workers in the protest about under-investment in the yards. They created industrial history causing much political and commercial embarrassment. Mr. Gilmore with his resolute and determined personality came to personify the workforce.
He was a much admired character and was no respecter of persons: he had the delightful ability to treat everyone with the same irreverence, charm and his own brand of gleeful courtesy. But Mr Gilmore was a devoted trade unionist and solidly behind Jimmy Reid, who famously said when he was announcing the work-in: “There will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism, there will be no bevvying because the world is watching us.” Mr Gilmore reflected that attitude throughout the 16-month work-in and was closely associated with its ideology, drive and thrust.
Sammy Gilmore (known as Sam to his family and Sammy to union colleagues) was born and raised in the Calton on the north banks of the Clyde. He worked as an apprentice electrician and was soon active in the union movement, rising to become a works convener.
The shipbuilding industry had been facing pressure from foreign competition for some years. In 1971 Rolls-Royce faced bankruptcy and had received government funding. The Heath adminsitration was facing industrial unrest elsewhere and, controversially, decided to remove funding from UCS. Mr Heath proposed closing the yards and selling off the assets, retaining only a skeleton staff. With much commercial bravery, the stewards’ co-ordinating committee declared a work-in. It took over control of the yards and continued to work on the full order books.
Mr Gilmore’s finely-argued speeches proved fundamental in preserving the workers’ morale. With his direct, no-nonsense style he once told the Prime Minister to “cut the commercials” and the Industry Secretary Sir Keith Joseph to shut up.
He asked the Queen Mother if she kept her fresh-faced appearance by taking youth pills. But Mr Gilmore was clearly impressed by her. He admitted to friends: “I admired how she did her graft in the yard that day.”
The work-in was one of the most fraught and momentous in Scottish industry. UCS had been created in 1968 by the amalgamation of five shipbuilders, who were brought into semi-public ownership by Tony Benn – then Labour Minister in Harold Wilson’s government. The work-in continued for 16 months until October 1972 when Ted Heath’s government was forced into a U-turn and provided £35 million of public money to maintain 5000 jobs at UCS.
Mr Gilmore spearheaded many of the iniatives that maintained public support. He was articulate and reasoned both in his dealings with fellow workers and with the media. He encouraged both Harold Wilson and Tony Benn to visit the yards.
Mr Benn recalled the action yesterday saying: “The UCS was a brilliant operation. Instead of taking strike action they decided to take over the yards and were very, very disciplined. It was a very unique form of industrial action.”
In 1991 with a change of ownership at the yard Mr Gilmore took early retirement and so ended the career of one of the most charismatic union officials.
He was the last of the great shipyard union characters and his stories, his ebullience and his commitment to the interests of his members will long be remembered on Clydeside.
As his daughter, Lyn Lochart told The Herald yesterday: “Dad was a big character. He could have a party with just three in the room. He died with his family around him celebrating his birthday. It is just the way he would have wanted to go.
“Dad was deeply committed to his family – his other lifelong passions were the union movement and the shipyards of the Clyde.”
Mr Gilmore married Margaret McElhinney in 1964. He is survived buy his wife, daughter Lyn, son Maurice and four grandchildren.