By Conrad Landin

IT made household names of those at its heart and as their global fame grew, John Lennon even donated a substantial sum to help the cause Now veterans of the famed 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders “work-in” have called on young workers to take inspiration from their legendary dispute when fighting redundancies.

At an event to mark 50 years since the dispute yesterday, the men were serenaded into Glasgow City Chambers by a piper for a civic reception and to be presented with badges to mark the event.

Lord Provost Philip Braat officially recognised the importance of the work-in on behalf of the city.

He said: “This was indeed a seminal moment in our history. It is one that continues to inform us and inspire us.

It changed the course of industrial relations for good.”

After the loss-making Upper Clyde Shipbuilders went into receivership, threatening thousands of jobs, workers at the consortium’s four yards at Govan, Linthouse, Scotstoun and Clydebank occupied the facilities.

But rather than withdrawing their labour, they continued working to prove the viability of shipbuilding on the upper Clyde – and ended up being more productive than the yards had been under private ownership.

Jimmy Cloughley, a former member of the UCS co-ordinating committee said: “It was a victory against the Tories, and instead of the £6 million required to keep the contracts going, after the volte-face, they ended up with between seven and nine million.”

Their action garnered huge support from across the labour movement as well as civil society, the world of celebrity and even small businesses.

Lead union conveners Jimmy Reid and Jimmy Airlie became household names.

Along with Sammy Barr, the boilermakers’ convener who first suggested the work-in tactic, both Reid and Airlie were members of the Communist Party – which at the time wielded huge influence across Britain’s labour movement.

Reid’s daughter Eileen was present at the reception, as were Barr’s daughters June and Brenda.

When it was announced at a shop stewards’ committee meeting that Lennon and Yoko Ono had made a substantial donation to the cause, one of the union reps responded: “Don’t be daft, Lenin’s been dead for years.”

The workforce rejected a compromise offered by Ted Heath’s Conservative government, which would see just two of the four yards stay open.

By fighting on, they secured the continued operation of all of the yards and Reid was elected rector of Glasgow University during the dispute.

George Kerr, a veteran of the work-in, told The Herald: “Since Covid, more and more jobs are in jeopardy. Where we can celebrate [the victory at UCS] like tonight, it should inspire people in similar circumstances. We can remember how it can be done and how it should be done.

“Workers are more isolated now from the collective action to defend the right to work.”

“UCS took up momentum: everybody realised they were affected, and they got involved. The shopkeepers knew that if there were no shipyards, they would go out of business.

UCS was also a significant turning point in union democracy and communication techniques, with mass meetings and daily work-in bulletins keeping workers informed of every development. “We didn’t have mobile phones in those days,” work-in veteran Davie Torrance said. at yesterday’s gathering.

The new badge is designed by Bob Starrett, a shipyard painter who became the official cartoonist of the UCS shop stewards’ committee. His illustrations for the union’s leaflets are considered to have played a major role in keeping the workforce informed of developments.

“They liked the idea they were consulted, their vote counted,” Starrett said of the UCS workers. “The labour force, hundred per cent behind [the actions of the shop stewards], therefore you could call on other industries for support. Nobody was pulling a strop, nobody was going to use it as a springboard to advance theirself. The whole of Britain came behind. Somebody has to be the spearhead, and it happened to be Glasgow.”

The event was organised by the Unite union’s West of Scotland community branch - which organises among retired and unemployed workers. Branch secretary Jim Lister said: “The strategy of bringing support for the struggle for a decent life from all sections of society was the foundation on which the success of the work-in was built.

“An alliance of small businesses, faith groups, councils and members across the political spectrum all stood together with trade unionists calling for the simplest of demands: the ‘right to work’.”