Death of an unlikely hero

The death of Jimmy Reid,

    I read on Wednesday of the death of Jimmy Reid, aged 78. He'd been ill for some time.

    His name will mean nothing to many - he loved the fact I once described him as "world famous in Scotland" -  but part of his story is worth re-telling.

    Born in the grinding poverty of Glasgow's East End, his humble upbringing did not stop him excelling at school. 

    But there was never any question of young Jimmy going on to university. There was a need to help the family, to go out and earn some money, so at the age of 14, he went to work.

    Although he started working in a stockbrokers, he became an important figure in Glasgow's famous shipyards.

    There was a time that being 'Clydebuilt' was a mark of quality known the world over.

    In 1971, the then Conservative government decided it was time to close the five yards on the river, with the loss of 6,000 jobs. 

    Reid was one of those who co-ordinated the workers' action. There wasn't to be a strike. It was to be a work-in.

    The idea caught the imagination of the world - with messages of support sent from all over.

    Beatle John Lennon even sent a donation of around $8,000 to the fighting fund.

    In February 1972, the government of Edward Heath, the then prime minister, backed down, keeping two yards open, selling a third and saving thousands of jobs and many local communities.

    Jimmy explained the work-in was the "only logical effective form" of opposition to closure.

    "Strike action was unthinkable. We would have left the factory, the yards, and that would have delighted the government because they would have put padlocks on the gates. So that was out."

    If that was all to Reid's life - it would be impressive. 

    But this man who started reading Robert Louis Stevenson and Karl Marx at the age of 12 went on to have an impressive career as a journalist, television interviewer and award-winning documentary maker.

    He was elected to the honorary post of Rector of Glasgow University in 1971. His inaugural speech, regarded by many as one of the greatest they'd heard, was reprinted in full on the front cover of the New York Times.

    Ferociously bright and very funny, I got to know Jimmy a bit in his later years. 

    We met through our mutual connection to a charity which encourages young people to think for themselves and question the world around them. 

    Jimmy was a frequent and popular guest.

    A former communist, his political views adapted and changed to the world around him. 

    He remained a commited socialist - speaking out recently about the banking crisis and how the greed of a few had lead to misery for millions.

    Reid was a true internationalist. He spoke the truth, often at a cost to himself. He was principled. He never sought benefits for himself, just for his fellow man. He was a true intellectual.

    The world could do with a few more Jimmy Reids. And he will be missed.


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