Scotland

How the Clyde work-in inspired Sting's Last ship

Sting launches his musical 'The Last Ship' at the Fairfield shipyard in Govan Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sting launches his musical 'The Last Ship' at the Fairfield shipyard in Govan

The plot of Sting's new musical The Last Ship has strong echoes for three former Clyde shipyard workers.

They went with me to see the new stage production in which a shipyard faces closure and the workers decide to take control by finishing off the construction of a half-built ship.

This is what Jimmy Cloughley, Linda Hamill and Thomas Brotherston experienced in 1971 when they were among thousands of workers at the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) who staged a work-in.

Edward Heath's Conservative government had been determined not to prop-up what they termed "lame duck" industries and wanted to stop funding UCS, which was a consortium of shipyards at Govan, Scotstoun and Linthouse.

The decision meant at least 6,000 of the 8,500 shipyard workers employed by the yards would have to be made redundant.

Image copyright David Allison
Image caption Jimmy Cloughley, Linda Hamill and Thomas Brotherston outside the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh.

Instead of striking, and to show they were not work-shy, shipyard workers decided to demonstrate the viability of the business by occupying the yards and completing existing orders in a bid to prevent closure.

At the time, the resulting work-in received huge media attention, not least because of the very quotable workers committee leader, the late Jimmy Reid.

He famously told the workforce: "There will be no hooliganism. There will be no vandalism. And there will be no bevvying - because the world is watching us."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Jimmy Reid led the "work-in" at the Clyde shipyards

Rock star Sting, who came from humble beginnings around the shipyards of Wallsend in Newcastle, was familiar with the UCS work-in and makes reference to it in his musical.

Actor Joe McGann, who stars in the production which is currently touring Scotland, said the former Police star is a huge admirer of the firebrand union leader.

Image caption Thomas, Linda and Jimmy meet Joe McGann and Richard Fleeshman from the production of The Last Ship

He said: "Jimmy Reid is a great hero of his.

"We had Jimmy Reid speeches on the wall of the rehearsal rooms.

"We did it in rehearsals as a way of instilling what these people knew."

Image copyright Express
Image caption The QE2 was launched from the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders in 1967

I went to the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh with three veterans of the UCS work-in to see Sting's musical.

Jimmy Cloughley, an engineer who was on the co-ordinating committee of the work-in, was accompanied by Linda Hamill, who worked in stock control, and former marine fitter Thomas Brotherston.

Jimmy said: "You had a group of workers that said 'we are not going on the dole, we are going to carry on working'.

"That flummoxed the establishment."

Linda recalled: "It was comradeship, communities getting together, strength, and it was all for the common good, for the the people.

Thomas said: "It was just defiance. It was better to die on your feet than to go down on your knees."

Image copyright David Allison
Image caption The Last Ship runs at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh until 16 June

Returning home to Glasgow on the train afterwards I asked the Jimmy what it was like to hear the UCS campaign mentioned on stage.

He said: "It was tremendous.

"It just shows you that although the Upper Clyde shipbuilders, to a certain extent, have been airbrushed out of history.

"For it to be mentioned, for me, it was particularly moving."

Jimmy says: "It has to be remembered that the UCS campaign of the last century was one of the finest victories that working people in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom has had.

"Sometimes people tend to forget about the UCS and the lessons of the UCS so in that respect it was wonderful to hear that."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Representatives of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders outside 10 Downing Street

The well-orchestrated UCS campaign attracted widespread public support, and the UK government, led by Ted Heath, finally relented in February 1972.

It announced a £35m injection of cash into the yards.

Within three years, shipbuilding on the Upper Clyde had received about £101m of public grants and credits, with £20m going to the UCS.

Linda was both moved and inspired by the play.

She said it was very emotional but gave her a feeling of strength.

Linda says it was good that women were included in the show.

"We had a work-in and there was a lot of women in the work-in," she said.

"We had ship's cleaners, we had office cleaners, we had office workers, we had canteen workers.

"Everywhere you go you hear 'the great men of the Clyde'.

"We were just put to the side, unfortunately."

Thomas had his doubts at the interval but by the end he was a convert.

He said: "I felt they made a full recovery.

"Hearing UCS just resonated right to the bottom of my feet.

"It was a historic victory we won.

"Now usually the victors write the history. We didnae."

I can confirm that on our day out to Edinburgh there was no hooliganism, no vandalism and, believe it or not, there was no bevvying either.

Jimmy Reid's legacy is intact.

The Last Ship runs all this week at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh before transferring to Glasgow's Theatre Royal.