Sammy Barr (1931-2012): shop steward and key figure in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders 1971 ‘work-in’

Sammy Barr, the shop steward who was an influential figure in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders ‘work-in’ of 1971, has died at the age of 80 in Glasgow. The Herald and The Scotsman published obituaries last week.

Samuel Alexander Barr (known as Sammy) was born in Glasgow on 20 December 1931.  After leaving school in 1947 at the age of 15 he took up an apprenticeship with Charles Connell and Company, Scotstoun, as a welder and soon became active in the trade unions. Before long he was shop steward for the apprentices and then became shop steward for the welders in the Boilermakers’ Society. He was passionate, committed, and well respected  by his fellow workers, and it is said that he originally came up with the idea of the 1971 ‘work-in’.

In 1968, the Labour government pronounced that Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Ltd was to be responsible for shipbuilding in the Glasgow area. This decision resulted mainly from the findings of the Geddes Report on British shipbuilding. The report led to the government to force the merger of the five existing shipbuilding companies left, from Clydebank to Govan, into one, which would be known as the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Ltd. The five yards merged were: John Brown & Co (Clydebank) Ltd; Fairfields (Glasgow) Ltd in Govan; Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd in Linthouse; Charles Connell & Co Ltd in Scotstoun; and Yarrow & Co Ltd also in Scotstoun. The Upper Clyde Shibuilders Yard was to set the bench mark not only for shipbuilding, but for industry as a whole in Britain.

At its formation, there were nearly 14,000 people in the work-force. Yet, in 1971, the company went in to receivership and a ‘work-in’ was staged, led by shop-stewards, Jimmy Reid, Sammy Gilmore, and Jimmy Airlie, along with Sammy Barr, who by this point was a leading figure in one of the biggest unions on the shipyards. Their action was partly successful, as in 1972 the government sanctioned the formation of Govan Shipbuilders Ltd, with Scotstoun Marine Ltd a wholly owned subsidiary. However, the existence of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Ltd was ended.

After his retirement Sammy continued working with the trade unions and was also an active member of his community in Partick, Glasgow. He died on 7 May 2012.

For those interested in researching the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders or the 1971 ‘work-in’ there are a number of collections here at Archive Services that may be of use, including the papers of Sammy Barr himself. We also have:

Papers of Jimmy Reid, Rector and Scottish trade union official

Records of Hay and Woolfson Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Ephemera Collection

Records of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Shop Stewards Committee

Transcripts of media reports of the UCS work-in

Records of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Ltd

And many more. If you are interested doing research using these collections and others that are held at Archive Services please contact us.

Categories: Archive Services

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