May Day: The UCS Work-in collections

Save UCS sticker

 At the Archive Services we hold the records for many of the shipping companies which formed the backbone of Clydeside industry for over a century. The shipyards employed thousands of workers and the industry became synonymous with Glasgow’s working class; as Hugh Cochrane noted in a BBC documentary:

“Clydeside… Shipbuilding is the structure, the iron ribs on which it was formed produced the spark, the pulse, the red-lead complexion and much of the character of a place and the people whose lives depend on it.” (BBC TV News Transcripts, UGD 180)

 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) was a consortium of shipyards which in 1971 was threatened with closure by Edward Heath’s government as part of a policy of withdrawing subsidies for what were deemed ‘lame duck’ industries. A ‘work-in’ was proposed as a way to protest closures and redundancies opposed to a traditional strike by the Shop Steward Committee, to show the industrial and societal value of the shipyards.

A leaflet depicting Reid and Heath in a boxing ring.

A leaflet depicting Reid and Heath in a boxing ring.

Glasgow University Archive Services holds a variety of collections which document the work-in including the personal papers of two of the committee’s leaders, Jimmy Reid and Sammy Barr, so it would seem appropriate to highlight what we hold on May Day, or as it is also known, International Workers Day.

Reid’s papers show correspondence of his that relates to the work-in, detailing everything from the state of its finances to an altered version of the Lord’s Prayer written in support of the workforce in lieu of being able to make a financial donation. The collection also has material which details parts of Reid’s political life beyond the work-in with a lot of his material from the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers and the Communist Party of Great Britain.


Letter to Reid







The collection also holds papers on Reid’s time as Rector of the university. He was elected in 1972 and took the radicalism of the work-in to the students in his famous inaugural address, Alienation. The speech called on students going into the workplace to reject the values of modern society saying that ‘A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings’. His speech was later printed in The New York Times who described it as “the greatest speech since President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.”

Letter congratulating Reid on his election as Rector


A magazine from the Glasgow branch of the Communist Party

Sammy Barr’s papers offer a wide array of political material. The collection holds a lot of trade union papers from UCS yards covering before, during and after the work-in, collected by Barr during his role as Yard Convenor. It also contains items relating to many political campaigns. There is a great deal on international solidarity against the Pinochet regime in Chile as well as other international causes ranging from the troubles in Northern Ireland to human rights abuses in Iran. Another focus of the Barr collection is on unemployment and housing issues, particularly in Glasgow and Clydeside. This ranges from trade union and Communist Party large scale campaigns to community based newspapers, giving a unique and localised insight into unemployment as a consequence of the deindustrialisation of the region.


A cover encouraging the SFA to boycott a match with Chile

A cover encouraging the SFA to boycott a match with Chile

As well as the personal collections we hold transcripts of the Shop Stewards Committee meetings of the UCS work in, giving an in depth insight into the internal debates that were happening within the workforce at the work-in. BBC transcripts held provide a further source of how the work-in was covered with the script for a Current Account UCS special presented by Hugh Cochrane as well clips from the work force and on air debates with the work-in leaders and their detractors.


 Leaflet against unemployment





In addition to this we also hold a collection of ephemera from the UCS work in collected by Charles Woolfson and J R Hay. It documents much of the debate surrounding the work-in as well as much of the material that left wing groups were producing at the time. The material ranged from The Gorbals View, which campaigned against high rental prices to The Word, a Glasgow based student magazine which included interviews from figures as prominent as Tariq Ali.

The UCS work-in was an event which drew much debate and scrutiny, as a result of this it left behind a rich source of material highlighting not just the event itself but part of the political landscape of 1970s Glasgow.


To view more about what we hold view our online catalogues by following the links below:

Jimmy Reid, Alientation, Rectorial address

Papers of Jimmy Reid, Our reference: DC 455

Papers of Sammy Barr, Our reference: DC 140

UCS BBC Transcripts, Our reference: UGD 180

Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Shop Stewards’ Committee Transcripts, Our reference: UGD 181

Hay and Woolfson Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Ephemera collection, Our reference: DC 65

Categories: Archive Services, Library

1 reply


  1. Heritage on Campus this November | University of Glasgow Library

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