Scottish shipbuilders' historic win recalled

March 24, 2012

A Rose Loupt Oot
Edited by David Betteridge
Smokestack Books 2011
£8.95, 64 pages

Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the work-in Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) in 1971, a campaign by Scottish workers that resulted in the reversal of the Conservative government’s decision to close down a number of shipyards on the River Clyde in Glasgow.

A Rose Loupt Oot is a collection of poems, songs and artwork marking the anniversary.

It is dedicated to the memory of Communist shop stewards Jimmy Airlie and Jimmy Reid, and to all of the shipyard workers “who made a historic stand and saved their shipyards from closure”.

The book is inspired by the conviction that the UCS work-in is not just of historical significance but of lasting political importance. It is a timely reminder “of how powerful the combined action of people can be when they are united, and are well led in a just cause, and how powerful language can be, whether in speeches or written articles or songs or poems, in serving to mobilise action”.

The book is divided into two main sections, one devoted to song and one devoted to poetry, each containing new as well as old work.

In 1971, the UCS work-in was supported by a broad range of singers and folk artists, and an album — Unity is Strength — was released, some of the lyrics of which are reproduced in the volume.

As well as songs from the time, such as Jimmie MacGregor’s “Pack Your Tools and Go” and Matt McGinn’s “Yes, Yes, UCS”, there is a new song from Dick Gaughan about the 1984 miners’ strike, and the section of songs ends on an optimistic note from The Laggan’s Arthur Johnstone.

The poetry section is arranged according to the timeline of events into which the individual poems fit. The first poem, Freddy Anderson’s “The Ballad of Red Clyde”, sets the UCS struggle in historical perspective, and the poems that follow take us through the days of the work-in itself to current day Clydebank, where The Titan Crane has been re-invented as a tourist attraction.

One especially moving poem is Brian Whittingham’s “The Titan Crane”, about a group of four ex-shipyard workers who visit the Crane as tourists, and are haunted “by the ghosts of sprouting hulls” and “spectres stampeding towards the gates”.

But the overall effect of the volume is stirring rather than elegiac.

There’s a powerful reminder of the solidarity that workers in struggle can inspire in others. A passage from a 1971 edition of the UCS shop stewards’ Bulletin details financial support received from sources as disparate as the Rolls Royce plant at Hillington, Dumbarton County Council, some shipyards in the Soviet Union, and workers at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

At a time when so many sectors of British society are the subject of brutal government attacks, this capacity to inspire support across a broad audience is especially pertinent.

Although A Rose Loupt Oot is modestly sized and priced, it also contains cartoons by Bob Starrett, who produced the cartoons for the 1971 Bulletin.

It also contains prints by Ken Currie, photographs of the work-in, and a valuable guide to further reading on UCS by the Communist Party’s John Foster (himself co-author of an important work on the subject).

Overall, A Rose Loupt Oot is a fine testament to the role that poetry, song, music and art can play in political and industrial struggle.

[This review first appeared in Scottish Socialist Voice.]

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