Upper Clyde Shipbuilders
I recently sponsored a debate in the Scottish Parliament to mark the 40th anniversary of the start of the UCS dispute which led to shipbuilding on the Clyde being saved. The debate was attended by veterans of the ground breaking "work in", including George Kerr from Renfrewshire. It was also heartening to see a large group of apprentices from the Clyde yards, whose jobs are a direct result of the success of the action 40 years ago. My thanks also to Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, Britain’s largest Trade Union who took the time to travel up from England to attend the debate and speak at the reception.
It was interesting to draw the parallels with today. Then as now, we had a newly elected Conservative Government determined to make working people pay for a crisis not of their making. But the Tories reckoned without a determined workforce and a disciplined and well organised shop stewards committee. Their demand was a simple one. "The Right to Work". And they knew they were not only fighting for their own jobs, but for the wellbeing of the wider community and jobs for future generations.
They were ably led by well known figures like Jimmy Reid, Jimmy Airlie and Sammy Barr. But there were more behind them, like Jimmy Cloughley from Clydebank. And it wasn’t just the men. Women working in the offices played a key role, including liaising with the telephone engineers to make sure that lines of communication were maintained. There was no such thing as mobile phones in those days!
There was widespread support for the UCS work in across the Scottish Labour and Trade Union movement and well beyond. Churches and business people were united in support and John Lennon and Yoko Ono gave financial backing. Eventually the Tory Government had to back down, and this success saved shipbuilding on the Clyde.
And there are lessons for today’s trade unionists and politicians. Jobs are being cut, living standards reduced and ordinary people being asked to make sacrifices while those at the top become more wealthy. We owe it to the UCS workers to show the same resolve to fight for a decent future for working people and their families. We should be demanding the Right to Work. And we need to decide whose side we are on. Do we stand with the rich and powerful who are demanding sacrifice, or will we stand beside those who are being asked to make the sacrifice?
Paisley Town Centre
Because of boundary changes, I no longer represent Paisley in the Scottish Parliament. But I know just how important a successful Paisley is to the rest of Renfrewshire. The present Council has had over 4 years to implement its plans to revitalise Paisley Town Centre. And what has happened? A recent report shows that Paisley has the highest percentage of shops vacant in the whole of Scotland. That’s right. The whole of Scotland. There is a vacancy rate of 23.7% that’s more than 1 shop in 5. Where Paisley does excel is having pretty posters in shops to kid people on that the shops are occupied. Is this the best we can do? We know times are hard, with less money around and competition from the internet. But it’s time for some action and progress. Renfrewshire needs a healthy Paisley Town Centre.
I recently organised a packed meeting in Johnstone Town Hall to discuss a problem being experienced by people living around the Town centre. Householders (and also local businesses) are being afflicted by a plague of flies. While this summer has not been as bad because of the poor weather, the lives of local people are being ruined. Some can’t sit out in their garden. They can’t cook or eat meals without taking preventative action. Local health centres have the worry of cleanliness and safety when dealing with sick people. Parents have to take precautions with sleeping children. And no one wants to take responsibility. Most local people blame the problem on the WRC Recycling Plant at Floors Street. Residents complain of the smell from waste being brought in for processing. They also complain of waste being left for long periods.
To try to get to the bottom of this, I arranged a meeting between residents, Renfrewshire Council (Environmental Services) and SEPA (the Environment Protection Agency). I invited the company but the invitation was declined. Both the Council and SEPA were shocked to hear about the extent of the problem. Some local people turned up with bags with thousands of dead flies. The anger and frustration was clear. The Council and SEPA have agreed to work together to try to identify the source of the problem. Once we know this, then action can be taken. It’s just not good enough to have so many people being affected by what is not just a nuisance, but a potential health hazard.