Timeshift: The Men Who Built the Liners. BBC 4 9pm.
Posted by celticman on Fri, 19 Jul 2013
I’ve not only seen this programme before I actually lived it. When I left school hundreds of us sat a test for an apprenticeship with John Brown’s in Clydebank. Needless to say loose Math sinks ships and I didn’t get in, which is just as well. John Brown’s built the The Empress of Britain. Queen Mary. Queen Elizabeth I and II. The latter at a loss to the John Brown’s. In 1936 after its delayed launch and a bailout by the government for Cunard 250 000 turned up to watch the Queen Elizabeth I launched. I wasn’t in that crowd. My dad might well have been. He was apprenticed as a welder so would have been in the Boilermaker’s Union. One of the Stephen’s of Alexander Stephen’s shipbuilders said there were 27 different unions to negotiate with in the 1960s. He made it sound like a bad thing, but it meant unions fought for a differential between them and other workers and thus did more fighting among themselves than management. Pennies saved make pounds and in the post-war boom 50% of the ships built in the world were Clyde-built. Glasgow at the turn of the nineteenth century became the fourth largest city in Great Britain because of the yards and the workers needed to build boats. The problem Jimmy Reid the trade unionist/Communist/ and later writer for The Sun (shame on him) was machinery from the 1900s was used to produce ships and the bowler hatted management attitude was also from that era. Work in the yard was hard, health and safety hadn’t been invented as one of the interviewees quipped and the facilities were basic. A trough to pee and to shit in was bad enough, but a timekeeper was also employed to take name and number and ration out two bits of torn newspapers for the seven minute duration. During the 1970s (my era) we had Jimmy Reid clacking his gums about there being no bevving and a workers’ work-in. The unions paid the men that had been paid off by the liquidator’s wages from donations. I’m not sure that would work now because quite simply we’ve got greedy and a fuck-you attitude prevails. The miner’s strike 1984-5 for example also relied on donations and did poorly and that was early in the Thatcher era. Upper-Clyde Shipbuilders was an amalgamation of the yards after a successful work-in. We still make boats, but more people are employed by Asda and the latter is seen as a good job. This took me back in more ways than one. Jimmy Reid told a wee story about an auld guy greetin’ in the pub. Jimmy thought somebody had died and asked him what was wrong. The Queen Elizabeth II had sunk in Hong Kong. The auld man was greeting because the decommissioned ship was his ship, he’d helped build it. I wonder if years from now some auld guy is greetin because Asda Clydebank closes and he’ll say proudly I worked in that moving the trolleys about the car-park.