Upper Clyde Shipbuilders
Scotstoun Marine Ltd
|Sir Anthony Hepper (Chairman)
Ken Douglas (Managing Director)
Sir Robert Smith (Liquidator)
Number of employees
Simons and Lobnitz
Yarrow Shipbuilders (Until April 1970)
Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) was a Scottish shipbuilding consortium created in 1968 as a result of the amalgamation of five major shipbuilders of the River Clyde. It entered liquidation amidst much controversy in 1971, leading to a famous "work-in" campaign at the company's shipyards, led by a number of shop stewards, including Jimmy Airlie and Jimmy Reid.
The Company was formed in February 1968 from the amalgamation of five major Upper Clyde Shipbuilding firms: Fairfield in Govan (Govan Division), Alexander Stephen and Sons in Linthouse (Linthouse Division), Charles Connell and Company in Scotstoun (Scotstoun Division) and John Brown and Company at Clydebank (Clydebank Division), as well as an associate subsidiary, Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd, in which UCS held a controlling stake of 51%.
This consolidation came about as a result of Geddes Report, published in 1966 and the subsequent Shipbuilding Industry Act 1967, sponsored by the Ministry of Technology under Wedgewood Benn, which recommended rationalisation and horizontal integration of shipbuilding in the United Kingdom into large regional groups, aided with grants from the state Shipbuilding Industry Board, in order to achieve economies of scale and better compete in the market for increasingly large merchant vessels like VLCCs. The creation of these groupings included Scott Lithgow on the Lower Clyde, Swan Hunter on Tyneside and Robb Caledon on the east coast of Scotland. The government had a 48.4% minority holding in the consortium and provided a £5.5m interest free government loan over the first three years. UCS had a combined order book at the time worth £87m.
Collapse of UCS
In June 1971 the loss-making Upper Clyde Shipbuilders went into receivership (only one yard of the five, Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd, remained profitable and had left the joint venture in April 1970). In February 1971, in the wake of the emergency nationalisation of Rolls-Royce Limited, the then Conservative government under Edward Heath and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, John Davies, announced a policy that refused further state-support for "lame duck" industries, which led to a crisis of confidence amongst UCS creditors and resulted in severe cash flow problems for the company. After the government refused UCS a £6m working capital loan as a lender of last resort, the company was forced to enter liquidation, despite the yards having a full orderbook and a forecasted profit in 1972.
Rather than go on strike, which was the traditional form of industrial action, the union leadership decided to have a "work-in" and complete the orders that the shipyards had in place. In this way they dispelled the idea of the workers being 'work-shy' and also wanted to illustrate the long-term viability of the yards and the Right to work.
The work-in was led by a group of young shop stewards, including Jimmy Reid, Jimmy Airlie, Sammy Gilmore, and Sammy Barr all of whom were then members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Reid wanted to ensure the workers projected the best image of the yard workers he possibly could, and insisted on tight discipline. He famously addressed the workers at the yards where he instructed them that there should be "no hooliganism, no vandalism and no bevvying" (drinking).
The shipbuilders' tactics worked and public sympathy in the Glasgow area and beyond was on the side of the workers who took part. This was backed up with demonstrations in Glasgow, one of which was attended by around 80,000 marchers. At one demonstration, on Glasgow Green, Tony Benn addressed those in attendance, and Matt McGinn and Billy Connolly (both former shipyard workers) offered entertainment to the gathered crowd. The campaign was also well backed financially, and at one meeting for the campaign Jimmy Reid was able to announce that the campaign had received a £5,000 contribution from John Lennon, to which an attendee replied "but Lenin's deid!" (dead).
In February 1972 Heath's government relented and restructured the yards around two new companies: Govan Shipbuilders was established (formerly Fairfields) along with its subsidiary Scotstoun Marine Ltd (formerly Connells). Yarrow Shipbuilders had already withdrawn from UCS in April 1970 and regained its status as an independent company (until 1977, when it was nationalised as part of British Shipbuilders, along with Govan Shipbuilders). A fourth yard at Clydebank (formerly John Brown) was sold to Marathon Oil as an oil rig fabrication yard, which eventually closed in 2001. The former Alexander Stephens and Sons yard at Linthouse was closed in 1972 after the liquidation of UCS.
As of 2012[update], two major shipyards on the Upper Clyde (the former Yarrow and Fairfields yards) remain in operation: as BAE Systems Surface Ships, owned by the defence contractor BAE Systems, focusing principally upon the design and construction of technologically advanced warships for the Royal Navy and other navies around the world.
Some commentators have remarked though that the work-in was hugely successful in the short-term at halting the laissez-faire, free-market ideas that many in the then Conservative government wanted to implement, the later Thatcher Conservative government would be more far-reaching in its attempts to remove state involvement in industrial affairs.
- University of Glasgow Archives
- Strategies of Growth, Diversification and Rationalization in the Evolution of Concentration in British Shipbuilding, D. Todd, 1983
- Glasgow Caledonian University Archives
- Modern Shandon shipbuilding boss Helensborough Heritage, 29 December 2008
- There will be bevvying The Scotsman, 16 July 2002
- Scran database
- Fighting Spirit of the Clyde
- Hollowell, Jonathan, Britain since 1945, Page 45