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A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings.
August 11, 2010 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Scottish trade unionist, journalist and broadcaster Jimmy Reid has died aged 78. Often described as the best MP Scotland never had, Reid was the instigator of the 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders famous work-in, where rather than striking, workers demonstrated the viability of the shipyards by working to fill the orders on the books, drawing national and international support (including a fat cheque from John Lennon). The year after, he was elected as rector of the University of Glasgow, where he delivered a speech (behind a paywall, sadly) that the New York Times (which saw fit to print it in full) called one of the finest since the Gettysburg Address

The key message (quoted here) of that speech (unfortunately unavailable online, at least not without paying) is this eloquent plea:
"A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement.
This is how it starts, and, before you know where you are, you're a fully paid-up member of the rat pack. The price is too high."
posted by Len (40 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think there are more bits of the Rat Race speech in this 1972 Morning Star piece.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:18 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


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posted by runincircles at 1:21 PM on August 11, 2010


Awesome guy.

Nothing strikes fear in the "heart" of a capitalist more than sit-down strikes, work-ins, etc. One step away from worker ownership. Too easy to demonstrate that owners and bosses are generally little more than (wealthy) leeches.

Dump the bosses off your back.

Aside: Rats don't deserve it either. No one does.
posted by anarch at 1:25 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks, oneirodynia. I searched and searched for a copy of the speech online, but for some reason that link didn't turn up, so cheers for filling things out. Given that he was such a great orator, I'd love to see a film of it, if such film exists.
posted by Len at 1:29 PM on August 11, 2010


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posted by Jon_Evil at 1:35 PM on August 11, 2010


Nothing strikes fear in the "heart" of a capitalist more than sit-down strikes, work-ins, etc.

This particular capitalist considers such things to be vital to the maintenance of the rights of the working man, and thus to the continued growth and prosperity of capitalist society as a whole.

Really interesting guy. Weren't there a bunch of factory workers up in Detroit (or somewhere) who did a similar work-in when their company was about to sack them and sell off the facilities?
posted by AdamCSnider at 1:40 PM on August 11, 2010


Godspeed Jimmy for what you were, a true fighter for the class, though you did let yourself get used during the Miners' Strike and I can't forget that either.
posted by Abiezer at 1:44 PM on August 11, 2010


AdamCSnider, it was Republic Window. in Chicago.
posted by wuwei at 1:50 PM on August 11, 2010


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posted by R.Stornoway at 1:53 PM on August 11, 2010


How did he get used during the Miner's Strike?
posted by the cuban at 1:55 PM on August 11, 2010


He fought the good fight. Godspeed.
posted by rocket88 at 1:55 PM on August 11, 2010


the cuban- probably related to his condemnation of Arthur Scargill's leadership during the strike, linked in the Telegraph article.

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posted by Gratishades at 1:58 PM on August 11, 2010


the cuban - he appeared on TV attacking Arthur Scargill's leadership of the strike. Legitimate view, wrong time to air it.
posted by Abiezer at 2:00 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks very much for the post, it makes me glad to know about his life and eloquence. "We're not rats" indeed. Honor his memory by giving the bosses hell!
posted by languagehat at 2:02 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


the cuban: How did he get used during the Miner's Strike?
His most memorable broadcast was for Channel 4, in the early evening comment slot, when he attacked Arthur Scargill over the miners’ strike in a way few who heard him will ever forget.

Not a man to mince his words, Reid accused Scargill of betraying his members: “Arthur Scargill’s leadership of the miners’ strike has been a disgrace. The price to be paid for his folly will be immense. He will have destroyed the NUM as an effective fighting force within British trade unionism for the next 20 years. If kamikaze pilots were to form their own union, Arthur would be an ideal choice for leader.”
From the Telegraph obituary linked above.
posted by Kattullus at 2:04 PM on August 11, 2010


Nothing strikes fear in the "heart" of a capitalist more than sit-down strikes, work-ins, etc. One step away from worker ownership. Too easy to demonstrate that owners and bosses are generally little more than (wealthy) leeches.

It's always 1917 somewhere.

You'll note that the work-in worked to "fill the orders on the books." Ask yourself how the orders got on the books in the first place. And that's for a shipyard, which is hardly in heated, competitive market. Shipyards nearly always have the benefit of the government pitching in to help close deals in addition to the firm's personnel.

Now consider how it is for most modern companies today, where nearly all of what is done is engineering design, marketing, and finance, with the actual labor of making the product is outsourced to Asia. Who is the "worker?" Who is the leech, in this context?
posted by Pastabagel at 2:12 PM on August 11, 2010


On the other hand, pretty much all of his criticism of Scargill's leadership was proved correct by events, except for the part where he predicted that it "will have destroyed the NUM as an effective fighting force within British trade unionism for the next 20 years." Which turns out to have been wildly optimistic, because of course in reality the effectiveness of the NUM was destroyed forever, not just for 20 years.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 2:14 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow the grammar on my comment is utterly horrible.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:18 PM on August 11, 2010


Legitimate view, wrong time to air it.

How so? If it's legitimate, then it should be voiced.
posted by the cuban at 2:22 PM on August 11, 2010


On the other hand, pretty much all of his criticism of Scargill's leadership was proved correct by events...
(and on preview the cuban's follow-up)
Neither here nor there in my view; time and a place and all that. Came as a kick in the teeth to many at the time, including those not particularly enamoured of Arthur Scargill. It was used against the strikers and I think Jimmy would have known it would be and also that he wasn't going to change the minds of the NUM leadership.
posted by Abiezer at 2:29 PM on August 11, 2010


the cuban: How so? If it's legitimate, then it should be voiced.

Another way to put it is that his criticisms turned out to be accurate but their accuracy was borne out by events that he himself put into motion by his criticism. It's not quite a self-fulfilling prophecy, but Reid was a key voice in turning public opinion against the miners, which starved them of funds through lack of contributions from the public, though they did have enough to keep going for a whole year. The 1984-5 miners' strike was a year long ordeal that was won through attrition, not because the government convinced the greater British public through logical argument. It's usually presented as a triumph of ideology, but ideology had very little to do with what happened. It was a case of asymmetrical tactics, the miners wanted a better living, the government wanted to destroy unions as a political force. The miners wanted a better bargaining position, the government wanted to stop bargaining. The government played a dangerous game but, thanks to Reid and others, Scargill was made into a national bogeyman and the miners lost a considerable chunk of their public support.
posted by Kattullus at 2:42 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pastabagel - The engineers, designers, AND the outsourced labor are all being used by the board & executives of whatever giant fuck-all conglomerate owns the shipping company. They're being paid a [relative] pittance to do work that will make their bosses billions. Furthermore, as soon as Indonesia or China or whoever produces a sizable enough workforce of people able to do the marketing and drafting, etc. those "safe," middle-class western jobs will be a fleeting memory.

Also, you have your shipping - government example backwards. It's the firms who get the government to place more orders, not the other way around. Or the real rub is when lobbyists for the shipping (and automotive, aerospace, insurance, etc.) industries get to government passing laws to require other companies and municipalities to buy X number of product.
posted by Jon_Evil at 2:50 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


it was Republic Window. in Chicago.

Damn. I should have remembered that, being in the same town and all - thanks, wuwei.
posted by AdamCSnider at 2:58 PM on August 11, 2010


A fine human being was Jimmy Reid.

Oddly, though it seems to be claimed in several places that the New York Times printed his rectoral address "in its entirety," they clearly did not. I've just paid for it, and it is missing several bits quoted elsewhere – principally, it does not have the part quoted in the FPP here.

In any case, I've typed out the text I have for it and edited it slightly, adding parts that I can find where the New York Times seems to have taken them out, mostly from the 1972 Morning Star article linked above. You can download my copy, if you like: pdf, txt. (Sorry this is a little sloppy – I'm a work, but I figured it was worth doing anyway.)
posted by koeselitz at 3:05 PM on August 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


(Also, I figure this is fair enough, since the New York Times does not own Jimmy Reid's speech, and was only printing their own redacted transcription of it anyhow. If they have a problem with that, they may find my name and address in my profile, and we can take it up with Jimmy Reid's estate.)
posted by koeselitz at 3:08 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Much appreciated, koeselitz; you're obviously less stingy than I am when it comes to handing over cash to the New York Times ;)

And apologies for my error in taking as true the claims elsewhere that said quoted section appeared in the speech. Bloody journalists, never checking their facts ...
posted by Len at 3:19 PM on August 11, 2010


This tribute reprints part of an interview Jimmy gave in 2003:
But when I'm dying, however conscious I am that I'm dying, I want to know that my life has advanced the cause of decency and social justice just a wee bit, and that will make me feel comfortable.
posted by Abiezer at 3:23 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd love to see a film of it, if such film exists.
It does exist, and there has been a huge scramble all day today to try and find it. Consensus is it's in the BBC Scotland library if it's anywhere, but they couldn't find it. What there are in all the libraries are cut packages using snippets of it.

Film archiving wasn't very forward-thinking in the 1970s, sadly.
posted by bonaldi at 4:05 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, figured it must be out there somewhere – closest I could get to it online was this, which puts it in the STV archives, and even then, it's less than 2 minutes.
posted by Len at 4:11 PM on August 11, 2010


How so? If it's legitimate, then it should be voiced.

This has already been covered a bit, but I'll contribute my two cents anyway.

When looking at a conflict between a hugely powerful group with motivations I find ideologically and morally repugnant (Thatcher's government) and a somewhat powerful group, which is making poor decisions, that I'm generally supportive of, I'd try to criticize the latter in a constructive, behind-the-scenes kind of way. Definitely not in public where my words could be used against the people I generally support by those I absolutely despise.
posted by LeonBernstein at 4:16 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


> I'd try to criticize the latter in a constructive, behind-the-scenes kind of way.

While I can intellectually appreciate the ideas behind this view, in my gut it's always linked with my experience as a young lefty forty years ago trying to convince a bunch of people occupying a building that it was the wrong tactic. I was told by a guy with an armband that I could only talk to guys with armbands, and the people sitting in the hallway were told that they couldn't talk to me because, you know, I didn't have an armband. "Fuck that shit," was my reaction, and that kind of thing is one reason I'm an anarchist today. People should say what they believe and let the chips fall where they may. If Reid thought Scargill was being an ass, he should damn well have said so. Talking to the appropriate, authorized people in a constructive, behind-the-scenes kind of way just perpetuates all the -ocracies we've been suffering under lo these many millennia. Let everyone see what is on the end of every fork.
posted by languagehat at 4:48 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


He wasn't addressing miners either in public or private; it's got absolutely nothing to do with 'authorised' comment. He was given an opportunity to make free comment on national television and used it to attack the leadership of the strike while it was still under way, persisting only through the great loyalty of the strikers, their families and communities. It was the defining struggle of a generation. Nothing good could have come from Reid's intervention, a lot of harm did. There's no time for personal grandstanding when the action's hot and everyone else is in the thick of it. Talking loosely at critical tactical junctures has helped perpetuate a few things that shouldn't be as well.
posted by Abiezer at 5:45 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Eh, we'll have to agree to disagree. I would point out, though, that 1) he had no way of knowing how things were going to turn out, and 2) there's no way of knowing how much of a difference his intervention made. It's very possible things wouldn't have turned out any differently if he'd kept his mouth shut, and I don't believe in keeping yer mouth shut.
posted by languagehat at 5:56 PM on August 11, 2010


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posted by Mister Bijou at 9:55 PM on August 11, 2010


I would tend to agree with Abiezer's view of the attack on Scargill. One would have to assume that someone with the clarity of vision to see the likely outcome of the strike would also understand that the comments he made, coming from a person of his particular standing, would only increase the likelihood of that very end. (Don't get me wrong, I think that the strike was badly mishandled by Scargill, but Reid's comments did not help)
That said, who doesn't make mistakes? Over the piece, Reid was undoubtedly a positive force in the struggles of the common man, and we could do with another in the days to come in Austerity Britain. I'll be attending a funeral on Friday which will certainly violate the 'nae bevvying' rule, but I'm sure we'll hoist one for Jimmy.
posted by Jakey at 3:42 AM on August 12, 2010


Let me say (I know you'll disagree) that I didn't think it was that good a speech.
posted by A189Nut at 4:10 AM on August 12, 2010


Goddamnit!

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posted by By The Grace of God at 4:12 AM on August 12, 2010


Both the Scotsman and The Herald are reprinting the rectorial address in tomorrow's editions. The hunt for the footage goes on - they are reorganising the BBC archives in London at the moment and many of the tapes are not in the right place. There are a couple of snippets in this obit (iPlayer, so UK only).

My own memories of Jimmy Reid usually involved a bar at some political event or other. After the Ayr by-election count he was holding court in a hotel room in the Station Hotel. I left relatively early - driven out by the cigar smoke. Apparently sometime in the early hours the drink ran out and someone phoned down to reception to get another bottle of whisky. The night porter told them that only beer or wine could be sold after hours. Jimmy took the phone and opened negotiations. The hotel manager's home phone number was demanded, and given. The manager was phoned in the middle of the night by Jimmy Reid demanding whisky. He got the whisky. The night porter arrived with the bottle, which they were told would cost £60. The price was too high, so negotiations were re-opened. The manager was phoned again and the price was beaten down to £40. When the door finally closed on the poor night porter, one hack piped up, "there will be no hooliganism, there will be no vandalism and there will be no bevvying". Jimmy took it well.
posted by little apollo at 4:51 PM on August 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Here is the Herald reprint . The Scotsman wants you to have a prenium subscription to read their copy .
posted by stuartmm at 8:58 AM on August 13, 2010


Here's the Independent's version, from the Glasgow University Archives.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:31 AM on August 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


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