Thursday, 12 August 2010

Jimmy Reid

Jimmy Reid, who has died at 78, was a lifelong compassionate socialist and, of course, the brilliant influence behind the 1971 UCS work-in. I vividly recall, as a child, being on that famous mass march with my dad in support of the action.

Reid was the champion orator, galvanising meetings with mesmerising, almost biblical, conviction. Tommy Sheridan has, generously, acknowledged Reid's influence on him.

It's interesting to see the plaudits from the mainstream media, always suspicious, even as belated testament.

The reason, no doubt, was Reid's later 'softening' and turn towards the Labourite fold, coinciding with his reflective rejection of Soviet communism, his criticism of the Militant Labour 'entryists' and, more specifically, Arthur Scargill's handling of the 1984/85 miners strike.

There's no real point trying to paper over Reid's attack on Scargill at the critical height of the strike. There may have been valid arguments over aspects of the NUM's strategy, though, not, in my opinion, the decision to avoid a divisive, establishment-rigged ballot.

The key issue was unity, something Thatcher and the British state - through the infamous Ridley Plan - had done everything in its collective power to destroy. As Seumas Milne has charted, every underhand trick in the book was deployed to break not just the NUM but the entire trade union movement. It was nothing less than a showdown class battle.

Reid's incautious interjections denouncing Scargill as a "kamikaze" leader only served Thatcher's agenda, pulling vital public and union support away from the strike.

And that, alas, will always be a sad stain on Reid's political character.

Later, there was also some soul-searching and rationalising from Reid about whether to write for the mainstream media, most notably the Sun.

Yet, for all that, there remains Reid's more humanist legacy: a passionate belief in the possibility of a better society; a society where human beings are not trampled underfoot by the permissive demands of capitalism.

Beyond even his famous "no bevvying" speech outside the UCS yard, Reid's rectorial address at Glasgow University denouncing the insane capitalist "rat race" should be made part of the educational curriculum.

Why, we needn't wonder, is such vital political history and denunciation of capitalist society only noted on these passing occasions?

Reid's university speech on the theme of alienation included this ever-relevant reminder of how we're encouraged to value competition and selfish gain, to the detriment of others:
"Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially dehumanises some people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human beings, self-centred and grasping. The irony is, they are often considered normal and well adjusted. It is my sincere contention that anyone who can be totally adjusted to our society is in greater need of psychiatric analysis and treatment than anyone else."
RIP Jimmy Reid.


1 comment:

Johnny d said...

Yes, RIP Jimmy. It was a good tribute to Jimmy apart from the idea he softened and helped destroy the chances of a miners' victory. Yes, 'unity' was essential, which is what Scargill, as leader, should have ensured and inspired. Instead, with his own ego in the way, he split the Left and set the movement back for generations. If Jimmy had been their leader, he would have galvanised the left - as he did during his ucs dispute, gaining support worldwide and even from Tories won over by his compelling, logicical and moral arguments. Scargil wouldn't even allow the Labour Party to get into the fight because as he said in his own words, he was going to be the man to bring down Thatcher, not Kinnock. Scargil destroyed unity while Jimmy created it. Jimmy was too much of a moral giant to stand by and let the donkey lead lions to defeat. At great cost and risk to himself, Jimmy stood up for what he believed, democratic socialism. He was a genuine working-class hero.