Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bang the bell, Jack; I’m on the bus

Jimmy Reid, the Glasgow union leader, has died. 

I used to work on Clydeside - in fact at the same yard where he had. In his day they built ships for Cunard - in mine we finished off gas turbines and sold them to the Middle East.  Today ? Nothing happens there.

His idea of a "work-in" in 1971 to protest the withdrawal of government subsidy was pure genius. A strike would have been an uplifting act of vandalism that would have hastened the end of the yards by scaring business away. Instead, they stayed and without pay (and even "without bevvying") they completed the ships they were working on.

You've got to wonder whether this would have been a better strategy for the miners in 1984. Sure, the miners had a genuine grievance - unfortunately Arthur Scargill was no Jimmy Reid.

Take a look at the speech he made on the subject of "Alienation" as Rector of  Glasgow University the year following the work-in. Even flat on the page his words have impact. He was acclaimed as one of the best orators of his time, so I can imagine that in person he would have been yet more impressive.

Can't resist including my favourite bit of the speech at the bottom. It's an analysis of society that is as relevant and as poignant today as it ever was then.

At a time when we desperately need more Jimmy Reids, today we've found ourselves with one fewer.

Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problems in Britain today.  People feel alienated by society.  

Today it is more widespread, more pervasive, than ever before.  Let me at the outset define what I mean by alienation.  It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. 

It’s the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making.  The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel, with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.

It is expressed by those young people who want to opt out of society, by drop-outs, the so-called maladjusted, those who seek to escape permanently from the reality of society through intoxicants and narcotics.

Society and prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially dehumanises some people, making 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.

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