Ongoing creative projects about Govan's hidden histories Celebrating Govan's heritage, women's roles in protest movements, and the life and work of Isabella Elder
The ‘women’s histories’ team has been re-searching a gift made by John and Yoko to the UCS Work-In’s ‘Fighting Fund’ on 9 August 1971, as part of our preparations for the walk this Saturday 15 August (more on that here).
When faced with the closure of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS) consortium the workers refused to take it lying down. Rather than striking, or accepting instruction to cease operations, they fought for their right to work by completing the orders the yards had in place. The women and men working without payment from their employers, with the support of their communities near and far, sent a powerful message to the Conservative Government who had decided the yards must close.
The struggle of these men and women captured the hearts and minds of people far and wide. Many famous names lent their talents and time to the cause, and helped spread a message of hope for working class people, that Unity Creates Strength. There were letters from around the world, and donations to the worker’s ‘Fighting Fund’.
Perhaps their most famous supporters were Yoko Ono and John Lennon, who sent red roses, a card, and £5000 to support the men and women struggling to keep Clyde Shipbuilding, and their communities, alive.
There is an urban myth that when Jimmy Reid announced the gift at a meeting a worker called out ‘But, Lenin’s deid!’. There’s no knowing the truth of this tale, but it certainly speaks to the level of support that Communism had at that time, particularly within trade unions.
One thing we do know for certain was where the roses ended up. From the yard where men and women were fighting for the livelihoods of their families and community, they were delivered to the Maternity ward at the near-by Southern General Hospital.
I was part of that because I was married to Arthur Milligan who was the daily worker reporter. I gave birth to my daughter and thats where John and Yoko…where their flowers ended up, was in the maternity ward at the southern general and they were spread well ..
Glasgow Caledonian University Archives
Witness Seminar and Open Forum series: Upper Clyde Shipbuilders (UCS): 30th Anniversary, 18 May 2002
Pat Milligan is one of the very few women whose recollections of the UCS work-in have been recorded. Her observations thoroughly echo our team’s current experience of trying to uncover the integral role women played in important protest movements:
The women – the partners, the mothers, the lovers…your sisters, everybody. The women did it. They transformed a struggle…[The] guys started it and the women carried the baton forward and it couldn’t have happened without them.
The point I’m making is that women in these struggles, and it continues to today are literally hidden from history.That struggle [The UCS work-in] would have been birds flying literally on one wing if the women had not been involved. They were at the heart of the community.
We give our thanks to all those women and men, all those who were named, and the ones that history has left nameless.
That’s why we will be delivering roses on our UPCOMING EVENT Sat 15 Aug, 2-4:30pm : Strong Women of Clydeside. If anyone has a spare cheque for £5000 let us know!
[this post was written by Chani Bond, member of the women’s histories team]