Like most boys in the area where I lived, I left school at 15. My first job was as the boay in the time office in Fairfield's Shipyard in Govan, Glasgow. On turning 16 I would start my apprenticeship, It wasn't a case of selecting your chosen profession, it was a matter of being told that yi wur ti go ti' the fittin' shoap. It could just as easily have been the brass foundry or the joinery shop, or any other of the many trades in shipbuilding, and my “career” would have gone on a different direction. However the powers that be set my sails as a marine engineer, a “fitter” was the usual title.
That's when my education started, I found myself among a myriad of political pundits of all shades. The discussions were many, varied and at times “ferocious” and I loved it. Probably most of the workers were Labour with a very strong communist contingent. There was one Tory among the fitters, he was one of the journeymen that I was attached to, and he was insane, but a great tradesman. When asked why he was a Tory, his answer was, at least when you vote for them you know that they are going to screw you, not like the other bastards who pretend that they won't. It seemed a fair answer. In all the debates and discussions I was always being “courted” by the communists and being told that I should join the YCL (Young Communist League). Somehow or other they never fitted in with the way I felt.
From entering the yards, I was always eager to get involved in the political and it was in 1952, as a third year apprentice that I got my first real feel of “political” activity. That was the year of the first Clydeside apprentice's strike since the second world war. I loved all the activity and was keen to do my stint of leafleting and what ever else to further “the cause”.
It was during this strike at one of the several marches through the city that we had a rather interesting event. We were supposed to march from Blythswood Square to Glasgow Green and on passing the City Chambers at George Square, the police had set our route to proceed from there round the corner into Cochrane St. and through some more back streets to the Green. Our little group at the front had some other ideas, and as the police were lined up expecting us to turn left into Cochrane St. we marched merrily on deciding that we wanted a more public route down Glassford St. Argyle St. and Trongate to the Green. More publicity for our “cause”. There was chaos as the rest of the marchers not really thinking just followed on and the police trying to form up to turn us round. It failed miserably. By now it was no longer a march but lots of grinning apprentices running in groups, down Glassford St. with the police trying to re-direct or grab, what was now a wild mob of youth. By the time various groupings reach Argyle St. some were running in the direction of the Green, perhaps hopeful of still holding a rally, while others, myself among them, were running along Argyle St. in the opposite direction.
At that time Argyle St. was still a two way traffic system and the pavements were mobbed. As I ran furiously along I could see ahead the ludicous site of some of the apprentices still carrying their placards, and these could be seen weaving their way though the crowds. By now there were mounted police and foot slogging coppers in hot pursuit. As I, and many others, ran past what is now Debenham's (then it was Lewis's) and turned into the lane at the side of the building, I knew the the mounted police were gaining fast, and as a simple city lad, I had this stupid idea that if I ran up the stairs of the lane up to what was St Enoch's Station, the horses wouldn't be able to follow. Of course as I got near the top I could hear the unmistakable clippity-clop of horses hoofs behind me. Entering the station I stopped running and tried to merge with the station crowd, others ran straight through and out the front and as I walked casually towards the front entrance I saw about 8 or so of my hapless marcher colleagues run straight into a ring of police, who duely flung them into waiting vans. One of those caught by that ring of police went on to make a name for himself on the Clyde during the Upper Clyde Work-in, he was Jimmy Reid.