I was young but he took a chance and put me on as general foreman, my father's job. I was at it three years until the dry-dock closed in 1935 and left me without a job and without a trade.
That was the time the employers were seeing that welding was the coming thing, and to get the trade manned there was a special short course of two years. I went for it at Scotts and eventually came here to Lithgows in 1948. You'll sometimes hear it chucked at me that I haven't served my time as a welder, but I say I've had three years as a grocer, five years as a red-leader, three as a foreman, and 25 years as a welder and that should be good enough for anybody.
I've been a shop steward in various places, and I've been secretary of Greenock No. 4 Branch of the Boilermakers for the past three years and that's what I really want to talk about. The shop steward is the most maligned man in industry. If he calls an unofficial strike it's in every paper in the country, but nobody ever reads about the strikes he stops before they've had time to start. In my opinion a good shop steward is like a good policeman, he keeps order on the beat without ever having to take anyone in charge. A good shop steward gets good conditions without a strike.
His main duty is to act as an intermediary between management and men. Some management are easy to deal with, and some aren't. This one here is pretty reasonable. You may not win, but you're always listened to. A deputation gets a reasonable hearing. There's a lot less trouble here as a result than there is in some places I could name. We're ahead with welfare too, and there's the club, and the new showers. The new yard is far more comfortable than the old one. But like all management, you have to fight them occasionally.
Another thing that strikes me very much is that the shipyard man to-day is
living on a far higher standard than he did 20 years ago. Our habits are changing too. We think about money differently. I can remember when a working class woman would have been thought very snooty if she had a pram. She used a shawl. I was carried in a shawl myself. Now she'll spend £20 on a pram and think nothing about it.
She'd have saved the money for a rainy day when I was a lad, but you don't get that now. We've had 20 years of continuous work, a thing the industry has never had before. The younger generation, up to 40, doesn't know what it is to go idle, not the skilled men anyway. They take a good wage for granted. They save a bob or two, but they spend it too - food, drink, washing machines, the telly. Who would have thought, even 10 years ago, of a working chap putting down £60 or £70 for a telly, or buying a car? They think nothing of it now, and good luck to them.

When I was in the grocery during the slump, I remember we used to sell wee Chinese eggs at 10d. a dozen, and streaky bacon at about 1/a lb., always on a Thursday or a Friday when the unemployment benefit was paid and you knew that that was their tea, and they'd be on bread or potatoes for the rest of the week. Look at what they're buying now. You hardly sell oatmeal to-day. It used to be a good cheap filler. They don't need fillers now. They buy corn flakes.

Another thing that strikes me, looking around, is that although folk spend some money on drink, they don't drink nearly so much as they used to and there are three reasons for that, I think. First, the working man is less miserable than he used to be and hasn't so many sorrows to drown. Second, now he has a constant wage he's less inclined to blow it all off when he gets his hands on some money. And third, he's got his wife nagging there in the background for a washing machine, or a holiday, or a new dress, or something else that needs money. And when he thinks of it, he sees these things are worth more than the drink, so he saves for them. That's how I see it, anyway.

All this is good, but I doubt if my generation would have changed like that, all all its own, even when it got the money. I don't think it would have had the nerve. It's the unders-40s who have never known hard times who have made the working chap the man he is today.

I was born in Greenock, brought up in Port Glasgow, and left school at 14 to
become a plater's boy in the old Dockyard. That job lasted one day.
I started in the morning and was sacked at night because the frame squad went on strike.
When it was over I went back and served two years as a platers boy and three months as an apprentice plater, but then I thought I would switch to the grocery trade.
I thought there were better prospects there and so there might have been, but not for me.
After three years of it the manager decided that I wasn't cut out for it. Looking back I'd say he was right. I never was very good at "yesing" and "noing".
A counter wasn't my line.
Anyway my father was foreman painter and genral foreman at the dry dock and he
got me a job there labouring and red-leading. I was in that from the time I was 20 till
I was 25 and then my father was killed in an accident. I'll always be graetful to the manager, Anderson was his name, he is dead now. He knew I was left the breadwinner.

Note:

This article was first published in 1961

Mr McLean

Mr Stewart McLean

Portraits

The details in these portraits have not been alterd from the source material or editied in any way. They were all taken from the Lithgows Journals and permission for their reproduction has been saught. This site was to built to bring the history of the town and what better way than to "hear" about the past from the people who lived it.

I was contacted in July 2010 and informed that the name in this article was incorrect. The full name is Steuart Drummond McLean but due to copyright issues I am unable to change this article.

This page last modified on Friday, July 23, 2010

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