The news that the MoD's submarine order is to go in its entirety to Birkenhead has meant a bleak opening to the year for the depleted workforce of Scott Lithgow. Lucy Ash looks at the background to this latest crisis on Clydeside and assesses the morale of the shipyard.

The Scott Lithgow shipyard covers ; an almost unbroken stretch of five 5 miles along the River Clyde from ; Port Glasgow to Greenock. At one end cranes hover above a massive structure encased in brown rags and scaffolding— the rig commissioned by Britoil which is the yard‘s last contract and is due for completion in November. On an icy January afternoon the biggest dry dock in Britain. capable ofholding the 0E2. 7 lies empty and frozen at the other end ofthe yard next to the Clyde . Port Authority. In two years the number ofworkers has shrunk from 4500 to 1800. ‘People are demoralised.‘ says a 28 year-old welder. ‘I think 99 per cent see no , future here.‘

Trafalgar Class nuclear powered submarine. HMS Triumph. was placed with Vickers. the Merseyside yard‘s parent company in Barrow-in-Furness. Although the Government announced £1 billion of defence contracts. Scott Lithgow has only been offered the opportunity to build three small naval support vessels worth £10 million. ‘I called it a sweetie. but it‘s more a sugar-coated pill‘. says Mr Norman Godman. Labour MP for Greenock and Port Glasgow. ‘Scott Lithgow is being asked to just lie down and go to sleep. . . it‘s an act ofunabashed political cynicism‘.

‘political cynicism‘

In December 1983. the yard which

had been building ships for over 270 years and was the biggest employer in lnverclydc. faced a major crisis. When the Britoil rig was only 30 per

f cent complete and 500 days behind

schedule. a threat to cancel the order

almost sparked off a national

shipbuilding strike. The delay was largely due to difficulties with the revolutionary ‘tension leg platform‘ design. where posts are not fixed to

i the sea bed but anchored with cables

like a suspension bridge. In April

T 1984 Trafalgar House bought up

Scott Lithgow for £17 million and

work resumed on the rig. Since the

takeover. George Younger.

Secretary of State for Scotland. has

repeatedly praised performance at

the yard as the project steadily progresses despite a depleted


' However workers and

j management faced a bitter

. disappointment last Friday when the

" Ministry of Defence revealed that a

£300 million contract for three

conventional Upholder Class

submarines had been exclusively

awarded to Cammel Laird in

Birkenhead. Moreover. a £200

million order for the seventh

48 The List 10 23 January

feeling of betrayal‘

Mr Godman. like Mr Duncan McNeill. the shop stewards‘ convener at Scott Lithgow. believes that the company‘s bid was rejected. disregarding its 70 year history of building and refitting submarines. to improve the prospects of Vickcrs/Cammel which is to be privatized in March. Despite the assurances of Norman Lamont. Minister ofState for Defence Procurement. the English group now has a monopoly on both the conventional and nuclear vessels. The days ofsubmarine building on the Clyde appear to be over.

Commenting on the mood of the workforce. Mr McNeill says: "There is a strong feeling of betrayal. In the past the MoD was associated with job security a counterbalance to


l ScottLithgow‘slast contract. a rigtorBritoiI is due for completion this year.


the uncertainties of the shipbuilding market.‘ He adds that tendering for Trident steel work as subcontractors ofVickers and the possibility of refit work for the Royal Navy would not enable the company to retain a specialised team or to compete in the export market.

The prospect ofsubstantial orders outside the MoD seems no less bleak unless the Government unexpectedly opts for the £45 billion Euroroute bridge and tunnel across the channel. which could provide contracts worth at least £300 million. However the British and French governments are now said to favour the alternative £25 million rail link and employees are dubious: ‘It‘s a pie in the sky. it‘s politics. isn‘t it nothing to do with us‘. says one worker.

While Mrs Anna McCurley. Conservative MP for Renfrew West and lnverclydc. may believe that one should ‘not look a gift horse in the mouth‘. the £10 million MoD contract seems painfully inadequate for a yard the size of Scott Lithgow. Nevertheless most agree that the work. however small. is urgently needed when 500 men are threatened with redundancy by June. In a letter to Mrs Thatcher. Mr Godman urges that the order be placed immediately. for under current proposals the first ofthe three small vessels is unlikely to begin construction before 1987.

'industrial gypsies‘

At 4. 15pm on Monday as Scott Lithgow‘s shop stewards are meeting management. a horn sounds the end ofa shift and workers pile into a bus at the yard gates. A handful stop off at the nearby West End Bar. ‘Once this place was so crowded you couldn‘t move without spilling your pint.‘ says a barmaid. ‘but it‘s very quiet now‘. One in four men are unemployed in the Inverclyde area and the number is certain to rise. ‘We subcontractors will be the first we are just industrial gypsies.‘ says a

. ' r a»-i.§{"" t - ‘~£‘:‘ .. 1 '2 g 7"

a ’o'.’ ... 3"":

40 year-old scaffolder.

Despite the virtually empty pub. the retail distribution industry is doing well. according to Mr David Robertson of the Greenock Job Centre. ‘because there is a lot of redundancy money in the tills at the moment‘. This necessarily short-lived boom has been accelerated by the March deadline . for the British Shipbuilders scheme 3 ofvoluntary redundancy payments 5 whereby workers receive two weeks

wages for every year spent in the industry and also by a widespread ; lack ofconfidcnce in management.

“the game is survival‘

Although Mr Sid Fudge. managing director ofTrafalgar House Offshore. has openly scorned the meagre MoD contract. some employees suspect that the London based conglomerate is ‘just a banking company‘. more interested in the real estate value of the yard than in getting orders for Scott Lithgow. Mr McNeill dismisses the conspiracy theory but admits: ‘We cannot stop men from feeling insecure and selling theirjobs for a few thousand in the pocket‘. A 53 year-old former shop steward puts his case: ‘I want to work and ifI was younger I would fight like hell. but what‘s the point now‘."

The average age of Scott Lithgow‘s workforce however is 3-1. and job prospects in the area are not promising. even in the new information technology industries. National Semi Conductors in ; Greenock has recently suffered a setback in its expansion programme. ; In an area with 80 per cent youth l unemployment. the takingon of30 E apprentices is perhaps 'tokenism‘.

i but the unions fought for them. says

Mr McNeill. ‘partly to show that we j intend to keep a candle in the 7 window. Shipbuilding is not what it used to be and we must set our sights a wee bit lower. but we cannot afford L to be despondent the game is a survival‘.