Jimmy was born in Govan in Glasgow and rose to international prominence during the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Work-in which took place between June 1971 and October 1973.
The work-in was a response to the Conservative Government of Edward Heath’s plan to close down the shipyards on the Clyde, which would have cost 6,000 jobs. But rather than a strike or even a sit-in, the leaders of the unions at UCS instead decided that they could show the shipyards were viable by locking out the management so the workers could complete the orders themselves.
The work-in caught the imagination of the world and everyone from Billy Connolly to John Lennon raised money for the workers with trade unions from around the globe offering their solidarity. In the end the Heath government backed down and the yards were saved.
Jimmy was the spokesperson for the work-in and his eloquence and passion gained him an international profile.
He went on to be elected as a Communist councillor and stood for Westminster as a Communist Party of Great Britain candidate in 1970 and 1974. He was elected as the Rector of Glasgow University in 1971 and his inaugural rectorial address was described by the New York Times as ‘the greatest speech since President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address” (it printed the speech in full).
“Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you’re a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?”
Jimmy served as University Rector until 1974. In 1975 he left the Communist Party and joined the Labour Party and stood as an MP in 1979 but again wasn’t elected.
Jimmy then went on to become a journalist and broadcaster, writing columns for a number of papers and winning two BAFTAs for his documentary work.
Jimmy became disillusioned with the Labour Party after Blair took power in 1997 and left the Labour Party. He eventually joined the SNP in 2004.
In 1999 Jimmy gather together a number of people on the Left in Scotland to start the Scottish Left Review, a radical political magazine which aimed to provide a voice for left politics in Scotland in the post-devolution erea.
Jimmy retired to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute and died on 10 August 2010.
His funeral cortege passed the BAE Systems Surface Ships yard in Govan, one of the Shipyards saved after the collapse of UCS, where hundreds of workers had gathered outside in tribute.
Jimmy is survived by his wife Joan, three daughters and three granddaughters.