Jimmy Reid : “We’re not rats. We’re human beings.”

This month saw the passing of legendary Scottish trade unionist Jimmy Reid. One of the things Reid is remembered for is a legendary speech he gave when being inaugurated as rector of Glasgow University in 1972. At the time, The New York Times reprinted the speech in its entirety and compared it to the Gettysburg Address.

It opens by describing a scene which could have been penned yesterday:

Alienation is the precise and correctly applied word for describing the major social problem in Britain today. People feel alienated by society. In some intellectual circles it is treated almost as a new phenomenon. It has, however, been with us for years. What I believe is true is that today it is more widespread, more pervasive than ever before. Let me right at the outset define what I mean by alienation. It is the cry of men who feel themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It’s the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision-making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their own destinies.

One of the most famous passages is about “the rat race”

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?”

It is stirring, powerful stuff and as relevant today as it ever was. A must read, re-printed on the occasion of Reid’s death by The Independent. You really should take a moment to read it.

Thanks to Caesar Lopez for linking me to this.