5th February 1981

Lee Jeans workers go on strike

When the 240 women working at the VF Corporation factory in Greenock, owner of Lee Jeans, were told that their jobs were moving to Ireland, they locked the doors and staged a sit-in. It lasted for seven months.

Looking back at the strike, BBC Scotland reported in February 2011 that “the shop stewards’ convener, Helen Monaghan, went through to the factory floor and ordered a pre-arranged plan of action to be put into place. Immediately plastic chairs from the canteen were piled up against the factory door, preventing managers from gaining access. Mrs Monaghan, now 74, told me the workers were very angry after the offers they had made to management to help safeguard their jobs.”

Job sharing and shorter weeks

Those offers included job sharing and a shorter working week. Two days later, the Aberdeen Press and Journal reported, “with tables and chairs piled against the cafeteria doors and with family and friends ferrying a steady stream of supplies to them, the women are determined to continue the protest until they have successfully ‘defended’ their jobs.”

Nobody could have expected the sit-in to last as long as it did, and its spontaneous nature led to an impromptu dash to the nearest chip shop for 240 fish suppers.

Factory worker march

On 3 July, the Wishaw Press reported that factory workers marched through Motherwell to drum up support. “The 25 workers who are taking a week to march from Greenock to Edinburgh, were joined by members of Motherwell and Wishaw Trades’ Council and other trade unionists… They were welcomed in Motherwell by Provost John McCormack and had dinner with him before spending the night in the Daisy Park Centre.”

The sit-in came to an end on 28 August when a management buy-out saved the women’s jobs and they could head back to their machines, after a short delay.

Jobs secured

As reported in the Aberdeen Press and Journal the following day, “the decision to leave came at the end of a week which had seen a deal to buy the plant agreed and the women’s jobs secured for at least three years by an order from London cut-price jeans retailer, Mr Nigel Wright. Although the new firm, Inverwear, will not start production for about a month, sit-in leader Helen Monaghan said yesterday that the purpose of the occupation had been achieved.”

The factory had been sold for around £500,000, with government backing. Although some of the women had left during the sit in, around 140 had remained on site until the very end of the campaign.



Other events that occured in February

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.