A blog by Iain Lawson

Burns Night is on the 25th January and across the World people will meet up to celebrate his life and his enormous contribution to the worlds of literacy and music.

There will be superlatives aplenty but I want to write about one aspect of his work that still brings great benefit even today, hundreds of years after his death.

I knew a little about Burns but was by no means knowledgeable about his wide body of work. That all changed when I became close friends with several of the shop stewards at Ravenscraig Steelworks.

I have written before about how impressed I was with their abilities. They were largely self taught. Working class to a man and born before access was greatly widened to allow significant numbers of the working class to enter University, these men run rings round the top management of British Steel and a whole range of senior Tory politicians who were intent in closing them down. From 1980 when Sir Ian McGregor made the first move these men fought an outstanding rearguard action against all the odds and managed to delay the closure for 12 more years. 12 years where thousands of men received wages and pension contributions which were crucial for many of the older workers, while buying time for the younger folk to find alternative work. Their campaign was also so successful they forced very substantial investment into Lanarkshire both before and after the eventual closure. Money that would never had been spent if the campaign had been easily overcome.

Burns is responsible for a great many working class men self educating themselves later in life. That is still the case today and we all owe him our thanks.

Ian Lawson

Despite most leaving school early these were clever men. One of the reasons they were clever, knowledgeable and worldly wise was they shared a great love of the works of Robert Burns. Ravenscraig had a huge Burns Club and every year they held a Burns Supper where many of the best Burns speakers in Scotland appeared.

Tommy Brennan and George Quinn both told me how their self education started with reading the works of Robert Burns. They were attracted by the language he used, which they largely understood as Scots was in use everyday in their working environment. In George’s case he developed a skill for self teaching through books and he became expert in other areas. I have never met anyone who could analyse a balance sheet or profit and loss account more accurately or speedily than George. British steel would produce a slanted document trying to portray Ravenscraig in a poor light. Within a matter of a couple of hours George would produce the answer highlighting how the British Steel figures had been manipulating the information for their false case. He became so expert at this British Steel eventually stopped trying as it was always a huge embarrassment for them.

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