Ina Scott

Sit-in leader who fought for natural justice
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The Independent Online

Ina Clark, factory worker and trade unionist: born Whitburn, West Lothian 24 July 1926; married 1946 Jim Scott (died 1984; one son, three daughters); died Livingston, West Lothian 11 December 2003.

Very few individuals in Britain can reasonably claim to have brought about single-handedly an alteration in the law of the land. But, this is precisely what a factory-worker grandmother achieved. In 1982, as convener of shop stewards, Ina Scott was the ringleader of the three-month-long women's sit-in and sleep-in to protect jobs at the Plessey Factory in Bathgate, West Lothian. The determination of these women understandably caught the imagination of the trade-union movement and its sympathisers throughout Britain.

On 26 February 1982, in the High Court in Edinburgh, Lord Kincraig withdrew a court order that he had made three weeks previously requiring the women to leave their factory. An industrial legend was born.

In essence the judge ruled that, when a company had already announced the closure of a plant, that company was deemed no longer to be trading. His Lordship drew the conclusion that workers should no longer be penalised on the grounds that they were interfering with the company's right to trade; in law, they were entitled to sit in by their machines. This was a ruling that sent shock waves round the City of London, and boardrooms up and down the land. The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, and her Industry Secretary, Sir Keith Joseph, made haste to have the law amended.

She was born Ina Clark, the ninth of the 13 children of James Clark, a mineworker at Polkemmet Colliery, and his wife Helen. Born at the height of the 1926 General Strike, she left the Lindsay High School in July 1940, to start work at Hardy's outfitters of Bathgate, where she was fondly remembered, 40 years later, by the crusty Tory proprietor, Provost John Hardy:

Ina Clark was a lovely feisty girl and loyal worker to my family through the war years - a bonnie fechter. I reckon her namesakes, the Clark brothers, bosses of Plessey, have got some clanswoman to cope with. She will be as cussed as they are.

After marrying Jim Scott, a skilled joiner, in 1946, and rearing a family of three girls and a boy, Ina returned to work in 1961, at the Telegraph Condenser Company in Bathgate. It was owned and run by two technically innovative elderly bachelor brothers, the Brigginshaws, and then employed over 2,000 workers, mostly the wives and daughters of coal and shale miners, and British Motor Corporation workers. Within weeks, Ina Scott, a natural leader, was chosen as a shop steward. But, since the Brigginshaws were relaxed and prosperous, exporting their specialist products to five continents, the last thing they wanted was to have bad relations with their women workers. Ina, ever sensible, got used to winning improved conditions and concessions.

Near retirement, and without heirs, the Brigginshaws sold out to Plessey, a very different kettle of fish. Their accountants aroused Scott's warrior instincts. She thought that time-and-motion studies were an insult to an honest, hard-working community. Industrial relations deteriorated. Around Christmas 1981, Plessey announced their intention to close the Bathgate plant.

Greatly astonished were they to learn that the Plessey women were staging a sit-in. In the atmosphere of the traumatic running-down of the Leyland (former BMC) plant at Bathgate, a decade previously the greatest concentration of machine tools under one roof in Europe, the closure of proud Clyde shipyards, and the Lee Jeans garment workers' dispute, the sit-in took hold of the public imagination.

On 4 February, Plessey's counsel, Donald MacKay, won an interdict demanding that the continuing unlawful occupation be ended forthwith. Well knowing the possible penalties, but stiffened by Ina Scott, the Plessey women defied the court. Before they returned to court on 26 February, Jim Scott, half-joking and wholly in earnest, told his daughters: "We will be visiting your mother in Cortonvale [the less than salubrious women's prison] on Sunday."

Never will I forget standing with John Smith MP, my friend and parliamentary neighbour for North Lanarkshire, seeing 10 men and 117 women of our constituents, many in their fur coats and every one of them rather obviously having made a visit to the hairdressers in the previous 24 hours, disgorging themselves, Ina in the vanguard, from four specially chartered buses. Smith and I rather doubted if any of them had seen an inside of a court in their lives.

They filed into a courtroom which was clearly far too small: Scott demanded that all the women should get their seat; agitated court officials found them the biggest court of all; and there they sat in serried ranks, sergeant-majored by Ina, arms folded, glowering at the judge. Smith - a QC, James Callaghan's Industry Secretary and the future Labour leader - whispered to me, "Christ, Tam, I've never seen the like of this." Ina Scott had exposed a raw nerve: natural justice was being flouted, in that her friends had a right to fight to save their livelihoods.

After the briefest of adjournments, following a four-and-a-half-hour hearing, Lord Kincraig intoned,

I shall recall the interdict on one ground only. In my judgment, Section 11 of the 1974 Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, as amended, may afford a relevant defence, and justify the actions of the respondents, if in furtherance of a trades dispute.

He added a further comment of significance for the whole trade-union movement:

It may be that sit-ins have been legalised by that section of the 1974 Act. I would myself doubt it, but I cannot at this stage affirm that it does not.

Perhaps the sweetest moment of all followed, when the day ended, not with fines on the worker of thousands of pounds, and eviction from the factory, but with Plessey's being ordered to pay the legal costs. When Smith and I went to see Sir John Clark, this tough boss had the grace to admit, "Well, we met our match in Mrs Scott!"

Let the last word be with Ina, who told the press that day, "We knew we had done no wrong. Today we saw a bit of justice for a change."

Tam Dalyell