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Scottish Government Honors 40th Anniversary of Lee Jeans Sit-In

On Thursday, the Scottish government marked the 40th anniversary of a historic labor movement involving workers at a former Lee Jeans factory.

The Inverclyde Council, a council area for local government in Scotland, arranged a dinner honoring the factory’s former workers who staged a sit-in 40 years ago when the facility threatened to close despite not experiencing financial hardship.

The protest started on Feb 5, 1981, when the factory’s 240 employees—most of whom were women—refused to accept the factory’s closing and continued working. The situation persisted for seven months until the facility was taken over by new ownership, ultimately saving 140 jobs. At the time, the workers marked the end of the protest with a special reception hosted by the provost—which the council aimed to replicate this week.

The dinner, which consisted of fish suppers similar to what was delivered to workers during the protest, was held at Greenock Town Hall in Greenock, Scotland, and brought together 80 guests. Speakers included Dr. Andy Clark, a Greenock-born Newcastle University professor and expert on the Lee Jeans sit-in, and Margaret Wallace, a factory worker who helped spearhead the movement.

Though the facility closed in June 1983 for financial reasons, the protest continues to serve as an example of the importance of unionization and workers’ rights.

According to Provost Martin Brennan, who hosted this week’s celebratory dinner, the sit-in was a symbol of determination that deserves to be recognized for years to come. “The Lee Jeans sit-in is a significant chapter in Inverclyde’s industrial past and deserves to be remembered,” he said. “The spirit and determination shown by the largely female workforce, with support from the wider community, to protect local employment is unparalleled even to this day.”