Men at work: oral history and the Glasgow hard man
Masculinity Men Blue collar workers -- Scotland -- Glasgow Ανδρισμός Άνδρες Εργάτες -- Σκωτία -- Γλασκώβη
Since the early 20th century the Clydeside region of the west of Scotland, and the city of Glasgow in particular, has gained a reputation for its distinctive 'hard man' culture, epitomised in McArthur and Kinsley Long’s 1950snovel No Mean City. It's only fairly recently that a determined attempt has been made to throw off this image, with the Glasgow Smiles Better campaign in 1983 and the city taking on the mantle of European City of Culture in 1990. However, the myth of the Glasgow hard man, heavy drinking, and gang warfare, persists and is still well and truly part of the city's international image- a recent best seller by Robert Jeffery, for example, has the title Glasgow's Hard Men: a City's Fight Against Crime. In this paper we will utilise testimonies from our ongoing oral history research project to examine the extent to which workers in this region perpetuated this myth over the 1945-1980 period. In this project - funded by the Nuffield Foundation - we interviewed 35 male Clydeside workers who had been engaged in a range of heavy industrial jobs - predominantly mining, shipbuilding, metal-working and construction. Such workplaces were especially dangerous, with varying degrees of bodily damage incurred through the labour process and the toxicity of the working environment. We investigate how such work provided an important site for the incubation, reinforcement and reproduction of macho values and attitudes – especially that encapsulated in the 'hard' Glaswegian working man of this era. In essence, then, this paper will examine the hypothesis that the urban myth was to a great extent nurtured in the harsh working environment of the region. However, we also argue that it is more useful to talk about masculinities rather than masculinity, and that oral history reveals how the myth of the hard Glasgow culture does not adequately reflect its complexities. Finally we will also argue that one of the ramifications of the Glasgow hard man myth is that working in the heavy industries forged masculinity, but, by causing varying degrees of bodily damage, was also capable of corroding the very essence of manliness.
Paper presented at Seventh International Conference on Urban History: European City in Comparative Perspective, Panteion University, Athens - Piraeus, Greece, 27-30 October 2004, Session: Constructing urban memories: the role of oral testimony