Lee Jeans 40th anniversary event

A SPECIAL event will take place this week to mark the 40th anniversary of the legendary Lee Jeans factory sit-in.

Inverclyde Council has organised a celebratory dinner in Greenock Town Hall on Thursday evening (26 August 2021) to honour the staff who famously occupied their workplace for almost seven months in 1981 to save their livelihoods.

The sit-in was in protest at plans by the factory owners to close the Larkfield operation with the loss of hundreds of jobs, despite healthy order books.

After seven, long months, the largely female workforce won their fight when the facility was taken over and some 140 roles saved.

Now almost 40 years to the day since their historic victory, a celebratory event will be held to mark the anniversary, hosted by Provost Martin Brennan. 

Around 80 guests are expected and they will be treated to a special fish tea in a nod to the 200-plus fish suppers that were delivered to the factory during the protest to sustain the workers.

The guest speakers will be Greenock-born Newcastle University professor, Dr Andy Clark, who is a specialist on the Lee Jeans sit-in, and local woman Margaret Wallace, who was one of the leading lights of the 1981 protest.

Provost Brennan said: “The Lee Jeans sit-in is a significant chapter in Inverclyde’s industrial past and deserves to be remembered.

“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.

“I’m delighted that the recent easing of coronavirus restrictions means that we can celebrate this milestone anniversary properly, as well as marking the return of events to Greenock Town Hall for the first time in more than a year.”

The protest started on 5 February 1981 after the 240-strong workforce was told that the factory would be closing and they would lose their jobs.

Faced with either redundancy or sit in and occupy the factory, they unanimously chose to ‘sit in’.

In August 1981, after almost seven months, a management buy-out saved the Lee Jeans factory and the jobs of 140 workers still occupying the building.

Unfortunately their win was short-lived as the business, under its new owners, called in receivers in June 1983.

Nevertheless, the events of 1981 are firmly etched in the history books.

The anniversary of the end of the iconic sit-in is being honoured in similar fashion to how it was marked 40 years ago with a special reception led by the provost almost exactly four decades to the day since the workers claimed victory in their fight to save their jobs.