Nostalgia: A brewery closure and threat of a beer drought

Demonstration against the closure of Kirkcaldy's Scottish Brewers depot in September 1987.
Demonstration against the closure of Kirkcaldy's Scottish Brewers depot in September 1987.

In 1957 country singer Slim Dusty sang about ‘A Pub With No Beer’.

30 years later it was the entire Kingdom of Fife that was under threat of running dry as workers from Scottish Brewers declared there would be no deliveries to the region after bosses at the company announced that its Kirkcaldy depot was to close, putting the jobs of 59 workers on the line.

At the start of September 1987, last-ditch talks were held aimed at saving the workers’ jobs, though with the company refusing to reconsider its decision to axe the depot, there was ‘every possibility’ of indefinite industrial action.

It was feared that a breakdown of negotiations would also result in an immediate ban on deliveries to Fife by other Scottish Brewers depots bringing the threat of a ‘beer drought’.

With the first redundancy notices due to be issued on September 18, TGWU shop steward Mr David Donaldson admitted: “Time is running out.”

Although the Kirkcaldy depot was working normally that week, Mr Donaldson said: “If we do not make any progress there is every possibility that the men will take indefinite action.”

Union leaders offered to discuss voluntary redundancies with Scottish Brewers management but only if the company retained the Kirkcaldy depot.

Mr Peter Young, Fife district secretary of the TGWU said: “We have to be realistic in this situation.

”We are prepared to discuss voluntary redundancies or the possible relocation of the depot elsewhere in Fife, but this has been rejected by the company.”

The support of Kirkcaldy District Council was pledged by convener Councillor Robert King.

Scottish Brewers’ Michael Fenwick, director of corporate affairs, stated: “The decision to close the depot is final, and there is, no going back.

“However, it is our intention to minimise the hardship to individual employees.”

The mood among the men was described as “angry and frustrated” and a demonstration was held at the depot, attended by 500 people among them Scottish Brewers workers from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee pledging their support in the fight to keep the Kirkcaldy depot open.

Mr Young told the rally: “Not a pint of beer will be moved in Fife until we have reached a settlement in Kirkcaldy” and indeed industrial action was taken and the flow of beer to Fife slowed down to a slow drip as colleagues at depots throughout the country stood by their pledge to “black” deliveries to the region, leaving some publicans with a major headaches.

Tom Kinnison, secretary of Fife Licensed Trades Association, said: “We have been caught in the middle of this dispute, and there is very little we can do about it – but you can’t run a pub without beer.

”Some of our members have already been hit badly, and the all-out strike could have a tremendous effect on us.”

He revealed that some publicans had gone up to 15 days without deliveries, and others have only been able to sell bottled beer on their premises.

However, in the end, the strike was in vain and after a two-week stand off the battle to save the Kirkcaldy depot was lost and the employees reluctantly accepted its final shutdown, with the offer of other jobs or a better cash deal for leaving.

However Scottish Brewers came in for severe criticism from the men, their union and also from Kirkcaldy MP Dr Lewis Moonie who said he was “ absolutely disgusted” by the size of the severance pay offer.