LIFE for me as a steelworker started in June 1978.

As a newly married 19-year-old, with few academic qualifications, I knew I needed to find a job that would give me long-term employment and a decent wage to raise a family whenever that time arrived.

On my first day at Ravenscraig, I was told by the personnel officer I would be working in the steel side of the plant, in the BOS plant area, where liquid iron was made into steel.

In those days few men wanted to start in the iron side of The Craig – that's where the much dirtier and dangerous conditions of the coke ovens or blast furnaces were. I was no exception.

A year spent in the labour pool gave me an insight into the full range of work undertaken throughout the steelworks and I was finally promoted to 'the shifts', as part of the steel processing team.

Thirteen years of working a continental shift pattern of day shift, back shift, night shift, four days on and one or two days off became my norm. That had been the way for thousands of men throughout the area who worked in the steel industry in places such as Gartcosh, Clyde Alloy, the Lanarkshire Steelworks, Clydesdale tube works, Clydebridge and Dalzell plate mills.

Only the latter two are still open.

By the time 1980 came round, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, my wife Ellen was heavily pregnant with our first child Brian and my politicisation was cemented for life.

On January 2 a national steel strike was called that was to last more than three months and the hardship encountered lived in the memory of workers for the rest of their lives.

During three months of daily picket lines throughout Scotland, I and many colleagues stood outside collieries in Dalkeith and Monktonhall in the east, Aberdeen Harbour in the north, Greenock shipyards in the west and many steel stockholders and fabricators throughout central and southern Scotland.

We were paid £1 a day by our union, the Iron And Steel Trades Confederation. It was the only income we had during those long 13 weeks.

I was arrested, along with many others, on a very bad-tempered February morning outside a steel stockholder's yard in Mossend by a policeman who obviously decided I was a bad influence on the proceedings.

I was kept overnight in Motherwell police station and appeared at Hamilton Sheriff Court the next day and was fined the sum of £75, which, thankfully, was paid by the union.

Ironically, one month after the end of the strike I came across the police officer who had arrested me, when our two wives shared a room in Motherwell Maternity Hospital and were giving birth to our first children.

To this day I don't know who felt the most uncomfortable.

Four years later it was the miners' turn to fight for their industry.

The miners' picket lines outside Ravenscraig were viciously policed and shamed many people.

The sight of the speeding, heavily protected convoys of Yuill and Dodds' lorries bringing ore from the port of Hunterston angered many drivers and pedestrians along the convoy routes.

The coke was being brought to feed our blast furnaces, which we knew could not be allowed to cool down and collapse, and thus bring the whole steel plant to an untimely closure.

I remember in May 1984 standing at the gates of the plant as miners were arrested in the same manner I was four years earlier and feeling a deep sense of injustice for my fellow trade unionists, who were fighting for their industry and their very existence as proud miners.

I remember one small contribution to their cause came on the night shift when I and other steelworkers returned the favour shown to us on our picket lines in 1980.

We bought food in our canteen and passed it through our fences to help keep up the spirits of the miners who were standing at our gates throughout a long night.

The 1980s were a time of change.

By 1982 we had an addition to our young family when our daughter, Kelly-Anne, was born.

Like thousands of others, we were also hopeful we would be able to move out of our council maisonette and buy a home with a garden for the children.

However, as was to become a way of life, everyone in Ravenscraig became more and more worried about the uncertain future of the plant and our job prospects.

Our union supported changes in work practices that made Ravenscraig the most efficient steelworks in the UK.

Production records were smashed month after month, absenteeism was reduced, and the workforce became multi-skilled in all aspects of steelmaking.

If the authorities wanted to shut Ravenscraig, the workers were determined we would make it as difficult as possible for them to make an economic case for our demise.

There then started what we were to label the Ravenscraig 'Death By A Thousand Cuts' strategy.

In February 1986 our finishing mill at Gartcosh was closed.

There were cutbacks in every shift, our old slab mills were run down and finally closed.

Yet still we made an economic case for future investment, rather than the 'jobs at any price' social case that would surely have saw an even earlier closure date.

Our union campaign was aimed at all political parties, civic society, the media, anyone who cared to listen and who were supportive of our case for remaining open.

The list of steel cuts became longer and longer until the inevitable closure was announced of blast furnaces and mills.

For thousands of families in Lanarkshire, life was never going to be the same again as, month by month in 1991 and 1992, workers were made redundant until the final day on June 24, when the steelmaking closed and a way of life came to an end.

I remember walking from the plant after my last shift with a very deep sense of sadness and, it has to be admitted, for the first time, a real fear of not being able to provide for my family as our children neared their teenage years.

There was no longer a need for an 'Experienced Steelworker'. Thousands of others had the same qualification, well earned, but now totally useless in the 1990s Lanarkshire job market.

Steelworkers were given a percentage of their salary for a year to retrain for new employment opportunities and the area was awash with training agencies eager to take advantage of the lucrative training rates given to providers.

For a time it was said we had more trainees in horticulture and decorating than any other area of the UK.

To improve my own employability, I chose to sign up for a course that was as far away from steelmaking as I could find – I enrolled for an HNC in marketing at Motherwell College.

A year later, through the determination and hard work of dedicated lecturers such as Douglas Barclay and Linda McAllister, I and a few other ex-steelworkers gained our HNC.

Those classmates became police officers, newspaper photographers, community workers and salesmen.

Douglas Barclay insisted I go on to further education and arranged my interview for Glasgow Caledonian University to enrol as a mature student for a degree course in Consumer And Management Studies, which I was awarded 'With Distinction' in 1994.

Since 1997 my main priority as the MP for Motherwell And Wishaw has been to do all I can to help in the regeneration of an ultra modern Ravenscraig site.

I hope thousands of local men and women can earn a living on the site and help bring up their families, just as the steelworkers did for many years before them...