Monday, 2 July 2012


       Like all the events in political struggle it is difficult to trace the thread back to what brought it to this stage, Bloody Friday 1919 is no different. This was not just an attack on a large demonstration in Glasgow, it was the culmination of a series of radical events in Glasgow and the Clydeside area where the state showed its brutality. Perhaps we could even take it back to the 18th century and the radicals like Thomas Muir and others. However we can certainly take it back to the rent strikes of the first world war, the forming of the Labour Withholding Committee, (LWC) The Clyde Workers Committee (CWC) and the political climate of that period.
       In pre First World War Glasgow there were a large number of empty houses, by the year 1915 all were occupied by incoming workers to the munitions and allied war industry trades. A shortage of workers and materials saw a lack of maintenance and the housing stock deteriorate rapidly. At the beginning of the war the landlords tried to implement large rent increases, at the receiving end of this were 7,000 pensioners and families whose men were fighting in France. This brought about the formation of the "Glasgow Women's Housing Association" and many other local "Women's Housing Associations" to resist the increases. A variety of peaceful activities were used to prevent evictions and drive out the Sheriff's officers. There were constant meetings in an attempt to be one step ahead of the Sheriff's officers. All manner of communication was used to summon help, everything from drums, bells, trumpets and anything that could be used to create a warning sound to rally supporters, who were mainly women as the men were at work in the yards and factories at these times. They would then indulge in cramming into closes and stairs to prevent the entry of the Sheriff's officers and so prevent them from carrying out their evictions. They also used little paper bags of flour, peasmeal and whiting as missiles directed at the bowler hatted officers. These activities culminated on the 17th of November 1915 with the massive demonstration and march of thousands through the city streets and on to the Glasgow Sheriff's Court. The size of the demonstration caused the Sheriff at the court to phone the Prime Minister of the day, this resulted in the immediate implementation of the "1915 Rent Restriction Act" which benefited tenants across the country.
        This happened in a time of war, so it was obvious that by 1915 Glasgow and Clydeside had a very large class oriented militant grassroots movement and had forced the Government on this occasion to act in their favour. The rent strike was mainly a women’s organisation but the men were proving to be just as militant in the workplaces. Around the same time in 1915 during a prolonged period of considerable economic hardship for most industrial workers, Clydeside engineering employers refused workers demands for a wage increase. The insatiable demand for war munitions had lead to a rapid rise in inflation and a savage attack on the living standards of the working class. Workers were demanding wage increases to offset these repressive conditions. At this time Weir’s of Cathcart was paying workers brought over from their American plant, 6/- shillings a week more than workers in their Glasgow plant.
      The dispute between workers and management at Weir’s rapidly escalated into strike action. The strike was organised by a strike committee named the Labour Withholding Committee (LWC). This committee comprised of rank and file trade union members and shop stewards. It was they who remained in control of the strike rather than the officials from the Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE).
      The strike started in February 1915 and lasted almost 3 weeks. At its peak 10,000 members of the ASE from 8 separate engineering works were on strike throughout Clydeside. The officials from the ASE denounced the strike and backed the government’s demands to resume work. It was this double pressure from the government and their own trade union that drove the workers from the various engineering works in Glasgow to form the LWC to give the workers a voice and to organise the strike to their wishes.
      Although the strikers demands were not met, its importance is in the fact of it forming the LWC. A committee formed from rank and file union members that determined policy in the work place and refused to follow the directives from union officials when those directives conflicted with the demands of that rank and file.
      The government alarmed by the February 1915 strike, summoned trade union leaders to a special conference. The result of this conference being the now notorious Treasury Agreement. The outcome of which was that all independent union rights and conditions including the right to strike, were abandoned for the duration of the war. It also allowed the employers to “dilute” labour. Meaning they could employ unskilled labour in skilled jobs to compensate for the growing labour shortage, due to the every increasing demand for munitions and the endless slaughter of young men at the front. The Munitions Act also made strikes illegal and restrictions of output a criminal offence. The Munitions Act also allowed for the setting up of Munitions Tribunals to deal with any transgressions of the act. 

No comments:

Post a Comment