Friday, January, 1919, a date that we should never forget, that was the day that brought about the stationing of armed troops on Glasgow's streets, they were also stationed at entrances to the docks around the city. As is usual in these situations, it was the workers that had come up with the rational decision, To help alleviate the unemployment situation after WWI, the idea was to cut the working hours and try to soak up the unemployed. A 40 hour week was the suggestion, but the state and the employers would have none of that. By 30, January, 1919, 40,000 workers in the engineering and shipbuilding industries in Clydeside were out on strike, plus approximately 36,000 miners from the coalfields in Stirlingshire and Lanarkshire, who were also on strike.
On the Friday, January, 31, a demonstration, of an estimated 60,000 citizens, in support of the shorter working week took place on George Square. Unexpectedly and unannounced, the police attacked the demonstrators, an action that lead to all hell breaking out.
THE DEMONSTRATION, BLOODY FRIDAY.
On Friday 31 January 1919 upwards of 60,000 demonstrators gathered in George Square Glasgow in support of the 40-hours strike and to hear the Lord Provost's reply to the workers' request for a 40-hour week. Whilst the deputation was in the building the police mounted a vicious and unprovoked attack on the demonstrators, felling unarmed men and women with their batons. The demonstrators, including large numbers of ex-servicemen, retaliated with whatever was available, fists, iron railings and broken bottles, and forced the police to retreat. On hearing the noise from the square the strike leaders, who were meeting with the Lord Provost, rushed outside in an attempt to restore order. One of the leaders, David Kirkwood, was felled to the ground by a police baton, and along with William Gallacher was arrested.
The situation was volatile, and the authorities were getting very nervous indeed. Our lorda and masters in the Westminster Houses of Hypocrisy and Corruption, feared what the state always fears, that the people were taking control of their own lives. Something had to be done, and the only answer the state ever has, is violent repression, and has no qualms about turning the military on its own people.
After the initial confrontation between the demonstrators and the police in George Square, further fighting continued in and around the city centre streets for many hours afterwards. The Townhead area of the city and Glasgow Green, where many of the demonstrators had regrouped after the initial police charge, were the scenes of running battles between police and demonstrators. In the immediate aftermath of 'Bloody Friday', as it became known, other leaders of the Clyde Workers' Committee were arrested, including Emanuel Shinwell, Harry Hopkins and George Edbury.TROOPS.The strike and the events of January 31 1919 “Bloody Friday” raised the Government’s concerns about industrial militancy and revolutionary political activity in Glasgow. Considerable fears within government of a workers' revolution in Glasgow led to the deployment of troops and tanks in the city. A full battalion of Scottish soldiers stationed at Maryhill barracks in Glasgow at the time were locked down and confined to barracks, for fear they would side with the rioters, an estimated 10,000 English troops, along with Seaforth Highlanders from Aberdeen, who were first vetted to remove those with a Glasgow connection, and tanks were sent to Glasgow in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Friday. Soldiers with fixed bayonets marched with tanks through the streets of the City. There were soldiers patrolling the streets and machine guns on the roofs in George Square. No other Scottish troops were deployed, with the government fearing fellow Scots, soldiers or otherwise, would go over to the workers if a revolutionary situation developed in the area. It was the British state’s largest military mobilisation against its own people and showed they were quite prepared to shed workers’ blood in protecting the establishment.
Of course "Bloody Friday" should not be seen in isolation, it didn't just spring up from nowhere, it was just one flashpoint along a long road of struggle by the ordinary people for a better life.
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.
A warehouse in the east end of Glasgow 1919.
All of these events are lesson for us to learn from, solidarity, organisation, co-operation across our communities and our workplaces. Something we have to get to grips with in this more fragment type of society that we find ourselves living under.
Something else we should never forget, this wasn't the first time that the British establishment had brought out the military to break a strike. During the 1911 dockers strike, the military shot dead two strikers on the streets on the street in Liverpool.
Liverpool during the 1911 strike.www.radicalglasgow.me.uk