By Campbell Martin

The First World War armistice, signed in November 1918, brought home thousands of soldiers and saw an end to the demands placed on Glasgow's engineering and munitions works.

This led to fears of mass unemployment, which prompted workers in key industries to call for a reduced working week as a means of absorbing those without a job.

In January 1919 the Clyde Workers Committee (CWC) helped establish the 'Forty Hours Movement', which called for the working week to be reduced to a maximum of forty hours.  This demand had initially been made by coalminers in pits across Scotland, from Ayrshire in the west to Fife in the east.

A call was made for a general strike to commence on 27 January in support of the 40-hour working week: days later newspapers reported 40,000 workers from engineering and shipbuilding yards on the Clyde had withdrawn their labour.  In addition, as many as 35,000 miners had stopped work, alongside others from supporting trades and occupations.

The anger and disenchantment felt by Scottish workers towards a remote union leadership in London was made clear in a CWC Strike Bulletin issued at this time, which read:

"London Executives don't understand our aspirations here and never take the trouble to find out what is wrong when a strike occurs.  We have to emancipate ourselves from the London junta by building an organisation which will be under our control."

On 29 January a march through Glasgow by strikers culminated in a rally in George Square, from which a CWC deputation secured a meeting with the city's Lord Provost. 

The shop-stewards sought the Provost's support for the workers and asked that the Council instruct Glasgow's employers to introduce a 40-hour working week.  Apparently, the Lord Provost asked for time to consult with councillors and a further meeting on 31 January was agreed, at which the workers would be given the Council's response.

January 31st, a Friday, saw around 60,000 demonstrators gather in George Square in support of the 40-hour strikers and to hear the Lord Provost's response.

However, while the CWC deputation was inside the City Chambers, ranks of police waded into the crowd in an unprovoked attack.  Men, women and children were struck by batons, resulting in a violent response from the crowd, which included many ex-servicemen recently returned from fighting in the First World War.

Contemporary newspaper reports recorded the crowd retaliated with fists, iron railings and broken bottles.  The CWC deputation heard the commotion and left the City Chambers, only for two of the leaders, Willie Gallacher and Davie Kirkwood, to be batoned by the police and arrested.  Others from the CWC leadership were also taken into custody, including Emanuel Shinwell, Harry Hopkins and George Ebury.

As pitched battles took place in and around George Square, the Chief Constable stood on the steps of the municipal building and attempted to read the Riot Act.  However, workers continued to drive back police assaults.

Eventually, peace was restored as protestors re-grouped and marched-off towards Glasgow Green where they planned to hold a rally.  Police later stated they had intervened at George Square because demonstrators had been stopping trams in adjacent streets, but workers believed the violent baton charges had been planned to disrupt the legitimate protest and undermine the strike action.

By the time the workers' march reached Glasgow Green on 31 January ranks of police officers were already waiting and further fights broke out, which spread to other parts of the city and continued into the night.

Alarmed by events in Glasgow, and concerned they faced a 'Red uprising' similar to the revolution that had happened in Russia just two years before, the British Government ordered troops and tanks onto the streets of Scotland's largest city.

The troops, believed to be 10,000 in number, were drawn from English regiments, while Scottish soldiers stationed at Maryhill were locked in their barracks: the Government feared they would side with the Scottish workers.

Some years later, the leaders of the Clyde Workers Committee acknowledged that they had not fully understood the magnitude of what happened, and what potentially could have happened in Glasgow on 31 January 1919.

One said, "In our heads we were leading a strike, but we should have been leading a revolution."  Another, Willie Gallacher, added, "The soldiers at Maryhill were confined to barracks and the barrack gates were kept tightly closed.  If we had gone there, we could easily have persuaded the soldiers to come out and Glasgow would have been in our hands."

The actual outcome was to be very different.  By Monday 10 February, the Joint Strike Committee of the CWC called-off the strike.  They had failed to achieve a 40-hour working week, but employers had agreed a reduction to 47-hours, ten less than was the case the before the strike.

The events in Glasgow on 31 January became known as 'Black Friday' and forever established the name of the Red Clydesiders in the history of socialist struggle in Britain.

However, for many, the day will be remembered for what could have been had the strike's leaders taken a different course of action and sought support from the Scottish soldiers stationed at Maryhill barracks.

Courtesy of The Scottish Socialist Voice


# GrutsForTea 2013-10-05 22:20
Very proud to say my Grandfather was part of that strike and demonstration. He fought in the war too and never forgave the British government for putting the same tanks on the streets of Glasgow that he had been fighting alongside.

That's a great image too, I'd seen it before and I think it was taken at Trongate.
# From The Suburbs 2013-10-05 22:46
Good article and every time we are confronted with Great British celebrations of the start of the Great War point out that 26% of Scots in First World War didn't come home
The percentage for the rest of the UK and Ireland was 11.8% and for France 16.8%. Only the Serbs and Turks had a higher proportion of participant deaths than Scotland.

There was a lot of opposition to the War in Scotland particularly on Clydeside.
On August 9th. 1914 the Independent Labour Party and the Glasgow branch of the Peace Society organised an anti-war demonstration of 5,000 people on Glasgow Green.
In February 1915 there was a strike at the munitions factory Weirs of Cathcart. The odds were stacked against them.
Left anti war newspapers were such as Forward and Vanguard were all banned and socialist leaders like John Maclean were arrested and sent to prison. As a conscientious objector Jimmy Maxton also went to prison and his dog was stoned to death by jingoistic Brits.
# dpict 2013-10-05 23:23
My Grandfather told me that they sent a battleship up the Clyde and trained their guns on the city centre. A warning was then issued that if we did not end the strike, they would level Glasgow. Are we surprised that this was not mentioned in the news papers of the time?
Loyalty through fear, strength through capitulation? ... it doesn't work for me either. Vote YES, we might not get a second chance.
# call me dave 2013-10-06 00:18
I remember Manny Shinwell telling the story of this event on BBC TV when he was an old man and in failing health.

Some will find it hard to believe that any government could treat people like that only 3 or 4 generations back.

Does NNS know something we don't?
# andygm 2013-10-06 20:35
Mannie Shinwell later became part of the establishment as Lord Shinwell and was opposed to devolution and independence.
# call me dave 2013-10-06 00:45
Here is the very dab as they say!
Manny Shinwell.
# clootie 2013-10-06 04:57
I've told people this story to and they have not believed me. Does anyone still think we are in a partnership?

The crime was to seek a fairer society. A shorter working week to give increased employment to fellow Scots.

What did they gain for taking part in another imperial war?

A celebration of the start of the horrors of WW1 next year - I am at a loss trying to understand the logic of the better together mindset that mass slaughter in the interest of an empire should make us feel "more British". This story highlights that the values held in Scotland are far different to the London / Whitehall old guard.

We make excellent cannon fodder - we just need to be put back in place now and then.
# Breeks 2013-10-06 06:19
I do agree, but in all fairness this was a kneejerk reaction to quell what they thought was a Bolshevic workers revolution. I don't want to be an apologist for how the Westminster Government reacted, but I understand what they were afraid of, and it wasn't an hour off the working week. For all of that, would they have sent the tanks in to Liverpool or Newcastle? I seriously doubt it. So yes, there are questions to be answered.
The world is a different place now, and with £Trillion debt and £16 billion deficit, I doubt the UK could afford to send the tanks in.
# maisiedotts 2013-10-06 12:18
Quoting Breeks:
I understand what they were afraid of, and it wasn't an hour off the working week.

It was a lot more than 1 hour Breeks most men worked 68+ hours a week in those days some 10-12 hours a day 6 or 6.5 days a week. Then of course there were the "Work Camps".
# Nautilus 2013-10-06 10:30
Did these rogues in 1707 know what they would let us in for? Ethnic cleansing of the Highlands, war after war where Scots lives were considered cheaper than all other nations, the threat to level a major city if we did not do the Empire’s bidding, and finally the planting of enough nukes to vaporise the population of Scotland. To Westminster, Scots’ lives are cheap.
Let’s remind Cameron and crew of the 26% of Scots that did not return from that war that he is so determined to celebrate the beginning of in August 2014.
Let’s get away from discriminatory and profligate Westminster control and join the rest of the UK in a harmonious relationship. You know it makes sense. VOTE YES.
# kenneth_clark336 2013-10-06 13:42
I recently became involved in a discussion concerning the annexation of part of Scotland to allow the RUK to retain Trident. A story we are all familiar with. Although the consensus was that this would be unlikely, as it would be an aggressive act, I felt the need to point out that since the British state had once deployed troops and tanks on the streets of Glasgow I wouldn't put anything past them. I was accused of being a paranoid Nat, talking nonsense. People don't know. I wish I had CMD's link to hand. It would have opened a few eyes. Granted, these events happened many years ago, but here's the rub. Westminster's mindset still occupies that space in time. Their arrogance can be seen at every level of this debate. I sincerely hope we can find the confidence to shake this pernicious influence from our country. I fear we may never have another opportunity.
# Ard Righ 2013-10-06 14:00
Let us not forget the Scottish insurrection of 1820, comprising the suppression of the radical press, The Battle of Bonnymuir, the storming of Greenock Jail and port Glasgow militia firing on unarmed crowd.

By all means check the book of the same title.
# Coinneach 2013-10-07 12:23
Further to From The Suburbs , casualties for the smaller nations were actually worse.
As he said, Scots losses 26.4%, BUT break down the others and you get,
Welsh 14.65%
Irish, remember, one country then, 16.99%
English 10.95%.
NZ had 20% losses.
The War Department saw these losses, and carried on using our men. Monty, in WW2, said he always used the Jocks first, as they were such great soldiers.
One might almost call it ethnic cleansing nowadays.
I think my grandfather was in Geo. Square that day, he left the ILP and joined the communist party, till the day he died.
The loss to our nation, of these 147,000 men, of All classes remember, must have been devastating for it's productivity and well-being.

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