Red Clydesiders. Where are their memorials in our city?
The old aphorism says that "history is written by the victors". I was thinking about this after recently reading a book on the history of the Greek city of Thessaloniki. This tells the story of the Ottomans, Muslims and Jews that for centuries made up the majority of the population of what is now a decidedly Greek city. However in the city itself most traces of these previous inhabitants have been removed, as the city has emphasised its Greek-ness over recent decades.
We know Glasgow for its "Red Clydesiders", its trade unionism and Socialist leaders of the past. But when you look at the city today you have to search hard to find any physical proof of this past. I was never taught about these battles and people in school history lessons. As heavy industry fades away from the city, even family memories of these past events are passing. The top floor in the People's Palace records some of these struggles, but elsewhere in the city traces of this are harder to unearth.
In the recent Scottish independence referendum, the "No" result was a bitter disappointment for many people living in the poorest areas of Glasgow, who largely gave their support to a "Yes" vote. These are the people with most to lose from the status quo, and the most to gain by creating a fairer society. I believe that this goal was what drove the majority of voters in my city to vote Yes. Much was made of the public's engagement with ideas and politics during the referendum debate, as if this is some weird notion not for the likes of ordinary people. An 87% turnout for a vote is unprecedented in Scotland, where general elections are closer to 60% turnouts and council and European elections much less than that. The re-invigorated political engagement, the increased numbers of people joining the Greens, Scottish Socialist Party and SNP post-referendum, the support that organisations such as the Common Weal and Radical Independence Campaign have garnered, feels like a new thing. However I think it is more a case that many people have for decades felt powerless to control many aspects of their life, and that means job prospects, pay levels, watching the privatisation of essential services happening, feeling powerless even to affect their own health - it is part of the same problem. With all the main political parties telling you it has to be this way, why bother arguing? The referendum has re-awakened an old idea in people's heads. That ordinary people could join together and make things better.
There are many forgotten episodes and individuals in Glasgow's working class and trade union history, people who believed that they could make a better world. It is strange that many of these stories are not commemorated on the streets of my city, Glasgow. My plan was to spend a day or two trying to tour about the city a wee bit to find out about some of them. So for the 24,079 people of Maryhill and Springburn who voted "Yes" as opposed to the 18,094 who voted "No" in the referendum, this is a look back to some other Glaswegians who thought change could bring greater equality.
I hadn't heard of Thomas Muir of Huntershill until I read about him today in the People's Palace. He set up the radical "Friends of the People" organisation in Glasgow in 1792, inspired by the French Revolution and was transported 2 years later for sedition. He eventually escaped from Australia to America, passing through Cuba before ending his days in France. Nor had I heard of John Baird and Andrew Hardie, executed for treason in 1820 after leading a strike of 60,000 men in support of Parliamentary reform. There are little known men like George Millar who I've written about before. The "Maryhill Martyr" who was stabbed for trying to set up a union for calico workers in Maryhill in 1834. He once had a memorial plaque in a Maryhill churchyard, but for several years it has been held in storage by Glasgow City Council. At the start of the 20th century the Clydeside was becoming a hotbed of Socialist campaigns and ideas and by 1919, after events in Russia, the British government was even fearing revolution.
One hundred years ago many women supported the militant tactics of those campaigning for woman's suffrage. Suffragettes even let off a bomb in 1914 in the Kibble Palace in Glasgow to try to further their aims. Helen Crawfurd, who had just been released from prison after a 5 day hunger strike was re-arrested on suspicion of the bombing. She later supported the, largely women led, rent strikes, campaigned against the First World War, joined the ILP and became a councillor in Dunoon. Mary Barbour campaigned alongside her in the rent strikes of 1915, organising local women to drive out sheriff officers and prevent evictions. She joined the ILP and became Glasgow's first female town councillor in 1920. There is no memorial to either of these women in Glasgow, despite their dramatic and active roles campaigning for the working people of the city. Other women became very politically active through trade unionism. The Singer Sewing Machine factory strike of 1911 was largely led by the women in the workforce, many of whom went on to become Socialists and active trade unionists despite the management winning the strike and victimising and sacking many people involved in it. Amongst those sacked was Arthur McManus, who later went on to become the first chairman of the Communist Party of Great Britain. His name was written alongside Grigory Zinoviev's on the forged "Zinoviev Letter" used in 1924 to discredit the Labour party.
The Co-operative Movement
|Statue from atop the old St Georges Co-op building|
Mill owner Robert Owen is often considered as one of the founders of the Cooperative Movement.
|The last remaining 18th century villa on Charlotte Street, |
Glasgow similar to the one in which David Dale lived.
|Robert Owen House, Bath Street|
|The old Co-op Building on Morrison Street|
St Andrew's Halls and George Square
|Former St Andrew's Halls|
|David Kirkwood, beaten to the ground by policemen|
in the George Square riot of 1919
|Red flag in George Square 1919|
|Tanks brought onto the streets of Glasgow 1919|
"more by the lack of working class ripeness than by batons, tanks and machine guns"
|George Square was quieter today|
George Square has since then often been a rallying point for protest and rallies. Nelson Mandela spoke here on his release from prison as he came to Glasgow to thank the city for the support he was given whilst a prisoner of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. The city council seems hellbent on turning the square into a naff fairground or money making site instead of it being a public space for the citizens of the city and a campaign has been set up to try to save it (Restore George Square).
Uglier scenes were seen in the square recently when Unionist supporters gathered here the day after the "No" vote in the Scottish Independence referendum. All through the campaign the square had been a rallying point, mainly for "Yes" campaigners, but only on this night did the police have to get involved.
95 years after a red flag was hoisted in George Square, the Union Jack was being waved instead by people with their own way of viewing history.
|Former Corporation |
On Sunday evenings John MacLean would hold anti-war meetings at the former Corporation Transport Building on Bath Street at Renfield Street. In 1915 he was arrested under the Defence of the Realm act for his anti-war stance and when he refused to pay a fine was imprisoned and sacked as a teacher. He saw it as a war between imperialist powers in which workers should take no part and when he continued to speak out against the war he was arrested for the second time in Feb 1916 after a meeting here. Charged with sedition he was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment but released following public protests after 14 months.
|Telegram from British Socialist Party on his release from prison|
|Portland Street, Glasgow|
"I am not here as the accused, I am here as the accuser of capitalism, dripping with blood from head to foot."He was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, during which time he went on hunger strike fearing his food was being poisoned. Again regular protests called for his release and in 1918 the coalition government of Lloyd George agreed to his release, although MacLean refused the Royal pardon he was offered. He believed in Scottish independence and formed a Scottish Communist Party separate from the CPGB. In his pamphlet titled "All Hail! The Scottish Communist Republic" he made clear his views on what direction he felt Scotland should take
"Scotland must again have Independence, but not to be ruled by traitor kings and chiefs, lawyers and politicians....The control must be in the hands of the workers only, male and female alike..."He was arrested again and again and after 5 terms in prison, hunger strikes and force feeding his health failed. Aged 44 he died in 1923. His funeral cortege was followed by a crowd of 10-20,000 to his final resting place in Eastwood cemetery. John MacLean and Robert Burns are the only Scots commemorated by Soviet postage stamps.
|Plaque on the walls of the City Halls, Glasgow|
|Memorial stone to John MacLean at Ashtree Road, Pollokshaws|
From ancient times Glasgow Green always been a rallying point and meeting place. It was where James Watt came up with the ideas for his steam engine and Bonnie Prince Charlie tried to rally his Jacobite troops in 1746. A stone marks James Watt and a circular bench marks Bonnie Prince Charlie on Glasgow Green, but commemorations of other events on the Green are few and far between.
On 6th March 1848 unemployed workers had gathered on Glasgow Green expecting to be given provisions. When none appeared speakers denounced the government and called for people to take what they needed. Serious rioting then erupted, with food shops and a gunsmiths at Glasgow Cross being raided. The army were called in as the rioters retreated towards Bridgeton and opened fire into the crowd with live ammunition killing at least one man and wounding many others. The leaders were given 18 years transportation.
From 1872 until the time of World War 1 suffragettes used to gather at Nelson's column on Glasgow Green, which may explain why Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested in 1914 at the nearby Central Police station on Turnbull Street after a rowdy meeting. The Women's Peace Crusade rallied 14,000 women on Glasgow Green on the 8th July 1916, a women's crusade against the war, with many women who had lost sons or husbands in the war getting involved. Organising it were Mary Barbour, Agnes Dollan and Helen Crawfurd.
On the 1918 May Day strike 100,000 workers downed tools. Some of them rallied here and demonstrated against the war and for worker's solidarity, then headed to nearby Duke Street prison to demand the release of John MacLean who had been arrested again. It was also the rallying point in Glasgow during the national General Strike of 1926.
In more recent times the Anti-Apartheid Movement organised a rally here where 30,000 people came to hear ANC leader Oliver Tambo speak in 1988, two years before Mandela was eventually released from prison in South Africa.
|Hugh MacDonald, Chartist|
Brigdeton Cross was also where James Maxton used to hold open air meetings. He was the Independent Labour Party MP for this area from 1922-1945. Presumably he kept on with his meetings even if someone thought to throw an egg at him. He was a leading figure in the Glasgow ILP. Like many of his colleagues he was a pacifist and spoke out against the First World War, for which he was imprisoned in 1916. He also spoke out in favour of Home Rule, wanting to transform the "English-ridden, capitalist-ridden, landlord-ridden Scotland, into a Scottish socialist commonwealth". He later tempered his views, feeling that the target of their fight should be against international imperialism. Kelvingrove Art Gallery have apparently a bust of Maxton, but when I was there today I couldn't find it, and there is no memorial to him at Bridgeton Cross either. (If you are at Bridgeton Cross I'd encourage you to spend a couple of hours trawling through the BFI archives in Bridgeton Library/Olympia).
|Memorial to the Calton Weavers|
|Robert Climie with Keir Hardie, |
leader of the ILP
Apart from Willie Gallacher the Communist Party never achieved any real electoral success and some within the party felt that they should not even engage in a parliamentary democracy that they saw as unjust.
|La Pasionara statue, Glasgow|
Young shop stewards who were also members of the Communist Party led the successful UCS work-in, such as Jimmy Reid, Jimmy Airlie, Sammy Gilmore and Sammy Barr. When Upper Clyde Shipyards threatened to close the shipyards the union, instead of striking, decided to have a "work-in" and complete the orders they already had on the books. Although the state of Glasgow's shipbuilding industry today is precarious, without their efforts it would have died out 40 years ago. Maybe the best way to commemorate their efforts would be to invest in the yards now to keep what we have. The threat of closure still hangs over the remaining two yards at Govan and Scotstoun and if BAE no longer want to run them, why not nationalise them, invest in new technology and re-name them? Perhaps the "No Hooliganism, No Bevvying Yards" or suchlike.
These men and women were all fighting for social justice and a fairer society. It is important that they are not forgotten and that we remember them and their ideas. They can inspire us, and others, to reject injustice and inequality as they themselves did. As part of that I think Glasgow city council needs to look at ways to tell its people about their history, not to let it be forgotten. A series of paintings by Ken Currie hangs in the People's Palace , telling the story of the working people of Glasgow. It was commisioned in 1987 on the 200th anniversary of the massacre of the Calton Weavers. The last panel is called "Unfurling Our History", the artist's vision of the future. A group in the centre are learning about their history through Museum collections and unfurling a banner of the future to come. That is why I think we need to spend more time remembering these men and women.
|Unfurling Our History, Ken Currie, from the People's Palace|