[Marxism] January 31, 1919 – The day they read the Riot Act against Glasgow workers

Dennis Brasky dmozart1756 at gmail.com
Wed Jan 9 14:04:27 MST 2019

One hundred years ago, on 31 January, 1919, Glasgow’s George Square
witnessed one of the most astonishing outbreaks of civic violence in modern
history. Tens of thousands of striking workers, many accompanied by their
families, were baton-charged by police. A battle erupted, heads were broken
and for one of the last times, civic officials read the Riot Act
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riot_Act>. A panic-stricken cabinet in
London sent in troops and tanks, and for a moment revolution looked set to
sweep western Scotland.

“The Russian revolution had been an unambiguous demonstration that the
forces of reaction could be defeated and the political establishment was
very afraid that could happen here,” says the Scottish historian Tom
Devine. “They thought a Bolshevik uprising was about to begin in Glasgow

Slowly the city returned to normal, and after a couple of weeks the troops
departed. Amazingly, there had been no fatalities. The strike leaders were
put on trial for inciting riot but were acquitted – except for Gallacher
and Shinwell, who got three and five months in jail. Gallacher came to rue
the opportunity he believed was lost that day. “Had there been an
experienced revolutionary leadership, instead of a march to Glasgow Green
there would have been a march to the city’s Maryhill Barracks. There we
could easily have persuaded the soldiers to come out, and Glasgow would
have been in our hands.”

In the end, the workers lost the strike for a shorter working week although
better working hours were slowly introduced by employers. More importantly,
at the next general election, in 1922, Red Clydesiders – in the
personification of the Independent Labour Party – won 10 out of 15 Glasgow
constituencies. The revolution may not have materialised but Clydeside
became a powerful socialist base.

“The experience of being harshly treated helps explain the election success
of Red Clydesiders,” says Devine. “Shinwell, Kirkwood and others became MPs
Thousands came to see them off to Westminster when they left Glasgow by
train, and while I am not suggesting a direct link between the Battle of
George Square and this later surge in Labour support, the event certainly
had a politicising effect. The George Square factor was not irrelevant and
Scotland has been the anchor of the Labour party ever since.”


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