Author: Johnnie

The Co-operative Women’s Guild, the Working Class and Pacifism

The Co-operative Society was one of the few organisations to offer women positions of standing in public life throughout the late 18th and 19th Centuries.For some members this involved participation in “running the shops and the larger related organizations” (Black 1894). For most guild women participation was centred upon the co-operative store dividend system, which over time amounted to lower prices for co-operative products. In the short term this meant laying out more cash, therefore the guilds appealed to the more prosperous of working class women (ibid). Buying into this model also meant entering into a strong support network of women co-operators across the UK and Europe. Writing at the 1952 jubilee celebrations of the Scottish Co-operative Women’s Guild Isa McNair, the then national president comments that the guilds:

… enable the women of the co-operative movement to meet together and converse and in so doing help break the monotonous existence of even the most comfortable home. [...] Many, many women lonely and despairing have been restored to new life by the help of our guild sisters (McNair 1952: viii)

This support network along with the wider Co-operative Society’s reliance on women – because they controlled the household purse – to purchase co-operative products and promote among other women the advantages of consumer co-operation induced a significant level of confidence among members. Margaret Llewelyn Davies, general secretary of the Women’s Co-operative Guild (1889-1922) wrote: “As the guild grew [members] came to believe that women had public duties of every kind – that the store was a training ground for citizenship for women” (Davies 1904: 32). The increasing political confidence of WCG members was neither anticipated nor fully embraced by wider Co-operative Society members, many of who believing a woman’s voice was for ‘domestic consumption’ only (Blaszak 2000). Nevertheless, one of the strengths of the WCG as a women’s movement was to make explicit the connections between the home and the higher echelons of public life:

There is noticeably a deeper political consciousness [within the Guild], which has led to a deeper understanding of everyday economics as they affect the home. [...] How the household purse is curtailed or extended by legislative measures is now a matter of first-class concern to Guild members as wives and mothers (McNair 1952: vii).

Many of the most active members the WCG joined a range of left leaning political organisations including the Independent Labour Party (ILP), the Co-operative Party and the Communist Party (Wright 2015). Of particular relevance to the Banner Tales of Glasgow project is the political activist and WCG member Mary Barbour (1875-1958) who was a key organizer in the 1915 Rent Strikes and later an ILP councilor. Barbour ‘cut her teeth’ in the Kinning park branch of the WCG, campaigned for social improvements including children’s play parks, municipal baths and family planning clinics (Fyfe 2015).

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Scottish Co-operative Women's Guild Banners on display in Barmulloch Community Centre 15/05/2015

When Llewelyn Davies (1904: 32) wrote: “the members of the Guild are a body of reformers, whose influence must be exercised in the solution of the labour question” she was making explicit what her and other Guild members viewed as a symbiotic relationship between the WCG and promoting wider working-class interests. The industrial images below, which are details of Scottish WCG banners, further support this claim. The image on the left is a detail from Hillington Branch WCG banner depicting the Hillington Industrial Estate opened in 1938. The image on the right details the Cowlairs Possilpark Branch No. 2 banner depicting a locomotive steam engine as befitting the area’s Railway Works.

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The factory, the factory gates, the main street, the local store, the school, the community hall and the home: the everydayness of such places is politically significant. These locations were not simply “boxes of unchanging spaces” (Goyens 2009: 451) in which the women of the community convened. Instead woman played a key role in transforming them into social places, livable places. The WCG recognized this important role and in doing so politicized it.

The Peace Movement of 20th Century Europe marks an interesting area of concern dovetailing working class interests with many WCG members, who saw pacifism as being of particular importance for woman as mothers. The WCG were committed and not uncontroversial pacifists. Black writes:

As mothers and potential mothers woman could direct themselves to issues related to child-rearing and socialization, to the demilitarization of the influences on children […] The Guild was particularly active and imaginative in this respect, demanding that war toys be kept out of co-operative stores, opposing war films [and] objecting to Officers Training Corps in schools (Black 1984: 472).

Other WCG activities in this regard involved attempts to substitute Armistice Day with Peace Day celebrations and the wide sale of a white Peace Poppy as a symbol of the renunciation of war. Arguably the WCG’s most controversial action as a pacifist organization happened in 1939 when they refused to volunteer in the evacuation of children from urban centres – “interpreted by them as assistance to the war effort” (Black 1984: 473).

References

Black N 1984 The Mothers International: The Women's Co-operative Guild and Feminist Internationalism, Women's Studies International Forum, Vol. 7, No. 6, pp467-476

Blaszak B.J. 2000 The Gendered Geography of the English Co-operative Movement at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century, Women's History Review, Vol 9, No. 9, pp559-583

Davies M.L 1915 Maternity: Letters from Working Women, G. Bell London

Fyfe, Maria 2015 - Talk given at Banner Tales of Glasgow event Govan 30/05/2015

McNair I. 1952, Introduction in Callen K.M. The History of the Scottish Co-operative Women’s Guild: Diamond Jubilee 1892-1952, pp1-9.

Wright, Valerie 2015 Talk given at Banner Tales of Glasgow event Barmulloch 15/05/2015

By John Crossan

Community Activism in Castlemilk, Part 2 Castlemilk Writers’ Work Shop and Castlemilk’s Local History Groups

As well as producing their own newspaper (Castlemilk Press discussed in Part 1), people in Castlemilk also got involved in community activism through education. Castlemilk Writers’ Work Shop, was funded by the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA). As much as the class was about education and creative writing, as Alison Miller, the tutor for the group stated in Castlemilk’s Writing:

The people in the group also offer each other friendship, support and encouragement and help that go well beyond the group meetings themselves

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So it was an important place for the members to express themselves through their writing but it also provided a forum to discuss issues in the community.

Many of the poems and stories, in Castlemilk's Writing (their second publication, the first was entitled Mud & Stars), considered the realities of life in Castlemilk and Glasgow in the 1980s. ‘Christmas Party’ by Janette Shepherd, also reprinted in Farquar McLay (ed), Workers City (Glasgow: Clydeside Press, 1988) is particularly effective in exploring gender relations, single parenthood and the hopelessness that could be experienced by women in poverty.

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Local History in Castlemilk

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The People’s History Group was established in the late 1980s and was similarly funded by the WEA. The group produced The Big Flit in 1990 which included the written testimonies of early Castlemilk residents on their memories of moving to the scheme and the early years of community life. Simultaneously the Castlemilk History Group, which was also funded by the WEA, published The Incomplete History of Castlemilk (with their tutor Catriona Burness) in 1993. This book traces the history of Castlemilk House and estate from its early beginnings to the construction of the housing estate in the 1950s through to the then current day of the early 1990s. Both books are available on Castlemilk History facebook page, which continues the work of these two local history groups in telling the history of the area. This page also provides a virtual space for residents and former residents to reminisce and share memories of growing up in Castlemilk, the games they used to play, the schools they went to and the ‘characters’ they remember. The page currently has over 4,500 ‘likes’ which attests to the quality of the page and also the appetite people have for telling their stories of life in Castlemilk.

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Challenging Perceptions

By composing poems and stories about their lives, or about imagined people within their community or similar communities, the authors featured in Casltemilk’s Writing challenged and complicated the simplistic stereotypes of Castlemilk in the local and national media. Similarly by reclaiming the history of Castlemilk, both of the housing scheme and the pre-existing estate of the Stuarts of Castlemilk, the local history groups were able to tell their stories, make links and establish the history of their community within Scotland’s history. Both endeavours made the people of Castlemilk visible and told their stories in their own words. But perhaps more importantly the Writers’ Work Shop, The People’s History Group and the Local History Group brought people together for debate, discussion and friendship.

Resources

For those who want to find out more about Castlemilk’s history see the Castlemilk History facebook page which contains an extensive resource of photographs, videos and posts on all aspects of Castlemilk’s history.

For more information on the Workers Education Association (WEA) see http://www.wea.org.uk/about and in Scotland http://www.wea.org.uk/scotland

Also for a history of the WEA see Steven K. Roberts (ed), A Ministry of Enthusiasm: Centenary Essays on the Workers' Educational Association (London: Pluto Press, 2003).

For those interested in the community publishing movement of the 1980s and its historical legacy see B. Jones, ‘The Uses of Nostalgia’, Cultural and Social History, 7:3 (2010), pp. 355-74.

For those interested in reading more about Workers City all three books published by the collective are available online - http://www.workerscity.org/

Valerie Wright, University of Glasgow

Community Activism in Castlemilk - Part 1 Castlemilk Press

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Source: Dougrie Flats ©Jim Richardson – Castlemilk History facebook page

When people think about Castlemilk I’m sure there are a few stereotypical views that come to mind. I’m not going to repeat them. I’d not spent a lot of time in Castlemilk before I started work on ‘Housing, Everyday Life and Wellbeing over the long term: Glasgow 1950-1975’, a project based at the University of Glasgow exploring post-war housing and specifically the city’s high rise construction drive of the late 1960s. Now, having met a lot of lovely people (John and Carole Cooper, Jean Devlin and Susan Casey among them) and learnt a lot about what it was like to live in Castlemilk in the early years of the scheme; the 1960s and 1970s, and what it’s like in the present day, I think I know the place a lot better. It’s only through getting out and talking to people that we can challenge our own and other people’s assumptions about a place.

I’m particularly interested in the everyday experiences of the high flats in Castlemilk: Bogany, Dougrie and especially Mitchellhill, as Pearl Jephcott, a sociologist working at the University of Glasgow in the late 1960s, had made Mitchellhill one of her case studies in her study of high rise living in Glasgow published in 1971 entitled Homes in High Flats. However I’ve heard plenty of interesting stories about life in Castlemilk, both low and high rise - views and experiences which question and in some cases confirm, but always complicate, many of the stereotypical views represented in the local media.

One way in which the community in Castlemilk could challenge such stereotypes was through the production of their own media, their own newspapers, their own history and their own culture. This was a strategy employed in many communities under attack in the media in the 1970s onwards, and there are numerous examples of local newspapers, Worker’s Education Association sponsored local history groups and creative writing groups where people could make their voices heard and try and change the representation of their communities.

Here I’m going to focus on examples from Castlemilk, all of which have helped me to understand the nature of community activism in this, one of Glasgow’s ‘notorious’ peripheral schemes. In Part 1 I’ll focus on Castlemilk Press and will follow up in Part 2 with Castlemilk Writers’ Workshop and Castlemilk’s local history groups.

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Source: Castlemilk Press, February 1972, front page - ‘Castlemilk in the News’ – geocities

In the first issue of the Castlemilk Press published in February 1972, the Rev Leslie Newton outlined his reasons for establishing the paper (which he emphasised was not party political and not profit making):

Castlemilk needs to develop a self-conscious identity. Let us be proud to belong to this place which has been so unjustly labelled by many persons who are not involved in its on going life. We are enthusiastic for Castlemilk. We believe in you.

There are many interesting articles in the Castlemilk Press exploring why the population of the scheme was declining, why people were moving, the housing conditions, the inability of people to pay their heating bills, how to prevent vandalism etc. There were reports of events in the community, fairs, competitions, school photographs and football results and adverts for local shops. Space was devoted to local politics with election addresses from Teddy Taylor and his opponents over the years. Local history also featured.

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Source: Ardencraig Road at Tormusk Road ©Jim Richardson – Castlemilk History Facebook Page

But what really interested me was the ‘Women’s Page’ in which the author, Irene, departed from her usual tips for thrifty shopping, home-made cleaning products and recipes for tasty cheap dinners and instead, in March 1973, addressed the gendered dynamics of life in Castlemilk directly by discussing ‘Women’s Lib’ (to be fair she addressed all sorts of ‘social problems’ in Castlemilk):

Why does ‘Women’s Lib’ seem to have no impact on the women of Castlemilk. Perhaps it has nothing to offer us or perhaps it is that we don’t realise that it can offer us something beyond its permissive sexual liberty which is signified by the ‘burning of bras’.

In a community like ours it is accepted that the woman’s place is in the home rearing her children. The only concessions made here to Women’s Lib are that the women can now choose how many children she wants; and that is acceptable, and often necessary for her to work, even if the children are quite young. Apart from these, a night out at the bingo and an occasional bus run are the few liberties our menfolk allow us.

It is a fact that the working man still sees the home as the exclusive domain of the wife. Admittedly more men are beginning to realise that it is their responsibility to look after the welfare of their kids instead of passing the buck to the wives all the time. Too often though, the man only begins to acknowledge that children have needs when they turn into young adults and often by then it is too late.

The working man’s attitude to his home is most obviously seen as regards the actual jobs in the home. If you are lucky your husband may lend a hand now and again. This is fair enough if the wife is at home all day and the man is working all week.

Where I find room to complain is when the man leaves everything in the home to the wife regardless of whether she is ill or working during the day.

Of course in a society like our where men are men (and prove it by such feats as wife-bashing and beer-swigging), we women are going to have a very difficult job if we want to persuade them that if the wife is working and contributing financially to the home, the least the man can do is help about the house.

However, we can’t blame the men entirely for their views on women. After all it is women who teach men a great deal of what they learn. From childhood we are taught girls play with dolls and help mother in the home and boys play with tools, cars and don’t help mother. Personally I can’t see what is wrong with getting boys to help out in the home – they can earn their pocket money this way.

Maybe we won’t change our menfolks views on what we as women should or shouldn’t do, but it is our power to see that our children won’t see women as being mere slaves in the home.

‘Women’s Lib’ or ‘second wave feminism’ and it’s seven demands are most often associated with middle-class women, here Irene is challenging the domestic division of labour prevalent in the West of Scotland on her own terms and in her own words.

Unfortunately it would seem that there was not much appetite for Women’s Lib in Castlemilk, in June 1973 Irene wrote:

This is going to be the last article on the theme of Women’s Lib, unless, of course, we are showered with letters demanding to know more about it. […] Why don’t we for once take a tip from Women’s Lib and be ourselves instead of conforming to what our men would like us to be: don’t dye your hair for him or slim for him – do these things if you want to but not if you’re pressurised into it.

These aspects of Women’s Lib that I have chosen relate to you as an individual to how you see yourself. The other side of the coin is the women in action aspect of Women’s Lib. It could work here in Castlemilk but it would involve a great deal of effort on your part. Why don’t we get together a consumer group to keep a tab on prices: a group to fight for our local needs.

Why don’t we indeed? ….. perhaps because there aren’t enough of us interested in anything beyond the bounds of our front doors.

Irene’s concerns are not that different from many women today. We still need ‘Women’s Lib’ or feminism, but we also need a lot more women like Irene who are willing to go beyond the bounds of their front doors!

Resources:

Editions of Castlemilk Press can be viewed in the Glasgow Collection in the Mitchell Library (Level 5 – just ask at the desk).

If you are interested in learning more about the history of feminism in the 1970s in Scotland see Sarah Browne’s book The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland.

If you want to know more about the contributions women have made to Scotland’s history see Women’s History Scotland, the Centre for Gender History at the University of Glasgow or you could visit the Glasgow Women’s Library.

If you want to know more about Castlemilk’s history see part 2 of this blog and Castlemilk History facebook page.

Valerie Wright, University of Glasgow

Banner Tales Workshop: Women For Peace (Glasgow)

In December 1982, approximately 200 women from Glasgow made their way south for a mass demonstration at the U.S air force base near Greenham Common. There they joined 30,000 more women who had encircled the 9mile perimeter fence of the base. This large-scale protest by women peace campaigners followed a period of direct actions orchestrated by Greenham women that year, which began with a die-in outside the London Stock Exchange on June 7th. Coinciding with the presidential visit of Ronald Reagan the aim of the protest was to “lie down and ‘die’ across five roads around the Stock Exchange, thus effectively blocking all traffic going through the city” (Cook and Kirk 1983: 40). The leaflets handed out by activists supporting the ‘dead’ read:

“In front of you are the dead bodies of women. Inside this building men are controlling the money, which make this a reality, by investing our money in the arms industries, who in turn manipulate governments all over the world and create markets for the weapons of mass destruction to be purchased again with our money. President Reagan’s presence here today is to ensure American Nuclear missiles will be placed on our soil. This will lead to you lying dead …”.

The courage, creativity and organisational skills displayed in the above actions and others carried out that year by the Greenham women made a lasting impression on those Scottish women who joined them. One group of women, on their return from the December actions at Greenham Common, set up Women for Peace (Glasgow). Their first activity was to organise, in conjunction with Faslane Peace Camp, a women’s day of action to celebrate International Women’s Day at the Faslane nuclear submarine base. 2000 women from all over Scotland and England attended.

Faslane Peace Camp is the longest running continuous peace cam in the world. For over 30 years activists at the camp have participated in non-violent direct action, civil disobedience and monitoring of submarine movements. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) website states that monitoring activities by Faslane activists “have discovered that both of the new Astute class submarines, Ambush, and Astute are having serious reactor problems. In the past it has been the observations of the peace campers that have forced the M.O.D to admit reactor troubles on submarines” (CND 2013).

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A 'die-in' by Faslane Peace Campaigners at the entrance to the submarine base. © indymedia

Another key action organised by Women for Peace (Glasgow) was a widespread call to encourage women to withdraw their labour for all or part of the day as part of the May 24th 1983 International Women’s Day for Disarmament. This ambitious action received support from the TUC and the STUC, from the Labour Party NEC, from CND nationally, from the People’s March for Jobs, student unions, trade unions and from workers at the Timex and Plesseys occupation and Wills factory in Glasgow. The actions briefly described above and others developed and delivered by Women for Peace (Glasgow) and their partners in protest established a place for an autonomous women’s peace campaign in Scotland.

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One of the banners on display at the workshop © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums

Two of the banners made and carried by these women during this period will be at the Glasgow Women’s Library on Saturday June 18th from 12-3pm. There will also be discussion led by present day anti-war activist Rose Gentle, who will speak about her experiences of campaigning against the Iraq War and Paul Griffin, who will speak about the peace activism of Red Clydesider Helen Crawfurd. In addition this Banner Tales workshop will feature a performance by the Govan Allsorts Choir, who will sing a selection of songs from the Scottish Peace Movement.

You are invited to join us to learn about some of the key moments and figures in the Scottish Peace Movement. As with all past Banner Tales workshops we want to stress the open and inclusive nature of the event. We are keen to hear your stories and thoughts about the Peace Movement in Scotland.

Johnnie Crossan, University of Glasgow

Translocal Solidarity and the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike

In the recent film Pride about the 1984-5 miners’ strike there’s a conversation in the South Wales countryside between Dai Donovan from Dulais and Mark Ashton, the founder of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), who is visiting from London. Donovan talks about an old, local NUM lodge banner with two hands grasped and says: ‘that’s what the labour movement means, should mean. You support me, I support you, whoever you are, wherever you come from, shoulder to shoulder, hand to hand’. It’s a powerful and welcome message for a mainstream British film.

But it’s also a little lacking. It can’t help but imply that Ashton was a stranger to the labour movement. As the historian Lucy Robinson has written: ‘In Pride Mark Ashton needs to go to the Welsh hills to be told what socialism is.’ There is a particular geographical imagination at work here: South Wales is synonymous with a labour movement rooted in histories and traditions, whereas London means the new politics of lesbian and gay liberation. Yet when we get a glimpse of a hands-clasped trade union banner in the climax of the film, at the 1985 London Lesbian and Gay Pride march, it is not from South Wales but the Brent National Association of Local Government Officers (NALGO).

Brent NALGO was, alongside LGSM, one of the London groups that twinned with Dulais during the miners’ strike. Dai Donovan’s brother-in-law worked for Brent NALGO, and the day after he first met LGSM in London Donovan was brought along to a big meeting of the union in Brent town hall where he appealed for support. Personal relationships could play an important role then in developing solidarity connections between the capital and the coalfields. But Brent had a more political link with mining areas. One activist in the borough told a local newspaper that during the 1984-5 strike ‘we had people, the Indian community in particular, saying they were supporting the miners because of the support they gave at Grunwick’.

The 1976-8 Grunwick strike in a photo processing plant in Brent was led predominantly by women of South Asian origin, most prominently Jayaben Desai. The dispute over workplace conditions and union recognition received significant support from other groups of workers and the broader left. In the middle of 1977 the strike committee noted that ‘miners, dockers, engineers and building workers swelled the picket to 3,000 strong.’ The miners, who came in particular from Kent, Yorkshire, South Wales and Scotland, are probably among the best remembered of the supporters.

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Jayaben Desai surrounded by police during the Grunwick strike (Pic: Phil McCowen)

In The Wheel’s Still in Spin, the radical miner, trade unionist and historian Dave Douglass wrote about how the iconic image of hundreds of miners arriving at Grunwick, led by Arthur Scargill looking ‘like Jesus at the last supper’, was used on a Yorkshire NUM Area banner. Kent NUM hung in their offices a painting donated by Grunwick strikers who visited them in the aftermath of the strike to show their appreciation for the support. The material cultures of the coalfields didn’t only commemorate local histories, therefore, but also memorialised solidarities between diverse places.

Among the strongest supporters of the 1984-5 miners’ strike in London were the Fleet Street workers who raised huge sums of money and food, and took industrial action against the worst excesses of the anti-union press. This solidarity was again commemorated on banners and other objects. Jim Douglas from The Sun newspaper chapel of the electricians’ union EEPTU wrote at the time that they had recently constructed a ‘Museum of Struggle, containing miners’ memorabilia, [which] will long serve to remind those who come after of the struggles that have taken place. In the past The Sun electricians have supported the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, the Pentonville Five, health workers and many more’.

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Some of this culture was of course lost in the defeats and re-organisation of the labour movement in the 1980s and beyond. NALGO and EEPTU have been swallowed by larger unions; the NUM still exists but the last deep coal mine was closed in December. The history is still alive however. For example, the South Yorkshire Community section of Unite, the union which now contains most of those print unions, commemorates the 1984-5 strike on its banner while organising from NUM offices in Barnsley. It’s a recognition that this history of solidarity and struggle can still inspire. In referencing the battle of Orgreave, the banner is also a reminder that the campaign for truth and justice continues.

As Ewan Gibbs has argued, ‘rebuilding the trade union movement cannot be a period costume drama’. History can be a weapon, but that doesn’t mean simply attempting to recreate the past. I made my own small contribution to the material culture of the miners’ strike when I recently worked with the TUC Library Collections on a portable exhibition commemorating the solidarity of that year. The exhibition has already been shown in venues in London and the Miners Community Arts and Music Centre in Manchester. The concluding panel of the exhibition acknowledges the destruction wrought by the defeat of the miners, but argues that remembering the spirit of solidarity in 1984-5 is a way of saying that there is an alternative to the market individualism that was central to Thatcherism in the 1980s, and that is central to the Tory government that we suffer today.

Diarmaid Kelliher, University of Glasgow

Red Clyeside - What Remains?

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There is an unfortunate lack of remaining objects (such as banners, badges, flags, etc.) from the early twentieth century Red Clydeside period. What is clear though is that despite their contemporary absence, material cultures were central to the labour and social organising which emerged at this time. A cursory glimpse at Red Clydeside will reveal the imagery of the waving of the red flag, pictured above, during the George Square gathering of striking workers in 1919. This has become the symbol of this period and in many ways the defining imagery of Glasgow’s popular and political history. Thus, while there may be a lack of remaining materials, it is clear that the activists and political groups utilised material cultures within their campaigns and the circulation of such items became crucial to their movements. This post aims to introduce these material cultures of radicalism through an overarching engagement with Red Clydeside by briefly reflecting on the material cultures of historical activism through key events and individuals.

The forty hours movement of 1919 witnessed the raising of the red flag in George square during a large demonstration. Industrial strike actions were taken across the Clydeside region in January of that year to enforce a shorter working week of forty hours (working hours were approximately 57 at this point). Over 60,000 people gathered in central Glasgow on Friday 31st January and the red flag was raised in George Square. In total, it is estimated that over a million working days were lost to employers during this dispute. Material cultures were central to the movement with banners and flags clearly evident during these demonstrations, whilst they were also accompanied by the singing of political songs, such as the ‘Red Flag’.

The Strike Bulletin newspaper was a further resource produced on behalf of the strike committee and became an important circulating document providing workers with updates of local developments and broader struggles (references to Ireland, India and Spain were made) throughout the two week strike. Newspapers, pamphlets and letters are amongst those items which have been preserved, maintained and made available from this period. The workers were ultimately defeated following the violence of ‘Bloody Friday’ in George Square where police violently intervened during the strike, yet the events of 1919 were viewed as a major trigger for subsequent reforms. This is reflected in the establishment of a shorter working week of 47 hours shortly after the strike and a significant shift towards the left within parliamentary politics (Glasgow returned 10 labour MP’s in the 1922 election). With this in mind, the raising of the red flag in George Square in 1919 can be viewed as a symbol for the broader movements of this period.

Prior to this momentous strike, the working class of Glasgow responded to the First World War in a similarly hostile manner. Again the activities during this period made use of material cultures to promote an anti-war culture, which critiqued the war from multiple perspectives. In Glasgow, women such as Helen Crawfurd, Mary Barbour and Agnes Dollan channelled their anti-war efforts through the Women’s Peace Crusade (WPC). These women had a significant presence within the city and held regular open-air meetings around Clydeside and produced leaflets, pamphlets and badges that were distributed throughout Scotland. Such activities were representative of the strong female position within the working class presence of Clydeside. Reflecting on her involvement with this movement and the strategies used, Crawfurd stated that:

It has been, and still is my opinion that we do not make sufficient use of the artistic and the spectacular in our work. Youth needs this. It was a most valuable addition to our propaganda and educational work. We organised public meetings, demonstrations and street corner meetings and sold badges which the women wore in their buttonholes

The use of such cultures were perhaps most prominent during the famous 1915 rent strikes as pictured below. The rent strikes are often referred to as the most successful campaign to emerge from the Red Clydeside period. The campaigners, primarily women within Glasgow Women’s Housing Association, (including members of WPC), forced a rent restriction act returning rent to pre-war rates.

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The street corner strategy was common within Glasgow and was also commented upon by Glasgow-based activist Guy Aldred in his newspaper The Commune. It is clear that activists were eager to place a particular emphasis on the importance of street meetings in articulating a working class and feminist politics. Echoing this sentiment, Aldred claimed that his Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation was "concentrating on making a Socialist proletariat" and "that is why we prefer the street corners" (The Commune, March 1923).

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These material cultures of Glasgow also crossed borders with communication and the circulation of documents prominent beyond Clydeside. There would be regular exchanging of material goods on trips and organised visits to other politically minded groups. Similarly postcards, letters, badges and pamphlets would be distributed to support other like-minded struggles. This support was often pragmatic, such as the provision of resources during a strike, but also held a wider political element through the exchange of ideas. Guy Aldred reflected on the potential significance of this in relation to pamphlets:

A pamphlet is different. At the moment it may appear to be extremely dull and of a small consequence. One may regard it as a lifeless creation. Yet its ultimate worth may be very great. It may prove to be a work of great historical significance. Headlines are not always indices to events.

The possibilities for pamphlets, and other material cultures, to inspire and create solidarities were made clear during this period by political activists and campaigns. That said, these exchanges and forms of organising were not always without there issues. For example in 1919, there is evidence of racism and violence amongst sailors within the local docks during this period whilst longer forms of discrimination towards migrant workers were also prevalent. Thus, it remains important not to romanticise material cultures without acknowledging the coexistence of hostilities and tensions within movements.

The material cultures of Red Clydeside are perhaps defined by their present day absence but their significance is reflected in the historical narratives of the period. Despite the missing material, Red Clydeside’s retains a central place in the popular memory of the region. Recent campaigns for a statue of Mary Barbour reflect this longer trajectory of radicalism. Similarly, the sites and places of protest still resonate with present day political organising. Demonstrations and marches regularly gather at Glasgow Green due to its historical significance as a site of organising. There is clearly a public memory which has passed on through the generations of Glaswegians. What remains clear, from only a brief look into the material cultures of Red Clydeside, is the diversity of political memories and reflections from this period. Many different struggles and traditions formed the history now defined as Red Clydeside. This diversity must be remembered in any characterisation of the city’s cultural and political history. Guy Aldred, Helen Crawfurd, the anti-war movement and the forty hours movement begin to reflect this diversity, but also illustrate solidarity and continuity between different movements. Through this understanding it is clear that such materials, as newspapers, badges, placards and pamphlets, became a crucial part of the assertion of a historical working class presence.

Paul Griffin, University of Glasgow

Alistair Hulett at The Fraser Centre Milgavie, Scotland performing The Red Clydesiders from his 2002 song cycle Red Clydeside. The original album was recorded with Dave Swarbrick on fiddle and is available by mail order from Alistair's website on www.alistairhulett.com

Young Socialists, Hugh Gaitskell and Polaris Missiles

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© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums

There were twelve branches of the Young Socialists in Glasgow throughout the 1960s. Members included Maria Fyfe, who became the Member of Parliament for Glasgow Maryhill from 1987- 2001, Gus MacDonald, a journalist who became a Labour Life Peer and Stuart Christie, who later wrote 'My Granny made me an Anarchist' (2002), which recounts his time as a Young Socialist and a political prisoner of General Franco. The Springburn Young Socialists were established sometime in the early 1960s.

Wilma Gillespie, pictured below, made the banner. Bob Gillespie was both the Treasurer of the Springburn Young Socialists and Secretary of the Glasgow Federation of Young Socialists. He recounts some of his memories of the banner and the group:

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“We sat in a very small hall, which was across from the Springburn Halls, at the bus stop on Keppochhill Road, just where the fire station was. It was a wee hall, it must have been a shoemaker’s shop or something and they had some cinema seats, a row of four or five. That is where we all met with the likes of Maria Fyfe. Each of us would write down a subject, put it in a hat and rumble them up. You pick out something – you have to give us a two minute speech. “So what is this? Housing” – and you would just launch in to that subject. That got the subject discussed and it got everybody speaking and arguing his or her beliefs. Between that and street corner meetings you were becoming an established debater, discusser and so on.

The banner was on all the demonstrations. I think on one occasion it was carried in Aldermaston at a demonstration. I think it has been to the Holy Loch. The poles were made of thick heavy wood and they had fitments. They were solid brass. I think they might have come out of the Caley [Caledonian Rail] Works. So whoever got the job of carrying the banner, they carried it for about a mile, and then they’d had enough and wanted to give someone else the banner. That was all part of our youth.

It was at the demonstration on May Day 1962 with the Glasgow Federation of Young Socialists, of which I was secretary. The Young Socialists walked out on Hugh Gaitskell during his speech. He was talking about nuclear weapons and he started haranguing the Young Socialists as ‘agents of Moscow’”.

Stuart Christie in 'My Granny made me an anarchist' shares his memories of the episode mentioned by Bob:

After being heckled by the Young Socialists present at the event “he [Gaitskell] paused for effect, surveyed the crowd of hostile Glaswegians, and then leaned forward to deliver his memorable punch line. ‘You’re nothing; Your just peanuts!’ he shouted hysterically at the crowd of thousands […].

Gaitskell went beserk. He ranted and raved that we were all secret members of the communist party, tools of Russia and that we should go back to Mosco and demonstrate under the Russian tanks. A Hamden-like roar of derision greeted his words and the jeers went on and on, rolling up the green slopes of Queens Park" (Christie 2002: 136).

Morris Blythman, songwriter and activist, captured the event in his song 'Peanuts', sung to the tune 'Bless 'em all: the long, the short and the tall':

‘Ye a’ ken how Gaitskell got shelled in Queen’s Park
Roasted and salted as well
He cried the folk peanuts but a’ body kens
The only nut there was himself

For he said that Polaris should stay in the loch
An Scotland should bow tae the yanks,
An’ back Adenauer and the hail NATO shower,
Wi’ sodgers, bazookas and tanks.’

The Castlemilk Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaign

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© Castlemilk Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaign

In the March of 2013, I think it was Socialist Party Scotland, organised a public meeting in this very room [Main Hall, Castlemilk Community Centre] and I think there was over 100 people turned up to that. So a sense of injustice and fury was already building because the Bedroom Tax was imminent. This thing was coming in the next week to ten days and people didn’t feel they had enough information about how this was going to affect them. ‘The Bedroom Tax - what does it mean for me?’ There were figures bandied around. ‘It’s going to cost me 14% extra or 25% of my rent, what is actually going on here?’

This was unfair because no matter how many spare rooms you had, people’s rents were different depending on what area you lived in, even within Castlemilk. The rents down the valley in Drakemire were actually different from that in Ardencraig even though the house sizes were the same, so even though it was 14% or 25% the figures were going to work out differently for people living in the same type of accommodation. [...] What we need to remember is when they built the scheme they built all the houses the same size, they were all family units. The majority of houses are three apartment houses. There are a few four apartment houses and I don’t think there is many single apartment houses. So the whole idea that the government were going to shift people freely into smaller accommodation was just never going to happen. There was absolutely no way that this could happen in this area and in similar areas in the city, and that could be seen throughout the country. It wasn’t just here in Glasgow, it was the same throughout Scotland.

So the public meeting in the March of 2013 was basically the birth of the Castlemilk Anti-Bedroom Tax campaign. We started having meetings regularly. There are people in this room that belonged to that group and we continued to have these meetings but we also stood in the shopping centre on a Friday afternoon talking to folk. We got a petition organised and one of the things we focused on in the petition was evictions. There are a lot of similarities here with the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign […]. It is no accident that the banners are similar, because we learnt a lot from the Poll Tax campaign. That campaign was ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’, and you can see from this [Jean points to the Anti-Bedroom Tax banner] that its a ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Leave’ scenario because the main concern – and this is the difference between us and the Poll Tax – is that we were at risk of people losing their homes. It wasn’t just about losing independence and losing furniture, which was bad enough, but being evicted and ending up on the street. It was a really scary, scary thing for folk, so the decision was made – because there had been Anti-Bedroom Tax groups springing up across the country – to get them all together, much as the Anti-Poll Tax Unions did, so that we could share resources and come to a decision about what route we should take. It was decided at that point that it was a bit too risky to put out a ‘Don’t Pay’ scenario because it might put people at risk of them losing their homes and becoming homeless. That was a difficult decision but that is the decision people eventually came to.

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Some of the similarities [with the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign] are actually quite incredible and I think it is fair to say that the Bedroom Tax really used a lot of their techniques, like the phone tree scenario but by that point we did have Facebook and we did have text messaging. We fortunately didn’t ever have to do anything as drastic as the Anti- Poll Tax campaigners had to do [i.e. physically obstruct bailiffs]. There were about three different times where someone received text messaging or there was an alert on Facebook – ‘Oh we think there is an eviction’. There was one in Pollok. I think it was the first in Glasgow. People arrived on the scene and that was really quite quickly quelled by having a meeting with the local housing association and Govan Law Centre – we made use of the free legal advice out there to make sure people had legal representation and back up. It was quelled by people just turning up, having a meeting and realising that this really isn’t the best scenario - people being turned out on to the street. There was another one in Greenock, a girl in Greenock who was threatened with eviction. She had her say in court. We arrived at court, we stood outside the court, lobbied outside the court, marched round to the housing association, lobbied outside the housing association where eventually the manager spoke to the tenant and a representative from the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation and that again was quelled so we never found ourselves in the drastic stage the people from the Anti-Poll Tax movement found themselves in.

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For me I really need to end by saying this is still happening, this is still very real for people. Particularly with folk in England and Wales who are still suffering greatly, they are still arguing for no evictions. We have had a wee bit of respite right now [in Scotland] but the thing still exists; it’s not been abolished. I don’t want to end on a bad note but that’s the reality for us in Scotland. The campaigning has worked in terms of mitigation, but I think to keep it real, we need to keep in mind that for us, for me certainly anyway, the campaigning has to continue considering the situation we are still in. Do your best to help to actually get the thing abolished and a lot of the other welfare reform agenda to be abolished as well.

Jean Devlin, Community Activist

The image directly above and Jean's words are from the Banner Tales of Glasgow workshop, Castlemilk Community Centre, 01/05/2015. The YouTube clip below shows Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaigners singing The Anti-Bedroom Tax Song by Citizen Smart at a demo in George Square. Presumably the words to the song are written on the back of the placard! The song is sung to to the tune of Adam McNaughton's Jeely Piece Song. 

The Caterpillar Occupation: The Big Pink Tractor

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Caterpillar Workers 1987 © Bob Burrows

In 1987 workers in Uddingston, south east of Glasgow, occupied a factory owned by the US multi-national Caterpillar in protest at plans to close the plant (Woolfson and Foster 1988). The 103-day occupation was a high profile political event in Scotland and the workers were described by Campbell Christie, then General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), as having shown “an important lead for the Labour Movement in Britain”. John Brannan, one of the instigators of the occupation, recalled that it had “verified every belief that I had as a socialist and the ability of working class people, given the conditions, given the right tasks, they would amaze you” (Brannan 2015: 6).

Brannan’s amazement alludes to the ability of working class people – both the workers and their families and supporters – to organize themselves under significant emotional and financial stress. The image on the banner depicts a tractor made by the workers in defiance of both the owners and their management style, which the workers saw as inefficient and designed to debase the workforce. The tractor, which stood proudly in George Square in Glasgow city centre for a period during the occupation and acted as a money collection point in support of the occupying workers, symbolized their ability as an organized workforce “to carry on, without managers telling us every two minutes what to do and what not to do” (Brannan, 2014). Like the banners of the reform movement depicting the skill and capacities of the workers and publicising a particular period of struggle, approximately one hundred years later the Caterpillar workers' banner performed a similar role.

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Caterpillar workers Bob Burrows (standing), John Brannan (left) and John Gillan (right) at Banner Tales of Glasgow, Nitshill 15/03/2014. © Richard Leonard

Workplace occupations constitute a formidable challenge to the rights of capital. For example, a strike is predicated on the resumption of work after negotiations between the various sides conclude and throughout the period of negotiations the employer remains in control of the site (Gall 2010). An occupation presents a thornier predicament for the employers. An occupation effectively means workers have seized assets ‘lock, stock and barrel’. In a factory setting like the Caterpillar plant this would include stocks of goods already produced and ready for shipping; plant and machinery; and the land upon which the factory sits. Even in a relatively short space of time this can have significant financial implications for the employer. Machinery cannot be moved to be put into operation elsewhere and goods cannot be delivered to buyers. Gall (2010) argues that while workers control these assets they have significantly more political leverage than they would have in strike or picket conditions.

Occupations, while they can be effective, are difficult to organise and sustain. They are ‘24/7’ and as such require demanding levels of planning and organisation. Furthermore, the success of an occupation is in large part determined by the level of support the occupying workers have from relevant groups on the outside – e.g. the employer’s workers elsewhere, suppliers, the public, and unions. The role of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers (AEU) in the Caterpillar occupation is insightful in this respect. The union’s full support at the early stages of the occupation was significant as the majority of workers at the Caterpillar plant were members. As the occupation continued levels of public support increased. Woolfson and Foster (1988) estimate that public collections yielded approximately £100,000 per month. In addition the readiness of other workers to undertake a blacking of Caterpillar products further strengthened the resolve of the occupying workforce. The occupations success put the workers and their union on a collision course with the law as both occupation and blacking campaigns were illegal actions. John Brannan’s position was clear on this point: “We were outwith the rules; we were fighting a battle where the rules don’t count” (Brannan 2015: 7). This willingness to challenge the law was a step too far for the AEU who, Woolfson and Foster (1988: 277) argue, felt that a legal challenge would highlight its own internal divisions and “its active acquiescence” in the UK government’s ongoing neoliberalization of British industry.

Johnnie Crossan, University of Glasgow

The Glasgow Shipwrights Society 1884 3rd Reform Act Banner

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© CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

This banner measures 1803mm x 2692mm. William Gladstone stands on the right of Justice, who holds the House of Lords and the Franchise Bill on scales, and to her left stands a small Punch like figure urging “Billy” to “pass the bill”. In the Victorian and Edwardian periods Punch and Judy shows could be seen in all major towns and cities. The storyline for these shows extended well beyond the nowadays more recognised story of infanticide, violence against women and murder to encompass, in a satirical manner, the topical political stories of the day. In this context Punch would have been a celebrity figure famous for mocking figures of establishment. Master Puppeteer and founder of ‘The Punch and Judy Fellowship’ Glyn Edwards describes punch as ‘the lord of misrule’.

Very much an object of public and political performance the Shipwrights’ banner, like many other craft and trade banners of the popular reform movement, appeals to our sense of socio-political drama. The wider material culture of the popular reform movement (i.e. posters, pamphlets etc) and its radical processions “served to visualise and thus realise the dignity, skill and respectability of labouring men, and, by extension, their fitness for the franchise” (Nixon et al 2012).

Scottish reformers throughout the reform politics of 19th Century Britain could often be seen at galas and political processions holding aloft banners and fasces with the motto “Unity is Strength” or slogans of similar sentiment (Pentland 2005). Unity here often referring to British national unity. Pentland (2005) argues that by presenting themselves as a British movement the reformers pitted their democratic ‘crusade’ against the plotting and intrigues of a narrow faction of parliamentary elites. Text along the bottom of the Glasgow Shipwrights’ Society banner reads “United together in freedoms great cause we are determined and must have equal rights and equal laws”. Pentland points out that while the 1707 Acts of Union had given Scotland “access to expanded commercial horizons … her political system had been untouched by English freedoms” (ibid: 1003). With this thought in mind notions of unity and equality expressed in the banner speak to an emerging class politics but also a wish to nullify the still potent residues of feudalism in Scotland by accessing English liberties.

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Richard Leonard (2015), Political Education Officer for the GMB tells us about the lineage of the Shipwrights Society. "The Shipwrights [...] represented [...] a constituent part of the GMB. But its lineage goes back to the early part of the 19th century. The Shipwrights’ Societies were established in most of the major shipbuilding areas. The Mersey, the Tyne and the Clyde were principally the areas where the Shipwrights organised. They were largely founded on artisanship and kinship.

There was then, as there can be now, a certain aristocracy of the working class and the Shipwrights saw themselves fairly near the apex of that aristocracy at that time. During the course of the 19th century the Shipwrights, who were principally carpenters and woodworkers and were therefore responsible for making ships of wood and masts and sails, saw those skills diminish with the advent of steam powered boats made of iron and steel. So there were a series of demarcation disputes in the shipyards, especially with the Boilermakers’ Society – which was in the ascendancy – in those jobs associated with the Shipwrights.

Partly in response to that and partly in response to changing trading conditions the Shipwrights tried to build an amalgamated union. But it wasn’t until 1882 that they finally moved from a series of local societies to having a national trade union structure. Even then it was quite loose compared to some of the other unions. This union of Shipwrights, which was known as the ‘Association of Shipwrights’ was founded in 1882. [T]his banner is from 1884, so the national union is just two years old when this banner is commissioned and displayed.

The national union was set up with eleven societies, eight of which were from Scotland, three were from the Tyne. Eventually they joined with the Boilermakers and in 1963 the Blacksmiths also joined and it became one trade union. In 1982 exactly 100 years after the birth of a national union for Shipwrights this union joined with the General and Municipal Workers Union (GMWU) to form the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union (GMBATU)."