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Community Activism in Castlemilk - Part 1 Castlemilk Press

Highflats

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.

CastlemilkPress

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.

Scheme

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).

Die-in

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.

Untitled

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