Tag: Glasgow

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

Red Clyeside - What Remains?

RedC

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.

Untitled

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).

pamplets

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

The Castlemilk Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaign

AntiBedroomTax3 copy

© 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.

TEMP.20585 Castlemilk Anti-Poll Tax copy 3

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.

Antibed2

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

Caterpillar2 copy

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.

CaterpillarJOCBrannenBurrowsGillan copy

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