Tag: Red Clydeside

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

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