Scottish author James Kelman talks about his early life and loves, and the controversy around his 1994 Booker Prize win.
The term activist is a bit odd as it implies everybody else is inactive, which is far from the case. But for this we will imagine an activist as someone engaged in public life, in political life, is interested in things outside of the private. Should that not be everybody? Is there such a thing as inactivism? After all, to do nothing has as big an impact on things as whatever else happens.[expand title=”trigger more text”]
Today maybe more than ever. So what is meant by activist, or activism, here is a marker to describe those odd people, to varying extents, that have some kind of political obsession. I guess what is meant by politics here needs some clarification to. Politics, in this sense, is what we do together; by discussing things, coming up with ideas consensually, by inclusion and by keeping as many people happy as possible, before making final decisions and acting on them. Politics is the act of engaging in public life. This description for the purposes here, should not be confused with “party politics”, which is something completely different.
So what is activism here, in terms of what has being described above? Well specifically, activities towards implementing ideas that will force institutional change. The banking institutions; corporate institutions, state institutions and the powerful conglomerates, who for profit, ensure that many live in poverty. This is the high end of what needs to be achieved. If we can understand a bit about what is going on up there, we can understand what we need to do down here. This is the bit, apart from the obsessed, where peoples eyes start to glaze over. Attempting to explain to folk who are politically disengaged for many reasons, what is going on up there, in the corporate stratosphere . All they can see is the mad rush of their lives flashing past. All the things they need to do, or would rather think about, apart from, (to them) the abstract and intimidating world of the “activist”. What’s this got to do with me? A question constantly posed and rarely answered.
The general problem with the activist, (self included) is that they usually know a lot more about what is going on up there, than they do about what is going on down here. This isn’t a criticism of the need for better understanding, more a question of context, more a question of what is needed at this point in time. The question is not only about getting folk away from the television, consumerism and private life into public life, into the community, but also about getting the activist away from academia, social media, esoteric groups, the protest culture and the constant defense of their own righteous position, into the same community. We all need to have things we enjoy doing and that interests us. The point is. If that is all that we are doing, no matter how important we feel it is, we also need to ask. Who, and what purpose is it serving?
“If you look over the developments in recent years, there’s been severe retrogression on economic and political issues, but considerable progress on cultural and social issues.” Noam Chomsky
In other words we are making much progress in cultural change and around social issues. There are a mass of wonderful things going on. But there are two things. Where is the infrastructure work growing out of this progress that will be powerful enough to challenge institutional power, i.e. the banks? Where is the work going on to engage the many ordinary folk we will need to raise to that challenge? In the world of the activist, we can usually fill rooms to listen to and watch how others, in other countries build and raise the kind of awareness and solidarity needed to challenge corporate power. Which is ok in itself. But in our own communities the same handful of folk will turn up when the problem is our own social housing, or such like, that is at stake. Sure there is commendable stuff going on on the ground and much to admire that we should be thankful for. But it is enough to shift the might of the powerful? To hurt as Michael Albert says, what they hold dear? That will take a massive mind shift in the population, but will still have more to do with practicalities than philosophy. A bit less peer to peering on the network and a bit more education to where it is needed most. By us getting out more, by showing up, by being active, in all the right places.
The following offers some ideas for going forward. Yet again not much is mentioned of building grass roots networks that relate to peoples day to day lives. Maybe that could be part of a shared program?
People for a Shared Program
People for a Shared Program is a place to explore, develop and organise around left programmatic ideas. http://www.sharedprogram.org/#!faq/ryp9j
If what started as a small group of people, with a vision of a free world had not been determined to change things – how many of us would still be chained in slavery? How many children would still suffer the abuse of forced labour?
From the time a man took it into his head to put some stakes in the ground, to section off the land in order to collect rent – there has been ever since, dissenting groups of people, large and small who have fought to denied the landlords right to do so. If the Luddites had not refused to become part of the industrial “human” machine – the eight hour day and the advancements in workers rights might not have happened.
If the collective effort of – the anti Vietnam war movement hadn’t inspired our young people to revolt; if the woman’s movement hadn’t learned from the history of suffrage. – if the whistle blowers of environmental destruction did not speak up 40 years ago on the effects on environmental damage, the world would be a more violent, unhealthy, unequal and socially oppressed place. Furthermore. If a certain Russian submarine commander had not refused the order to set of a nuclear warhead during the Cuban missile crisis, the “world” as we know it might not exist. Bertrand Russell reminds us of this last point, when we wonder how small things are capable of creating great change.
History is made up of what seems like insignificant action and activities that have changed the world. This knowledge is either not recorded in official translations of history, or most of the progress achieved by ordinary people is absorbed and credited to the “official” historical interpretation.
In a politically engaged life, sometimes, if not most of the time, we never get to know what we have personally achieved – but we need to remember that what we “do”, no matter how little, adds to the rich design of major changes that have happened through-out history. Small struggles working together create great change – They do not come about by having blind faith in political parties.
We have plenty of historical proof that this is the case.
Dawn raids in Kingsway
The story of how Jean Donnachie and Noreen Real took on the might of the Home Office and stopped dawn raids on their asylum seeker neighbours is part of our community history. Noreen Real and Jean Donnachie, who rallied the residents of the Kingsway high rise, into a direct action campaign which more or less put a stop to the government’s community terror tactics of dawn raids on asylum seekers in Glasgow.
Which echoes another part of working class history of the Clydeside rent strikes. Women-led. “We shall not be removed” (removal being the official home office term for deportation, as well as the slogan of the WW1 rent strikers)
Keeping sport in the community
An eight year long campaign to save the St. Augustine’s football pitches in Milton, Glasgow has finally triumphed, with a £2.4m investment in community facilities. That should mark an end to Council attempts to sell the entire site for private housing development, first halted by a public local planning inquiry.
Never say never
Kenny McLachlan, late chairperson of Maryhill Burgh Halls Trust, who made council bosses agreed to re-open Maryhill’s Burgh Halls and Swimming Baths. All this comes after 20 years of closure, when council bosses swore the halls and baths would never be re-opened for ordinary people to use. Private property developers were poised to turn the buildings into yuppie flats. But the local peoples campaign triumphed.
Edinburgh stock transfer
A small core group of perhaps 15-20 people, supporting small but committed groups of tenants on the estates, managed to pull together a campaign which provided the information hidden by the council that tenants needed to make a balanced decision on the transfer. A well-organised campaign of direct democracy supporting council housing against privatisation.
The Save Our Old town campaign in Edinburgh has and is doing masses of work on protecting their housing and old town from developers. Creating community forums, events and awareness in common good issues and much more in educating and inspiring local people – as well as many other projects and people out-with their own city.
As Glasgow parks come under constant pressure from business interests with city council backing – local people can still send them packing The attack on Glasgow Botanical Gardens, a plan that can only be construed as madness but an example to the extremes a city council backed by business will go to to commandeer public property – for the use of private profiteering.
The Go Ape mess in Pollock park was another arrogant attack on common good property. Both of these schemes were kicked out of the parks by community campaigns that are testimony to the power of ordinary folk against council bullies who refuse to work in the publics interests.
Community land ownership to the Isle of Rum.
All over, land and assets are being taken back by communities – not as a gift from authorities but by the determination of communities who demand to be in control of their environment and assets
We had the Rossport 5 – Small family farms fighting big oil Interests In June 2005, after refusing Shell access to their property, Willie Corduff and four other men were jailed. Known as the “Rossport Five,” they were released after spending 94 days in jail. After much campaigning and protest – construction on the pipeline was halted. In August 2006 Shell agreed to re-route the pipeline…
All of these things (and this is only a tiny fraction) create a knock on effect to outlying communities and we all in some way benefit from these achievements. The importance of this kind of work is, it is connected and rooted in the communities involved. People can see it working – it encourages solidarity and determination – especially for some, who see everything else in life encouraging the opposite.
The recent schools campaign against closures, saw parents who a month or two before the campaign would be saying. “Oh I don’t know anything about politics”. When their kids school was threatened with closure, they soon found out what they “did” know about politics. The way they were dealing with the media, doing research, constructing arguments, events and organisation, was testimony to why more “working class” people need to be involved in their own struggles. Yes the schools were closed but the seeds of determination was sown – and there are still plenty of issues left in places like the Wyndford, Maryhill, Glasgow – for locals to deal with.
We have just heard that the Glasgow city council has admitted something we have all known for years – that “Pollok Park” is indeed part of Glasgow’s common good. It only took 2 years of campaigning by local people, up against the city councils powerful business Public Relations machine – but it is a very important victory and will encourage others to believe that the machine can be stopped by the will of the people.
Working class communities all across this city are baring the full brunt of the neoliberal gentrifying catastrophe. And as well as destroying their neighbourhoods – is kicking the hope out of folk. Creating solidarity and understanding in fighting these issues if we are to win anything big, is an imperative, in an increasingly atomised society.
In disconnected communities the displaced and poor are not hungry for more strategies, political analysis, party politics and sympathy – they need some practical solutions; contact, solidarity and maybe some help to organise themselves. The rest they can do for themselves. Well that’s what the history of successful working class struggle seems to be saying – if you look at it.
From the Spanish civil war to the US black civil rights movement – From the miners and dockers against the tyranny of Thatcher to the present neoliberal, colonisation of our cities there has never been a greater need to organise – because in the present struggle – we all have so much more to lose. But we need to remember even in the hay-day of the 60s the student revolt was inspired by the struggle of the working class’s.
The policies of isolation and the breaking down of organisational structures forced on working class communities, is what we are, or should be fighting today – and the common good should be our war cry – Because the common good is anathema to every destabilising, financial, and social issue, that is presented to working class people by the rentier society. – We will not frighten these people to much with identity politics – in a class struggle. We will only really begin to scare them – if we start to organise within the class war, that is raging around us, by creating solidarity, support, and a responsibility of association around some kind of “common goals” with working class people – Or at least shouldn’t we trying to encouraging such possibilities?
Bridge connecting communities everywhere.
Links – campaign quotes
From August 22nd Upton Sinclair
THE CITY OF FEAR
“THIS is our career and our triumph,” Bart had proclaimed; and assuredly never had “a good shoemaker and a poor fish-peddler” caused such excitement in the world.
On Saturday, two days before the execution, there was an order for a general strike in Buenos Aires; in Berlin a protest from the trade unions, and the first radical meeting ever held in the former House of Lords of the Kingdom of Prussia; in London a mob of ten thousand in front of the American embassy; in Geneva a call for the boycotting of American goods; in Russia enormous protest meetings in every city; in Paris a hundred thousand workers parading, carrying red flags and huge placards denouncing American justice; tourists being greeted with shouts from thousands of throats, “Pardon! Pardon!” and as a rule finding it prudent to reply, “Vive Sacco et Vanzetti!”
The workers were bewildered by the spectacle of Puritan severity, and helpless in the face of it. Pierre Leon, editing a French communist paper, cabled to Joe Randall: “What can we do?” Joe’s answer was: “Repudiate the debts.” But that, alas, was not an immediate program; the best the French could do was to fail to pay them.
Only in Massachusetts itself was silence. Boston under ) the iron heel, and civil rights subject to revocation. One simple rule, easy for all to understand: do what the police tell you and keep your mouth shut.
Superintendent Crowley had requested the mayor to cancel all the eighteen speaking permits on the Common, and thus free speech was dumped out of the “cradle of liberty.”
Bugles in the streets; a regiment of the state militia marching, with grim set faces—the answer of the Commonwealth to the challenge of anarchy. Airplanes flying overhead, watching for bombers in the sky. Military squads on duty at every public building, suspicious of every foreign face, and now and then stopping a passerby to search a bundle or open a suitcase.
Every policeman on twenty-four hour duty again; sitting in the station-houses, and now and then called out for a wild ride or a gallop, on account of a bomb-scare. The firemen also on twenty-four hour duty, and all armed. The American Legion mobilized to guard the homes of the rich and the great. Every judge, juror, prosecutor, witness, or official who had ever had anything to do with the Sacco-Vanzetti case was being protected, and there was no foolishness about the protection.
A man hopped out of an automobile at the home of President Lowell, and started towards the rear entrance, carrying a heavy black bag. They did not stop to ask him who he was or what he wanted, they hit him over the head and laid him out—and then ascertained that he was delivering a load of that heavy aluminum ware which is the latest fad in fancy cookery for the rich.
A young Catholic priest stepped off the train in South Station, arriving from the west for a holiday; he went to the information bureau and said, “Will you please tell me the way to the State House?” “Certainly,” replied the clerk, and called a policeman, saying, “This man wants to know the way to the State House.” The kind-hearted policeman said he would escort him, and led him to a patrol-wagon, and drove him to the nearest station-house, where they held him “incommunicado” for twenty-four hours.
The great Commonwealth had told ten thousand lies; and now for every he there was a club and a bayonet. If you wished to oppose the lies, there was just one way —put your head under the crashing clubs, throw your body onto the gleaming bayonets. This was not merely the law of Massachusetts, this was the law of life, the way by which lies have been killed throughout history. The friends of the defense confronted this crisis, and either went forward and took the punishment, or shrunk back and sneaked away with a whole skin and a damaged conscience.
August 22nd Upton Sinclair P438
There were the wool-pluckers, whose hands went to pieces even sooner than the hands of the pickle men; for the pelts of the sheep has to be painted with acid to loosen the wool, and then the pluckers had to pull out this wool with their bare hands, till the acid had eaten their fingers off. There were those who made the tins for the canned meat; and their hands, too, were a maze of cuts, and each cut represented a chance for blood poisoning. Some worked at the stamping machines, and it was seldom that one could work long there at the pace that was set, and not give out and forget himself, and have a part of his hand chopped off. There were the ‘hoisters’, as they were called, whose task it was to press the lever which lifted the dead cattle off the floor. They ran along upon a rafter, peering down through the damp and the steam; and as old Durham’s architects had not built the killing room for the convenience of the hoisters, at every few feet they would have to stoop under a beam, say four feet above the one they ran on; which got them into the habit of stooping, so that in a few years they would be walking like chimpanzees. Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer-men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor, for the odour of a fertilizer-man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards; and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting – sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard
Not a Life Story, Just a Leaf From It
The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour: we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently… One day it will be realised that Socialism is not the invention of anything new but the discovery of something that was always present, of something that has grown.
WHEN I WAS an apprentice engineer in Yarrow’s I was already reading Marx. At the time I started my apprenticeship I was very naive. The Catholic Church and State indoctrination had done their usual mischief. But industry freed me from all that and it didn’t take too long. Industry became my university. There was a good class-conscious and political education running alongside my engineering training. Whilst serving my time I had the good fortune to encounter some engineers and other grades of workers who were quite erudite. These people read important books and argued about what they read. There was always some social or political or philosophical controversy going on. Listening to these, and indeed taking part in them as far as I was able at the time, soon annihilated my shallow metaphysical religiosity. I began to question everything and examine things for myself and the scientific analysis of religion led on to the scientific analysis of the economic and political system. It was a logical step. If the first was a fraud, the other might be as well. I was introduced to a lot of literature on economics, mostly short popular works and pamphlets. I soon grew dissatisfied with these because they kept referring back and taking their authority from major works in the past. I decided to go in at the deep end and take on the major works for myself. That’s how I started reading Marx. It was a long hard slog but well worth it. I had to acquire a whole new vocabulary. But if you have to struggle a bit at the outset, things usually take better hold in the understanding. It’s better than just making do with other people’s commentaries and second-hand interpretations.
I was certainly drawn to Communism but not the Communist Party. There were many ex-Catholics in the CP at that time. I knew plenty of them. It was I suppose a kind of home from home for a lot of them. It had the same kind of rigid hierarchical structure after all, with a few people at the top doing all the thinking, making all the decisions and keeping all the control. I saw through that all right. Perhaps I should say I was drawn to Socialism. But the terms Communism and Socialism are really interchangeable. It was Lenin who falsely differentiated between them.
When Lenin was advocating State Capitalism in Russia he claimed that this was ‘Socialism’ which would, in time, with the development of production and technology, finally transform into ‘true red-blooded Communism’. This was just doubletalk. And if you became a member of the CP you went about parroting this doubletalk. This was what they called Party discipline. I suppose it was my resistance to this kind of discipline which kept me out of the CP. Probably at that time it was more a matter of temperament than anything else. But then came the Apprentices’ Strike, which the Communist Party opposed, and that was enough for me. This was during the last year of my apprenticeship, round about 1943-44. I was on the strike committee representing Yarrow’s apprentices. The strike was against the Bevin Ballot Scheme. Ernest Bevin was the minister of labour and social services. He’d made the blunder of sending too many miners into the armed forces. To remedy this he came up with the idea of suspending some lads’ apprenticeships so he could then conscript them into the coal mines. Patriotism fell on stony ground in this instance. The apprentices struck. It was the first major protest I was involved in and it was completely successful. In something like three weeks Bevin caved in. The Communist Party had opposed the strike because Russia was by that time into the war on the side of the allies. Their opposition alienated me and numerous other young people.
It was Eddie Shaw who introduced me to the Egoist philosophy of Max Stirner. The history of human progress seen as the history of rebellion and disobedience, with the individual debased by subservience to authority in its many forms and able to retain his/her dignity only through rebellion and disobedience. Eddie was a brilliant Anarchist orator who drew vast crowds to the meetings, whether indoors or in the open air. Another popular speaker was Jimmy Raeside. In the Central Halls and at various other venues throughout the city the Anarchist meetings were jam-packed. I might add that, during World War II and for several years thereafter, the Glasgow Anarchist Group was easily the most active and vociferous of all the Left groupings in this country. There were of course regional contacts with staunch comrades in other groups. We had platform speakers from Burnbank, Hamilton, Paisley, Edinburgh and Dundee. Over any single weekend there must have been a few thousand people attending Anarchist meetings. I first came across the Anarchists at an outdoor meeting in Brunswick Street, towards the end of my apprenticeship.
The group had about sixty active members at this time. Not everybody had an aptitude for platform speaking. One would feel like doing such and such but not another. One might write but be disinclined to speak in public but perhaps would do so on occasion. Naturally most members had a shot at everything. I remember, for example, old Tommy Layden (he was old relatively speaking within the group). Tommy loved to chalk the streets advertising the meetings; he took great pride in his print and nobody could do it better. He also tirelessly sold the literature. Old Tommy breathed Anarchism. He always remember the Commie and Trotskyite thugs who had often resorted to violence when they caught him chalking on his own. But he always spoke of them as if they were more to be pitied than despised. He was a refined, pleasant man and deserves to be remembered.
There were several shop stewards in the group. Eddie Fenwick was the convener in Hillington (you had to be in the union in a closed shop). Eddie, like most in the group, had a Syndicalist orientation. He was somewhat shy of the platform but more than made up for this on a personal man-to-man level in the workshop where he spread the Anarcho-Syndicalist case freely. We also had a lot of stewards in the heavy engineering and shipbuilding industries.
There was a small group in the Royal Ordinance Factory in Dalmuir who were most definitely Syndicalist in character. Although Jimmy Raeside and Frank Leech of the central Glasgow Anarchist Group spoke frequently at the Ordinance Factory gate, I’m certain this group had roots in Anarchism independent of this, for a lot of them were a good few years older than Leech and Raeside. I remember them coming to Brunswick Street to arrange for the production of a pamphlet called ‘Equity’. It was powerfully and indubitantly Syndicalist.
Charlie Baird was the secretary of the Glasgow Anarchist Group. We held business meetings in the hall in Wilson Street, ironically adjacent to the pub called ‘The Hangman’s Rest’. It was here, each week, the propaganda meetings were arranged, all on a voluntary basis. Some would elect to travel to Edinburgh or Paisley or Hamilton. Edinburgh meetings were held in the Mound. In Paisley the meetings were held in the Square at Gilmour Street railway station. Occasionally meetings were held on weekdays in Paisley, and also in Glasgow in Drury Street and Rose Street. Every week meetings were held outside work gates: outside Yarrow’s and Elderslie Dry Dock; outside John Brown’s shipyard; Blythswood shipyard; Dalmuir Ordinance Factory; Fairfield’s shipyard. Dennis McGlynn, a Clydebank comrade, was well accepted at John Brown’s, he being a local lad. Eddie Shaw was always well received at Yarrow’s.
Eddie resided in Bridgeton and there were many of Yarrow’s workers who came from Bridgeton, Gallon, Partick and Govan: they could understand and always delighted in Eddie’s brand of humour put over in the real speech of the Glasgow streets. This was Anarchism in the language they were best acquainted with and they loved it.
Jimmy Dick speaking at an anarchist meeting Brunswick Street 1945
Eddie was one of the ‘old School’ who never went to jail for opposing the war. He was apprehended for failing to attend for medical examination (medical assassination, Eddie called it) and when he was out on bail he consulted Guy Aldred who advised him that there was a difference between being ordered to report on a specified day and being ordered to report on a specified day at a specified time. No specified time had been stated. On the day Eddie had been ordered to report, the authorities, knowing their man, had jumped the gun. They had apprehended him whilst in theory he still had time to report. Eddie appealed at the High Court and incredibly his appeal was upheld. He was acquitted and awarded £10 expenses. In a matter of months the upper age-limit for conscription was lowered, so Eddie escaped his ‘medical assassination’. Jimmy Raeside, Charlie Baird, Roger Carr, Dennis McGlynn, Jimmy Dick and others had all been forced to accept the hospitality of the Crown in Barlinnie. It was no deterrent to them. And on their release their zeal for the cause was undiminished. The Anarchist hall in Wilson Street was a refuge for conscientious objectors and soldiers absent without leave who claimed to be Anarchist sympathisers. We didn’t care whether they were genuine sympathisers or not. They were working-class and trying to escape the war. That was enough. A key hung on a string from inside the letter box and anybody could get access any time by just inserting a hand and raising the key.
Four of us linked ourselves to the Glasgow Anarchist Group after the Apprentices’ Strike. A while later I joined a ship at Rothesay Dock in Yoker as an engineer.
When I got back home after that first voyage two of my old friends had drifted away but one was still with the group. That Bill Johnson. After a year or so he began to dabble more in trade union activities. He was becoming ambitious for a place in the trade union hierarchy. He is now and has been for some years Lord Provost of Clydebank. This is not any condemnation of Anarchism. It is a condemnation of Bill Johnson. Even people calling themselves Anarchists can be opportunists. You have to look at the man as well as the ‘ism’.
In a certain sense the Glasgow Anarchists of that period made a unique contribution to the broad Anarchist movement in Britain. Most of the comrades could accept the philosophy of Egoism and dovetail it into the Syndicalist tendency within the movement. For my part I was quite strong about this fusion. In fact I think I was a firmer adherent of this school than was Eddie Shaw although, as I say, initially Eddie was the teacher and I was the pupil. Many were admirers of Kropotkin as I was. Kropotkin did of course criticise the philosophy of Egoism. In spite of this, I do not think Kropotkin’s ‘Mutual Aid’ really contradicts Stirner’s argument. It is at least obvious to me that those who practice mutual aid are in fact the best egoists. This view is not a reconciliation; it is a fusion. Kropotkin is not I, and I am not Kropotkin. Stirner is not I nor am I Stirner. Both are dead: I subdue their arguments if they want to argue. I dominate my thought: I am not its slave. I am neither a Kropotkinite nor a Stirnerite nor any other ‘he’ or ‘ist’. This, in the main, was the healthy attitude of most of the Glasgow Anarchists of the period.
Guy Aldred was not exactly endeared to the Syndicalists, although many of the Wilson Street Anarchists, such as Rab Lyle from Burnbank, were frequent visitors to the Strickland Press and had a lot of time for Guy. Nevertheless the industrial expression of Anarchish was conspicuous by its absence in Guy’s paper ‘The Word’. Most of the content of The Word’ was anti-parliamentarian, anti-militarist and pacifist. Guy was an intellectual. His background was clerical and he had no real contact with, or profound knowledge of, the industrial workplace. He failed to recognise that those Syndicalists who worked during the war in industries producing war potential did not live in a social vacuum. What about farmers and land workers in general? They were also sucked into the war effort. Even Napoleon knew an army only marches on a full belly.
A strong Syndicalist movement could have taken over the fields, factories and workshops and all the means of communication, for the benefit of the mass of the people. That’s what we were about. The only place it was ever likely to happen was at the point of production. We were certain of that much. Then the horizontal war and the vertical war could have been ended. What do I mean? The horizontal war is war between different so-called nations. When this war ends, the vertical war continues: the war between the haves and the have-nots. Horizontal wars are only State-promoted diversions from the real war which is always vertical.
Guy had had long-standing problems, probably more to do with clashes of personality than anything else, with the Freedom Press group in London. During the war the Anarchist paper ‘Freedom’ changed its name to ‘War Commentary’. In 1945 four comrades from the editorial board were charged with sedition: attempting to cause disaffection within the armed services. It stemmed from an article in ‘War Commentary’ in which it was urged that the armed forces should retain their weapons after the war to assist in the revolutionary struggle – the vertical war. The Glasgow Anarchists organised protest meetings in defence of the four. We rented the Cosmo cinema and another – I think it was called the Grand – which was next door to the Locarno Ballroom. Both cinemas were packed to capacity.
Speakers came along from other organisations to lend their support. Oliver Brown from the Scottish Nationalists was there. Jimmy Raeside, representing the Glasgow Anarchists spoke in the Grand. Eddie Shaw was on the platform, or stage if you like, in the Cosmo. I remember Eddie making a joke about this. “The Commical Party” (the Communist Party), he quipped, “always said I should be a comedian on the stage: now they at least should be happy to see me up here.” The CP, needless to say, hated Eddie’s guts, he having humiliated them in debate too many times.
Sadly, Guy Aldred gave no support whatsoever. He was still unable to put aside his deep-rooted personal conflict with some members of the Freedom Press group. Well, everybody has shortcomings in the eyes of someone. Guy was no exception, great fighter for social justice though he was.
Three of the accused were found guilty and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment. The fourth, Italian-born Marie Louise Berneri, was discharged. She and one of her co-accused, Vernon Richards, had entered into a marriage of convenience to save her being interned as an alien. In the eyes of the law this made Vernon responsible for his wife’s conduct, and she was discharged on these grounds.
I would like to apologise to all comrades still living who were involved with the group at that period. I am conscious that I haven’t given the group its just reward either individually or collectively. I earnestly hope some truly honest working-class historian will one day render to posterity a greater insight into the important contribution made by the Glasgow Anarchists. There is no greater wealth than knowing the story of how some people sincerely endeavoured to demolish the insane asylum the State has penned us in. I leave this as a signpost only, indicating the road we took and some of the thoughts we had on the way.
Workers City “The Real Glasgow Stands Up”
Edited By Farquar McLay Clydeside Press
Caterpillar Talking Blues
Eeni meeni miney mo your factory has gotta go paranoia in Peoria…
(Spoken to guitar accompaniment, roughly 16 bar blues in G.)
Well we’re sittin over here in Illinoya,
We got a real good story for ya,
We’re a multie national corporation,
Got factories in every nation.
All except one, and that’s in Scotland, and that’s in England.
At least ah thinks so.
See we looked at the economic factors
an we don’ need that many tractors
so we threw a dart an guess where it landed?
Sorry boys, your factory’s disbanded.
At least ah thinks so.
Sons of bitches are still in there.
Next time I looked at the situation,
them bastards had started an occupation,
just tryin to keep their jobs alive,
workin for nothin from nine to five.
Why that’s next to communism
At last ah thinks so
S’what ma granpappy tol me, and he should know
He was Polish.
They sure showed their Commie link,
they built this tractor and painted it pink.
They said it was a symbol, but that was just a front,
they gave the damn thing to War on Want.
Me, I gave at the office. Or was that Bob Geldof?
He’s a Russian too!
Geldoff, Smirnoff, Comiloff, Pissoff, Fuckoff,
It’s all the same thing.
This thing was becomin’ an awful drag
So we put an Ad in the local rag
Sayin’, “You better toe the line now sonny,
Or you won’t git no redundancy money –
An that would just break ma heart.”
YeeeeeeHaaaahhh! Round ’em on up
And move ’em on out!
They might think they got us beat,
but we’re OK in our hotel suite.
Wine and women and caviar,
unlimited drink at the hotel bar.
(Drunk) Sho occupy shhuh goddamm fact’ry
Who givshes a shit?
We offered them money but they wouldn’t take it.
Now c’mon boys, you ain’t gonna make it.
We got the power of international finance,
come on boys, you don’t have a chance.
Just what have you got?
You got backing from whole trade union movement,
the support of the whole nation,
international solidarity with workers in Belgium and Holland,
this song from the Rutherglen Centre for the Unemployed Writer’s Group
…………….Shee-it! Let’s get out of here, boys, the
Goddamm pinkos are takin over.
Well, we wrote this song cos it’s what we think.
Cos we like tractors that are painted pink.
There’s a whole lot more we could’ve said,
we might even have painted the tractor red.
With brown polka dots,
pink fluffy dice hangin on the window,
curtains, maybe a CB
Ten four Caterpillar good buddy.
Anything we want – after all, it’s our goddamn factory.
We had to add this here extra verse.
Things might be gettin better, might be gettin worse,
but I didn’t put no cash in a tin
so a hundred guys could get back in.
All or nothin.
That’s what you said in the speeches.
So Uddingston or Illinois, what’s it gonna be?
(Sung) What’s it gonna be?
Written by the Rutherglen Centre for the Unemployed Writers’ Group, March 1987, last verse Mayday 1987, when offers where accepted for the factory by a consortium.
Mary Friel, Eric Brennan, Gerry Murphy, Aileen Andrew, Peter Arnott, Alan Morrison.
Workers City “The Real Glasgow Stands Up”
Edited By Farquar McLay Clydeside Press
Clyde Apprentices’ Strikes
1912, 1937, 1941, 1952, 1960. In each of these years there was a major strike for workers’ rights, based on the Clyde, which succeeded in seriously disrupting production in engineering and shipbuilding. Yet most of the strikers were not trade union members, and in most cases the unions gave the strikes only fragmentary, belated and rather reluctant support. The key to this seemingly mysterious side to the history of workers’ Clydeside lies in one word: apprentice. The strikers were apprentices, organising themselves outside the structures of the trade unions, and in several cases winning important concessions from the employers.
Some people might say that apprentices are not ‘real’ workers, and indeed the employers found it convenient to regard them as ‘learners’ rather than ‘workers’. Employers resisted the idea of apprentices being eligible for trade union membership or of trade unions negotiating on behalf of apprentices. They fell back on a traditional notion of apprenticeship as a contract between employer and parent. Some managements made direct approaches to parents to try to use them to force the strikers back to work. Yet their eagerness to pressurise the strikers into going back was due to the fact that apprentices had become an important part of the labour force. As modern production techniques gradually replaced the older craft skills, it became practically possible for apprentices to do many jobs just as well as time-served men. It was not lost on the management that it was in their interests that this should happen as much as possible, since the apprentices were paid much less than the skilled adult workers. Had the employers not taken on apprentices in such large numbers and had these apprentices not been given such an important part to play in production, there would never have been strikes on such a large scale.
The dates given at the start refer only to some of the biggest of the strikes. There were many others but the strikes that took place in those years are worth looking at one by one.
The 1912 strike was set off by Lloyd George’s National Insurance Act, but it would be wrong to call that the ’cause’. The basic problem was low wages. The prospect of having to pay six and a half old pence insurance out of apprentice pay that could be as low as four shillings simply heightened existing resentment. Unfortunately, whilst in some areas low pay was made the foremost issue, other strikers used the slogan ‘Down with Lloyd George’. (In fact, apprentices could only apply for exemption from part of the contribution.) Earlier strikes had been on a restricted scale, but this time it spread over large areas of the country. Starting on 8th August in Dundee, Glasgow quickly followed and at its peak over 6,000 Scottish engineering apprentices were on strike.
Strike headquarters in Glasgow were set up at the offices of the Municipal Employees Association, a sign of the official engineering unions’ lack of enthusiasm for the apprentices’ action. Local organisation seems to have been good, but the strike was poorly coordinated nationally. Strikers at John Brown’s, Clydebank, went back after ten days but most of Glasgow stayed out until the end of the month. Some North of England centres held out a further couple of weeks. In the end, however, the strike ended with little concrete achieved. Only a few firms deviated from the Employers’ Federation line and increased wages. The employers, made nervous by the display of industrial strength, wrote tougher anti-strike conditions into apprentices’ contracts. Writing of the strike, Bill Knox does not see it as a complete defeat, however. Not only did it make official trade unions take more notice of apprentices’ problems. It also showed that the apprentices had ‘a hidden capacity for organisation and self-discipline which augured well for the future’.
In 1937, industrial workers were gradually improving their pay and conditions after the depression of the 1920s and early 1930s. Rearmament led to engineering workers negotiating higher wages, but apprentices did not benefit and this grievance brought them out on strike. Starting in late March, it lasted five weeks, with 32,000 out at its peak, 12,00 of them on the Clyde. Pay demands were soon broadened out into a campaign for an Apprentices’ Charter covering training and trade union negotiating rights too. There was a wave of ‘Youth Strikes’ on the Clyde, including walkouts by non-apprentice female staff at Beattie’s Biscuits and Barr and Stroud. Initial hostility by the unions later gave way to support and some adult workers came out in token sympathy strikes. Victory was not complete, but as well as pay rises apprentices were granted fixed proportions of any future increases in adult rates. Non-indentured apprentices also won the right to have union officials negotiate on their behalf.
In some ways, the 1941 strike was the most dramatic one of all. Not only did it coincide with the notorious Clydebank blitz, but it was the biggest dispute to affect the munitions industry in the whole of the Second World War. (This was partly due to the fact that it had the support of the Communist Party which soon afterwards changed its attitude to strikes because Russia entered the war as Britain’s ally.) It is difficult now to picture working conditions in the engineering industry at that time. Despite the war effort, there was little conciliatory in employers’ treatment of workers. (Churchill had to write to John Brown’s to try to persuade them to open a canteen for their workers.) The strike was short and the special circumstances of the war led to a speedy Court of Inquiry. Apprentice representatives surprised many people by the way they conducted themselves and the Court’s report was a vindication of many of the complaints the apprentices had made.
Victimisation by employers meant that the token strike action in 1952 snowballed into the next large-scale apprentice action. Clyde apprentices had organised a half-day strike on 7th February but when they returned to work next day some were suspended. When news of this spread, apprentices in many yards and factories came out in sympathy. The feeling generated led to a full scale strike in March with many thousands out in Scotland and England. On 21st March, the Glasgow Herald reported that ‘Mr J. Reid’ – Jimmy Reid – had successfully moved a resolution supporting the action at the engineers’ National Youth Conference. On 1st April, an employers’ spokesman was typically reported as saying that the strike was holding up pay talks. Ten days later, apprentice delegates accepted a pay offer roughly half of what they wanted ‘under protest’. Once again only partial success had been achieved.
The last great apprentice strike was the biggest strike of 1960 and one of the biggest strikes of the decade. Officially, 347,000 man-days were lost. At one point 60,000 were out all over Britain. A Clyde Apprentices Committee laid the base for the strike with demonstrations and token walk-outs. The main strike began on 21st April, earlier than planned because once again some firms suspended people who had taken token strike action. The strike committees showed they had the will and the ability to organise mass action. There were collections and strike pay for the needy. ‘Flying Squads’ were went to contact apprentices in England and Ireland. National delegate conferences were held, From many quarters, employers, union officials and the press, came accusations of communist dominance, intimidation and general irresponsibility on the part of what they liked to call the ‘Boy Strikers’. But the strike organisation survived until a national conference on 14th May called it off. The pay settlement that followed gave them less than they had aimed for, but once again apprentices had shown their industrial power and drawn attention to the ‘Cheap Labour Racket’. There have been no more apprentice strikes of that size, and we can expect no more. Heavy engineering has declined, and with it both apprenticeship and the industrial strength of apprentices.
Some look back with nostalgia to these strikes, but do they have any great importance? We should not be surprised that capitalism used the cover of ‘training’ to exploit young workers. Nor is it surprising that some of these ‘boys’ had the political awareness and skills to run successful industrial action with little outside support. What is worth noticing, with regret, is that the need for these strikes is a sign of a weakness in the unions and in the working class generally. The unions failed to tackle the problems of cheap youth labour and did not capitalise on the apprentices’ youthful militancy. We can criticise the union bureaucrats but they were not alone in this failure. Ordinary shopfloor workers often discouraged young men from even joining their union. “You’ll have plenty of time for the union when your time is out.” Luckily the young workers often ignored that advice.
NOTE: There are articles in the Scottish Labour History Society Journal on the 1912 strike (by W. Knox, No. 19, 1984) and on the 1937 strike (by Alan McKinlay, No. 20, 1985). lan McKechnie and I have interviewed some of those who took part. My thanks to lan for his part in our joint efforts to collect information.
Workers City “The Real Glasgow Stands Up”
Edited By Farquar McLay Clydeside Press
The Battle For The Green
THE SUMMER OF 1931 was a riotous season in Glasgow. There were demonstrations involving anything from forty-five thousand to one hundred thousand angry protesters, in scenes which Police Superintendent Sweeny of the Central Division described as “a disgrace to any civilised community”. The focal point of these demonstrations was Glasgow Green. Much of the disturbances took place just outside the Green, in the space called Jocelyn Square, but traditionally and persistently called Jail Square by Glaswegians, because of the proximity of the High Court and its incarceratory facilities. To most of those who took part in these demonstrations the issues were unemployment, the Means Test, and the Right to Work, but these popular causes were developments from the original grievance, which was the right to hold public meetings in the Green without a permit from the Parks Department.
This traditional right had recently been taken away by a Labour Town Council.
The Glasgow Green lies in the heart of the City, on the north bank of the River Clyde. It is the oldest of the city’s parks, and is rated more than a park. It owes its origin to the common lands of the Burgh. A historian of the Green, writing in 1894, notes a civic function of this Open Space:
One of the old customs of the Green remains almost as vigorous as of old… From time immemorial it has been the custom for all classes of preachers and debaters to air their eloquence upon the masses who frequent the Green; and on the Saturday and Sunday afternoons numerous knots of people are to be found listening to discussions on all varieties of topics.1
Another writer of the eighteen-nineties declares:
But there are other shows which have long characterised the space between the Court Houses and Nelson’s Monument, and which still continue with unabated vigour. From time immemorial it has been classical ground to the east-end controvertionalists. There Orangemen and Romanists fought bloodless battles by the thousand… There the stupid Tory, and the lofty-souled socialist…annihilates with ease all shades of orthodox political opinion. On the Green the atheist readily confutes the arguments of the earnest Salvation Army; while the total abstainer has it all his own way in preaching the mission of temperance… Let it not be thought that the whole matter is bubble and froth, the phenomenon represents a vast aggregate of serious purpose, if not of deep thought, and it forms a most efficient safety valve for blowing off social, political, and religious sentiments, which might otherwise attain explosive force.2
The records of Glasgow Green are among the oldest existing records of Glasgow. The earliest known document is the Notitia, or Inquest of David, attested before the judges in the year 1120. It contains the result of the inquiry made by the command of David, Prince of Cumbria or Strathclyde (afterwards David the First of Scotland) as to the lands which had formerly belonged to the Church of Saint Mungo, and which he proceeded to restore to the new bishop of Glasgow. The bishop’s property probably included the present Broomielaw, the old Green, or Docal Green of Glasgow, from present-day Jamaica Street eastwards, and the present Jail Square.3
After the Reformation these lands became civic property administered by the City Council. They were used for the cutting of peat, the pasturing and slaughtering of cattle, the execution of malefactors and martyrs, and for playing, strolling and talking. In the People’s Palace, centrepiece of the Green, there is a painting which shows a crowd around a Glasgow character of Victorian days, Old Malabar. A later hand has painted into the crowd a little Charlie Chaplin, familiar in his bowler hat, cane, and big boots.
On April 13, 1916 the Glasgow Corporation repealed a bye-law passed on April 25, 1896 for the regulation of the City Parks and Open Spaces, and replaced it with the controversial Bye-law 20, restricting the right of free assembly. It was this which led to the riotous scenes of the twenties and thirties; and it was this that Guy Aldred challenged in the Green, on the streets, and finally in the High Court. The Bye-law, passed in 1916, was not invoked until 1922, when a Labour Council was in office. It read:
20. No person shall, in any of the parks, sing, preach, lecture, or take part in any service, discussion, meeting, or demonstration, or hold any exhibition or public show, for any purpose whatsoever, or play any musical instrument, except with the written authority of the Corporation, or the Superintendent, and then only on such places as may be from time to time set aside by the Corporation or Superintendent, by Notice, for such purpose.
On July 30 1923 this Bye-law was amended to make an exception of the space outside the gates of the Green, known as Jail Square. This concession was a recognition of the traditional usage of the Square. Meetings were being cleared from the gates of all other parks. Aldred was contesting the right to speak outside Botanic Gardens. But he considered Glasgow Green as a special case because of its historical associations. On July 6th 1924 he addressed an Open Letter, in the columns of The Commune, to the Lord Provost, Magistrates, and Council of the City of Glasgow in respect of the right of unlicensed liberty of speech on Glasgow Green, “as secured by long tradition, and respected by the Common Law of Scotland…”
The letter read in part:
Sirs and Citizens,
Today I shall be one of seventy speakers participating in a quiet and orderly meeting, duly advertised, which will be held at 3pm at the monument, Glasgow Green…
At the present moment Edward Rennie is serving a sentence of fifty days as an ordinary criminal in Barlinnie Prison for speaking in Glasgow Green without a permit. Peter Marshall, Peter Mclntyre, John Ball,4 are waiting arrest for not paying fines. Seventy cases are pending… Meantime, a Labour Government being in power – for the offence of addressing a lawful meeting Rennie is being treated as a criminal…
These Bye-laws were passed in 1916. Were they advertised as required? If so, how comes it that neither police nor public regarded them as applying to the Green? So much is this the case that in 1921, Mr Adamson, the present Secretary of State for Scotland, spoke on Glasgow Green without a permit. During the following years Maxton, Kirkwood, and Robertson5 all did so. I submit that it is contrary to law to lapse Bye-laws, and then capriciously reimpose them.
But the Glasgow Parks Act of 1878 confers no power on you to prohibit meetings… Section 37, the very section under which you act, concludes with this provision: Provided that such Bye-laws shall not be repugnant to the laws of Scotland.
…I submit that Bye-laws which send men to prison as common criminals for exercising the lawful right of assembly on a highway -and Glasgow Green is a highway as well as an Open Space – a^re repugnant to the laws of Scotland…
This Meeting was held as advertised, and meetings were held for several weeks thereafter. At all of them names were taken and charges made. The speakers were either from the Antiparliamentary Communist Federation or from the Scottish Workers’ Republican Party, which had been founded by John MacLean. The Communist Party sneered at the “anti-pantis”, and the “Claymore Communists” – reference to MacLean’s attempt to form a Scottish Communist Party. In The Worker the free speech campaign was described as a “stunt, pure and simple”, and the Green described as a “bedlam of racing tipsters, medicine men, religious fanatics and political oddities.”6
At a meeting of the Glasgow Parks Committee a report was read from the Town Clerk’s Office, detailing complaints from the Magistrates’ Committee. This referred to the abuse of Jail Square by racing tipsters, and other undesirable persons who had, since the speaking ban had been lifted from the Square, crowded into the place, attracting a rowdy and troublesome element, making “the place like a fair”. The Magistrates’ Committee recommended that steps be taken to prevent the use of the Square by such persons. The motion was therefore put to the Parks Sub-committee that the proviso exempting the Square from the restrictions which applied to the Green should be repealed, and that therefore unlicensed speaking on the Square should be an offence. There was an opposing amendement that ‘no Action’ be taken on the Magistrates’ Report.7 The vote showed eleven for the motion and eight for the amendment.
Guy Aldred was spending much of his time in London where he was conducting a campaign for the right to sell socialist literature, and to take collections at meetings in Hyde Park. In the course of this activity he had a brush with the police because he said disrespectful things about God. On Sunday 15th 1925 he was arrested from the platform and charged with blasphemy and sedition. Considerable press publicity was given to the charges, and Aldred was featured as an outstanding blasphemer. He conducted his own defence at a trial which ended on March 10th, and was found not guilty on all counts, except a minor one for which a fine of £2 was imposed.
These and other activities kept him away from the Green, but when he heard that the Glasgow Corporation had made application to the Sheriff Principle A. O. M. Mackenzie for deletion of the clause in the Bye-law which exempted Jail Square from the restrictions which applied to the Green, he lodged notice of objection. The date of the Hearing was advanced a week and on March 29th 1925 Guy Aldred appeared in person to state his objections. The Corporation was represented by Mr R. J. Campbell of the Town Clerk’s Office.
Aldred quoted Acts of Parliament and legal authorities to support his view that the Bye-law was repugnant to the laws of Scotland and ultra vires of the Corporation. It was a gross abuse of terms to place tipsters in the same class as public speakers. In London the authorities had extended certain laws which prevented tipsters from going into Hyde Park, but public meetings still went on. Glasgow Corporation had no right to close down the Green unless they were prepared to provide another meeting place. The Corporation’s proposal was contrary to the good government of the city, for this act of regulation was in reality an act of prohibition.
He was interrupted while he was drawing a distinction between tipsters and public speakers by the Sheriff-Principle who remarked (amid laughter) – “You mean that free speech is more important than free tips.”
Mr Campbell said that it was not within the contemplation of the Corporation that the repeal of the proviso would interfere with free speech as far as it was enjoyed in 1916. If a meeting was conducted in an orderly manner, and there was no suggestion that it would lead to disorder, or obstruction, in all probability permits would be granted to speakers.
The Sheriff: “The question is whether it is reasonable to cure an evil by depriving citizens of their power of free speech except with permits from the magistrates.”
Mr Campbell said there was no complaint in 1916, and right up until 1923, or at the passing of any other Bye-laws. Sheriff Mackenzie took the matter to avizandum. On April 1st 1927 he confirmed the reverted Bye-law. Guy Aldred’s statement was reported at length in the Glasgow Press, and on April 2nd The Glasgow Herald in a lengthy editorial approved the Sheriffs decision, concluding:8
The Bye-law in question, however, only applies to parks, and it can be made applicable to this Jail Square pitch because it is technically part of Glasgow Green, which is a public park. Having established the principle that this area is to be subject to the control of the magistrates, we hope the Corporation may be stirred up to make use of such powers as they may have, or if they have them not, to take steps to get such powers as may be necessary to enable them to regulate street-corner oratory anywhere within the City.
The Reverend Richard Lee, then minister of Ross Street Unitarian Church, in the East End, and sometime Glasgow Labour Councillor, and active public figure in the city, wrote to the Glasgow Evening News for March 31st 1927 –
It is lamentable that the citizens of Glasgow should treat so lightly the passing away of the freedom of Glasgow Green. How strange it is that the main defence of free speech should be left to a Sassenach, Mr Guy Aldred, who made such an impressive case on Tuesday from the point of view of ancient usage, legal right, and public interest!
…When Socrates laid down the foundations of the philosophy of rational research he had no official caucus to back him up. When Jesus established the principles of spiritual religion, he had no support from official ecclesiasticism. Today there is little hope from any body of hidebound ecclesiastics or politicians.
This proposal of the authorities means the choking up of the foundations of rational liberty and social justice.
The Daily Herald for the same date carried the headline:
SILENT GLASGOW GREEN All Meetings banned on Jail Square
The letter-press concluded:
The ban on meetings takes immediate effect, so that tomorrow the Green will be silent, almost for the first time in many years.
And for several years it remained so. Then it was broken by the worn boots and holy voices of the Brotherhood of the Way who arrived with wooden crosses and evangelical zeal on the forbidden ground of secular dictate in the June of 1931. The Brothers tramped through the United Kingdom – and were therefore known more commonly as The Tramp Preachers – as they conceived Jesus to have tramped through ancient Judea, preaching the Gospel of Brotherhood and Love. They lived only on the collections gathered at their meetings, usually of the poor and unemployed, and had – always in theory, sometimes in actuality – nowhere to lay their heads. They were not much concerned about Caesar’s Bye-laws. They were arrested, lodged in police cells, brought before the magistrate, and fined £5 – two weeks’ wages. As they were persons of no fixed abode, no time was allowed to pay the fine – which they didn’t intend to pay anyway. They were therefore sent to prison for thirty days in a city the motto of which was ‘Let Glasgow Flourish by the Preaching of the Word” – for doing just that.
John McGovern, I.L.P. Member for Shettleston, raised the matter in the House of Commons. He asked the Secretary of State (W. Adams, Labour) if he would release these men. Mr Adamson said he “would make enquiries” which meant he would do nothing. McGovern pressed the point till “disgraceful scenes ensued” according to the press. The Daily Express for July 3rd 1931, playing on the fact that there had been a championship boxing match the previous evening, gave a witty heading:
LAST NIGHT’S BIG FIGHT – IN THE HOUSE Glasgow Member dragged out.
Space does not allow us to enjoy the full account, but we may have a snippet from the heart of the story. McGovern refused to leave the Chamber as ordered by the Speaker, and refused to go quietly when asked to do so by four stout, but elderly, doorkeepers, in morning dress, with white shirt fronts and golden chains. So:
One attendant took Mr McGovern’s hands. Mr Becket, M.P., pulled the hands off. Others arrived and seized Mr McGovern by the legs and shoulders. Messrs Becket and Kinley threw themselves on the attendants. Mr Maxton, sitting immediately behind, leaned forward, his long locks dangling over his face, and joined in.
…Slowly the struggling heap moved towards the door. As each successive pillar supporting the gallery was reached Mr Maxton was dislodged, but renewed his hold on the other side of the pillar. Mr Becket, seeing that his side was losing, took a leap on an attendant’s back. Down they went in a heap on top of the others. Miss Jenny Lee, hardly a couple of yards away from the ring, shrank back a little. Messrs Brockway and Campbell Stephen (I.L.P.) played an unhappy part. They were neutral. They neither moved out of the way of the attendants, nor attempted to obstruct them…and were thoroughly ruffled by the wave which swept over them…
So the struggling mass reached the door and John McGovern was ejected, and was suspended for the remainder of the session. He had received nation-wide publicity and made it known to the press that he would speak on Glasgow Green without a permit. Guy Aldred and Harry McShane were among others who were taking up the matter of free meetings in the Green. A Free Speech Council had been set up and Guy Aldred, Harry McShane, Tom Pickering (Tramp Preacher) and Edward Rennie (Scottish Workers’ Republican Party) had been fined (but not paid)
Two days after his ejection from the House, Sunday 5th July, McGovern arrived at the Green where a crowd of six thousand had gathered. The police allowed the meeting to proceed, but took the names of the speakers. These were Aldred, McGovern, McShane, Pickering, John Heenan (I.L.P.), Willie MacDougall (Anti-parliamentary Communist Federation), Andrew Reilly (Irish Workers’ Party) and Joseph McGlinchly (Distributist). These made two Court appearances. Guy Aldred gave notice of appeal on behalf of all the accused, and asked for a Stated Case.
Harry McShane was a member of the Communist Party, but at this stage the Party was not involved in the protests. McShane had to “drag them in”.9 This is not surprising when it is remembered that Moscow did not think much of free speech, and would not have welcomed a Report in which the Party not only campaigned for free speech but did so in association with the bourgeois I.L.P., the anarchist Aldred, and the evangelical Tramp Preachers. But when the demonstrations began to spill over into protests against the high level of unemployment, and the introduction of the Means Test, the Party had to take an interest. But the national figures stayed away, leaving McShane to organise the Communist Party activity. His interest in free speech was genuine and he refused to soft-pedal it in conformity with Party policy. His work for the unemployed was equally serious. He was Secretary of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement and, later, Secretary of Glasgow C.P.
Aldred was not greatly interested in demands for the Right to Work. That wage slaves should demand burdens for their backs in no way matched his definition of socialism. The more youthful members of his group, the Antiparliamentary Communist Federation and of the group founded by John MacLean (then deceased), the Scottish Workers’ Republican Party, used to answer the slogan-shouters, crying WE WANT WORK with the counter-cry WE WANT’ NOURISHMENT, and to calls for a shilling more on Parish Relief they would add sardonically: AND A BAG OF COAL AND WOOLLYDRA WERS! I
To meet this new dimension of the demonstrations the Free Speech Committee was turned into a permanent Council of Action at a meeting of two hundred delegates from several organisations held in Central Halls on Saturday September 19th 1931. The Council passed a resolution by the APCF delegate that the Council evolve the necessary machinery to cope with the “chronic economic condition which is the normal state of capitalist society”; and to promote the transfer of political power to representative Councils of Action.
It would be a naive historian who saw in this gathering of honest upright proletarians in revolt the beginnings of an age of brotherly love, the germination of a new society. The general atmosphere was of disharmony. Every Group hated and villified every other. Antagonisms abounded. Agreements were reached with ill-natured reluctance, not in sympathetic understanding. Only the Tramp Preachers hated nobody (actively) in private; loved everybody in principle, and defied everybody in practice. In Court they raised high their wooden crosses, and bawled forth ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’, confounding the raucous-voiced ushers, and nonplussing the Stipendary Magistrate.
It was the confused motives and fragmented leadership that led to the riots of the First of October 1931. Aldred maintained that continued mass confrontation would get nowhere, except hospital or jail. He was in favour of meeting the Corporation on their own ground, in the Court of Law. They had violated a principle of the Laws of Scotland. He would prove it, and force the removal of the offending Bye-law. Then, with the right to meet in public assembly in the public parks, the people should use that right to meet in concourse and debate the next moves in the struggle against the system which bred unemployment and exploitation. McShane thought that Court action would meet with failure, and that no further advance could be made along that road.
McGovern, writing thirty years later, said that the Communists (i.e. McShane) wanted to take over the unemployed movement,10 and that he (McGovern) wanted to prevent them from staging a riot. A laudable motive, but his method of doing so was curiously inconsistent. He and Harry McShane had, the very afternoon of the evening debate on the matter, addressed a meeting in North Hanover Street, at George Square, the municipal heart of the city, urging the audience to rally to the Green that evening. The previous evening McShane had led a procession of unemployed from Warwick Street, in the south side of the city, in the direction of the Green, but had stopped short of forbidden ground on Albert Bridge where, mounted on the parapet, he had urged his followers to gather on the Green the following evening, and to “bring your sticks”. The crowd took up the cry.11
So on the first of October McGovern led the East End contingent of unemployed to Glasgow Green, where a hundred thousand persons were gathered (police estimate, 40,000). But there were no Communist Party leaders, because the police had sent word to the Party Headquarters earlier in the day that no marching to the Green would be allowed, but the Communists had not passed the information on to McGovern, hence his arrival with the East End demonstrators. The police sergeant later confirmed that such a warning had been conveyed, with the concession that the leaders could organise those who had unknowingly gathered on the Green into small companies and lead them away. Thus Harry McShane who had urged his followers to gather on the Green did not arrive there himself till it was (as he later described it) “pitch dark, and we couldn’t see a thing”.12
He, and his comrade, Bob McLellan, were getting a section of the crowd into marching order for the return journey, as suggested by the sergeant earlier in the day, when McGovern “appeared from nowhere” and put himself at the head of the demonstration – and that decided the police to act.13 Police evidence at the trials which followed, said that there were “several thousand evilly disposed persons, armed with chisels, bottles, hammers and sticks, organised by the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement – (McShane’s adherents, as distinct from his communist comrades) and two hundred policemen”.14 McGovern was assaulted by the police and arrested at once. McShane found himself behind the charging police. He met a crowd which wanted to “have a go at the police”. He told them they would be slaughtered, and led them through the Green, over the suspension bridge into the Gorbals and safety.15
McGovern later accused the Communist leaders of deliberately withholding the police information,16 of not having arrived at the Green themselves, leaving it to McShane, who arrive only to run away.17 The representative of the Comintern who was in Glasgow, monitoring the actions of the Communist Party, was not pleased. He sent for McShane and ordered him to go and get arrested “because McGovern had been arrested”. In abject obedience, characteristic of the Communist Party leaders of the time, McShane was putting on his shoes to go out and get himself arrested, when the Representative heard that two policemen had been thrown over a bridge into the Clyde and killed. The Representative thought that under such circumstances it would be better if Harry did not get himself arrested but went to Moscow instead. Fortunately the rumour proved false, and Harry was allowed to stay at home.18
The rioting and general disturbance which had started on Jail Square on the Thursday continued over the weekend. The doctor who examined McGovern’s bruised back in a police cell told him: “The city is in a grip of terror. The boys are smashing windows and stealing in every street. They are playing merry hell.”
On the Monday Guy Aldred held a meeting in the Green, once more defying the authorities. He trounced both McGovern and McShane. They had stirred up the people, he said, for no other reason but to lead them, or to seem to lead them. There was doubt in the I.L.P.’s Selection Committee as to McGovern’s suitability as parliamentary candidate at the forthcoming election. His behaviour in the House had embarrassed the Party. Now McGovern wanted to establish himself as a heroic public working-class champion, so that to replace him would be unwise. McShane was using this occasion to establish himself as the leader of the unemployed. There had -been no logic in their actions, the purpose of which was blatant self-aggrandisement.
Harry McShane was at this meeting and heard Aldred’s denunciation. He asked to mount the platform. He said to the great crowd assembled at this illegal gathering: “We have had the demonstration. A number of people are in hospital, a number of people have been arrested. The casualties are all on our side. Next time we will be better prepared.”19
Aldred said that this was the kind of rabble-rousing he had condemned. Having induced a hundred thousand persons to assemble on the Green – when it was “almost pitch dark” neither McGovern or McShane had any idea what to do with them, or with themselves. A violent confrontation with the authorities may be desirable and necessary, and would most likely be a part of the ultimate confrontation, but this ill-timed violence was self-defeating. It only resulted in men being taken to hospital, or landing in jail. Several days later McShane was arrested.
It was not till January the following year, 1932, that McGovern, McShane, and ten others were brought before the Sheriff charged with assault, mobbing and rioting – McShane was excluded from the assault charge. Superintendent Sweeny of the Central Division confirmed that he had sent word to the Communist Party headquarters that a demonstration would not be allowed to march through the streets, but that persons gathering at the Green would be allowed to return home in separate processions.
McShane was acquitted, for evidently it had been his intention to conform to this arrangement. McGovern was acquitted because he had been in custody when the violence erupted. The ten others, rank and filers, who had “brought their sticks” were each sentenced to three months’ imprisonment. There is no firm statement as to the number of demonstrators injured. Four policemen were hurt. Seventy-seven plate glass windows were smashed.20
Meantime Aldred continued with his own line of action. The Appeal by Stated Case against the convictions of Aldred, McGovern, McShane and others for speaking in the Green on July 5th 1931, came before the High Court of Justiciary on October 17th 1931.21 The Appeal was unsuccessful, but observations made by the Lord Justice General in disposing of it were brought to the notice of the Parks Committee, and on March 3rd 1932 the offending Bye-law was repealed, and replaced with an amended Bye-law. This gave right of public speaking, literature sales, and collections on such places as would be set aside by Notice for that purpose.
Sheriff Principle Mackenzie confirmed this amendment of the Bye-law on June 8th 1932. He explained the difference in a note to his interlocuters:
…After the right of holding meetings in the portion of Glasgow Green situated in Jail Square (even he did not call it by its official name: Jocelyn Square) without a written permit, had been taken away, largely attended protest meetings were held in the Green without permits having been obtained and a number of prosecutions followed. In one of these the accused, a Mr Guy Aldred, after convictions, appealed to the High Court of Justiciary. The case – Aldred v Langmuir – is reported in The Scots Law Times Reports for 1931, at page 603. The Appeal was unsuccessful, but certain observations made by the Lord Justice General in disposing of it were brought to the notice of the Parks Committee, and that Committee had these observations in view in passing the Bye-law which I am now asked to confirm…
The existing Bye-law prohibits all preaching, lecturing, or holding of meetings without leave of the Corporation, or Director of Parks. The Bye-law proposed impliedly authorises the Corporation to set aside by Notice places where preaching and lecturing may proceed and meetings be held without permits being first obtained. It seems to me that this provision constitutes a very material distinction between the two Bye-laws.”22
The part of the Green set aside for public meetings was known as the Old Bandstand. The Council of Action accepted this arrangement, except for the Communist Party. Evidently forgetting that the Party had not officially taken part in the campaign, and had described the gatherings in the Green as a “bedlam of tipsters and medicine men”, they now said that they would have demanded the “right to speak from Jail Square to Nelson’s Column”, which would have increased the “bedlam of tipsters and medicine men”, and curtailed the right of the young to stroll, and the elderly to sit in the Green.
The Council of Action broke up. John Meenan went into the Town Council, McGovern was re-elected to the Commons, McShane went, obediently and reluctantly to Moscow. His heart was in Glasgow with the unemployed. Aldred continued the struggle for free speech. He maintained that the amended Bye-law applied to every city park, and that the Corporation was failing in its duty if it did not set aside by Notice an area in every park where the citizens might freely meet and freely discuss.
Now that the right to speak at a selected site in the Green had been established, nobody wanted to do so. The new site – the Green itself- lay deserted once more. The new attraction was the Hunger March. The Green was forgotten. Everybody with daring and adventurous propensity and little else felt the urge to join the threadbare horde on the great trek to London. Aldred went against the stream in condemning this exploit. It was a ruse of the leaders to confirm their alleged leadership, and advance their careers. They were mis-leading the workers. To march to London was to acknowledge the authority of London. To stand and shiver in rags before the House of Commons, begging for work, was to accept and affirm their status as wage slaves. He wanted places to be set aside in the parks where the people could gather and discuss social problems and gather strength to defy their exploiters not, like the marchers, acknowledge them. But he was asking too much common sense from common people. Banner-waving and slogan-shouting were more glamorous, so free speech was forgotten, and the Hunger Marchers tramped their way into the mainstream of history, where their abjection is held in high regard.
1. See Glasgow Public Parks (John Smith, 1894); by Duncan McLellan. (Mitchell Library).
2. Glasgow: Its Municipal Organisation and Administration Sir John Ball, University Publishers 1896. Woodside Library, Glasgow.
3. The Council ed. Guy A. Aldred. July/August, 1932.
4. Rennie, Marshall and Mclntyre were members of the Scottish Workers’ Republican Party.
5. Guy Aldred, Rose Witcop and Margaret Sanger addressed a crowd of two thousand on Birth Control in the Green in 1922.
6. The Worker Aug. 9 & 16 1924 and July 25 1925.
7. Minute of the Glasgow Corporation Sub-Committee on Parks, etc. 29th Oct. 1926.
8. Press reports, summarised in The Council July/August 1932.
9. No Mean Fighter by Harry McShane. Pluto Press 1978, p. 173.
10. Neither Fear Nor Favour John McGovern. Blandforth Press 1960, p. 73 & 75.
11. Glasgow Evening Times Jan. 18 1932. Guy Aldred’s press cutting books in Mitchell Library give wide coverage of the Glasgow Green campaign.
12. No Mean Fighter p. 175.
13. ibid, p. 176.
14. Glasgow Evening Times Jan. 18 1932.
15. No Mean Fighter p. 176.
16. Neither Fear Nor Favour p. 73.
17. ibid, p. 75.
18. No Mean Fighter p. 176.
19. ibid, p. 176.
20. Glasgow Evening Times Jan. 18 1932.
21. Aldred stated objections to relevancy and competency of Complaint in respect that 1) Species facti libelled do not amount to a contravention of the Acts and Bye-laws libelled. 2) Written authority of the Corporation or the Director of Parks ultra vires and do not conform to the Statute. 3) Bye-laws, and amended Bye-laws repugnant to the Laws of Scotland. 4)
A mended Bye-law not confirmed by the Sheriff of Lanarkshire. 5) Form of application and A tkms of permit ultra vires of the Corporation. 6) No Bye-law exists spec.fymg Tnd ion unde’r which persons may speak in Glasgow Green; and 7) Comp.amt mvo ved queens of civil right which cannot be disposed of in a Court of Summary Junsd.cUon. 22. Quoted from The Council July/August 1932.
Workers City “The Real Glasgow Stands Up”
Edited By Farquar McLay Prt.Clydeside Press