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No Mean City: 1914 to 1950s

Learning and Beliefs

Red Clydeside

By Iain Maclean

Bloody Friday In the eyes of many in Britain, Glasgow during the First World War gained the reputation of being a centre of socialist if not communist ideas, a hotbed of revolution. By 1922, or perhaps earlier, the city had acquired the nickname "Red Clydeside". The reality of Red Clydeside was smaller, and more mixed, than the myth. During the First World War the core of it was a skilled workers' protest against "dilution", which meant bringing in unskilled men and women to do parts of skilled trade jobs. Some of the socialist leaders, including John Maclean (1879-1923), opposed the war; others, including David Kirkwood (1872-1955), did not. After the war, it was a more general movement incorporating, for the first time, the Catholic Glasgow-Irish community. The two factions shared some leaders but had little else in common.

Tanks in Cattle Market, 1919 There were several highlights to the broad movement that was active during this period. When Lloyd George was at the height of his power he was nonetheless shouted down at a shop-stewards' meeting on Christmas Day 1915 because of the threat dilution posed to the tradition of craft unionisation. In 1916 leaders of the Clyde Workers' Committee, including Kirkwood, were "deported" to Edinburgh where it was thought that their revolutionary rhetoric would have no appeal. Kirkwood later returned and became manager of an ammunitions factory. The independent Marxist orator, John Maclean was tried and imprisoned from 1915, his death occurring in 1923.

If Glasgow Corporation ran a bank... In the 1922 General Election ten Labour MPs were elected for Glasgow constituencies. Before leaving together from St Enoch Station to take their seats at Westminster, they had a send-off where the audience sang "The Red Flag" and Psalm 124 (the Covenanters' "Old 124th", described as "Scotland's psalm of deliverance"). Red Clydeside nurtured some people who later became prominent in the Labour Party or the Independent Labour Party (ILP). These included John Wheatley (1869-1930), James Maxton (1885-1946), Emanuel Shinwell (1884-1984) and some founders of the Communist Party, notably Willie Gallacher (1881-1965).

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