Bloody Friday - Glasgow version


Ad Honorem
Nov 2007
I'm posting this as it's the nintieth anniversary this weekend.

Tanks and soldiers in Saltmarket area of Glasgow

Feb 1919

Photograph showing tanks and soldiers billeted in the Saltmarket area of Glasgow in the weeks following the battle of George Square on 31 January 1919. Government fears over heightened political and industrial tensions following the battle of George Square led to the deployment of troops and tanks on the streets of Glasgow.
An estimated total of 10,000 English troops were sent to Glasgow in the immediate aftermath of the battle of George Square. This was in spite of a full battalion of Scottish soldiers being stationed at Maryhill barracks in Glasgow at the time.
No Scottish troops were deployed, with the government fearing that fellow Scots, soldiers or otherwise, would go over to the workers' side if a revolutionary situation developed in Glasgow. English troops were transported from England and stationed in Glasgow specifically to combat this possible scenario.
Before the war commenced, the Scots were proud of their reputation as providers of the bravest and fiercest regiments in the British Army. At the onset of war no draft was required in Scotland, there was a veritable flood of volunteers. But the mood changed quickly when the scale of the carnage became apparent and streets, towns and villages were stripped of living young men.
In the years running up to the war, Glasgow was a city in political ferment. Brilliant orators like John MacLean attracted crowds of thousands to hear speeches advocating Marxist Socialism. And the evangelists of Socialism were casting the seeds of ideas on fertile ground. Glasgow, and in particular Clydeside, was the engine room of the British Empire. Half of all the world's shipping was built in shipyards on the Clyde.
But the workers who produced the goods lived in poverty, dirt and squalor. They worked 54-hour weeks for subsistence wages and the idea of having a more equal share of the vast profits generated by shipbuilding was, not unreasonably, an appealing one.
The war turned the screw but didn't shut off the rhetorical supply. The able men went off to the front and the remaining population of working age, including the womenfolk who traditionally stayed at home bringing up the family, were called on the make up the difference. Except, they were asked to strive harder, more labour for no more pay.
They weren't completely submissive. The Glasgow Rent Strike of 1915 demonstrated the power of organised labour and caused the government of Lloyd George to pass the Rent Restriction Act, setting rents at pre-war levels and forbidding landlords from raising them.
When the war was over, the troops returned to a city, where there was full employment and falling demand. If nobody was sinking ships, there was no requirement to build as many.
The unions agitated for change. Shortening the working week would mean more demand for labour. A 30-hour week with a guaranteed minimum wage of £1 a day was originally demanded. At a conference in Glasgow on January 18th 1919, the union leadership and the Clydeside shop stewards eventually compromised on a call for a 40-hour week with further reductions if this failed to provide the necessary number of jobs. They also agreed that a General Strike would be called for January 24th to concentrate the minds of the employers.
The call for a General Strike was completely successful and Glasgow's heavy industry came to a standstill. On Monday January 27th there was a mass march of striking workers to George Square and an open-air rally addressed by the strike leaders. On Wednesday 29th, there was another mass rally at George Square where a deputation of strikers met with the Lord Mayor. In good faith they accepted his promise of a response to their demands by the Friday and agreed to return to George Square to hear it.
The Establishment were no in a mood to compromise. Robert Munro, the secretary of state for Scotland, said that it was "a misnomer to call the situation in Glasgow a strike-it was a Bolshevist rising". Another cabinet minister revealed that "the King is in a funk and is talking about the danger of revolution."
So when the strikers reassembled in George Square on Friday 31st January, 1919, thousands of police armed with batons were lined up in the surrounding streets. And they stupidly attacked the assembled strikers.
Stupidly, because many of the striking men assembled were hardened war veterans. These men were unlikely to be intimidated by the short bits of wood wielded by the police. Pitched battles ensued and the striking workers uprooted iron railings and commandeered bottles from a passing lorry to use as weapons against the police.
The chief Constable tried to read the Riot Act but had it snatched out of his hands. Some of the strike leaders were beaten and arrested. The battle was fought in George Square and the surrounding streets. The police were heavily outnumbered and driven back.
The strikers regrouped and marched to Glasgow Green. They found the police waiting for them there and another pitch battle ensued. Once again the police were driven back.
The fighting went on through the day and into the night. The government called troops in to restore order. They were canny enough not to call on the Scottish Regiments in barracks in Maryhill. These troops were veterans of the war and likely to be sympathetic to the strikers. Instead they called up inexperienced English troops.
The sight of tanks and 10,000 armed soldiers on the streets of Glasgow restored order. Within a week, the strike was settled and a 47-hour working week agreed on.
Willie Gallacher, one of the leaders of the strike, is quoted as saying "we were carrying on a strike, when we ought to have been making a revolution".


Forum Staff
Jun 2006
An incident I freely admit I know nothing about. However I'm intrigued why the government would bother sending tanks to Glasgow to quell a 'riot'? I notice there are Whippets and at least one MkIV male in the photo. This is serious 'overkill' when a troop of armoured cars would have done the job as easily with a lot less effort. The strikers may have been veterans but they weren't armed. Seems a bit staged/propagandized to me.

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