Glasgow: The battle of George Square (1919)

On Friday 31 January 1919 upwards of 60,000 demonstrators gathered in George Square in support of the 40-hours strike and to hear the Lord Provost’s reply to the workers’ request for a 40-hour week. Whilst the deputation was in the building the police mounted a vicious and unprovoked attack on the demonstrators, felling unarmed men and women with their batons. The demonstrators, with the ex-servicemen to the fore, quickly retaliated with fists, iron railings and broken bottles, and forced the police into a retreat.

On hearing the noise from the square the strike leaders, who were meeting with the Lord Provost, rushed outside to restore order. One of the leaders, David Kirkwood, was felled to the ground by a police baton, and along with William Gallacher was arrested by the police.

After the initial confrontation between the demonstrators and the police in George Square, further fighting continued in and around the city centre streets for many hours afterwards. The Townhead area of the city and Glasgow Green, where many of the demonstrators had regrouped after the initial police charge, was the scene of running battles between police and demonstrators.

In the immediate aftermath of ‘Bloody Friday’, as it became known, other leaders of the Clyde Workers’ Committee were also arrested, including Emanuel Shinwell, Harry Hopkins and George Edbury.

Government concerns about industrial militancy and revolutionary political activity in Glasgow reached new heights after the events of 31 January 1919. Fears within government of a workers’ revolution in Glasgow led to the deployment of troops and tanks in the city.

An estimated 10000 English troops in total 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.

On 10 February 1919 the 40-hours strike was called off by the Joint Strike Committee. Whilst not achieving their stated aim of a 40-hour working week, the striking workers from the engineering and shipbuilding industries did return to work having at least negotiated an agreement that guaranteed them a 47-hour working week; 10 hours less than they were working prior to the strike.

Red Clydeside
July 26, 2011
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