Scotlands History

Red Clydeside

From the 1910s to the 1930s Glasgow, Paisley, Greenock and Clydebank were seen as a hotbed of Socialist ideas and protest.

People led protests against the First World War and organised rent strikes to fight dramatic rent increases. In June 1916 the rent strike leader Helen Crawfurd launched the Women’s Peace Crusade, which opposed the war.

Twenty-five thousand households refused to pay rent and hundreds of people turned out to stop evictions. The rent strikes forced the Government to rush through a Rent Restriction Act, freezing rents at pre-war levels.

Leaders of Red Clydeside included John Maclean, Mary Barbour, Agnes Dollen, Helen Crawfurd, David Kirkwood and Jessie Stephens.

I wish no harm to any human being, but I, as one man, am going to exercise my freedom of speech. No human being on the face of the earth, no government is going to take from me my right to speak, my right to protest against wrong, my right to do everything that is for the benefit of mankind.

John MacLean, May 1918

On 31 January 1919 a massive rally was held in George Square, in the heart of Glasgow. It is thought that as many as 90,000 men and women filled the square to support the campaign for a 40-hour week and better conditions for workers. The Red Flag was raised in the crowd. The police read the Riot Act and strike leaders were attacked. Tanks and soldiers were brought into Glasgow as the Government feared the protests would turn to revolution.

In the 1922 General Election a number of Red Clydesiders, including David Kirkwood, James Maxton, John Wheatley and Emanuel (‘Manny’) Shinwell, were elected to the House of Commons.

  • Crowds of striking workers crowding George Square as the Red Flag is raised, 1919
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