Red Clydeside: A history of the labour movement in Glasgow 1910-1932


Leaflet entitled 'The Rent Fight: past and present', 1920

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Even before the outbreak of the first world war, housing had been a contentious political issue in Glasgow because of the inadequacy of housing conditions and the nature of exploitative housing laws which allowed landlords to summarily evict tenants in arrears of rent and allowed landlords to confiscate the possessions of tenants in lieu of arrears. Between 1910 and 1914 a virtual class war was being waged between tenants and landlords in working class districts of the city. Rent collectors, locally known as factors, had the lowest opinion of local tenants reporting to a housing commission that 'the root of the evil in the housing of the poor is the thriftlessness, intemperance and want of self respect of a considerable class among the tenant occupants'.

The outbreak of war and the mass influx of workers into munitions areas throughout 1915 put strains on available housing and led very quickly to acute housing shortages in working class areas of the city. This new demand for housing was seen by landlords as an opportune moment to increase rents in these districts, however tenants committees were quickly formed to fight the increases in rents and a campaign of non-payment of rents was started. At the height of the rent strikes all of the main munitions districts of Glasgow, including Partick, Govan, Shettleston, Ibrox and Parkhead, were affected, and upwards of 20,000 tenants where involved in the campaign of non-payment of rents.

By December 1915, with the threat to war production on the Clyde uppermost in their minds, the government led by Lloyd-George was forced to introduce legislation which not only prevented further rent increases in munitions districts but also established rent levels at pre-war levels for the duration of hostilities.