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

Events

Political and Industrial Repression on Clydeside

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In October 1915 John Maclean, Clydeside revolutionary and Marxist, was arrested for the first time under the Defence of the Realm Act 1915 (DORA) and charged with uttering statements calculated to prejudice recruiting. Maclean was found guilty and fined 5, but declined to pay the fine and instead was sentenced to five days imprisonment. The conviction of Maclean, a Glasgow schoolteacher, was immediately followed by dismissal from his post as a teacher by the Govan Board of Education. From this point onwards Maclean devoted himself full-time to the cause of revolutionary Marxism in Scotland.

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In February 1916 John Maclean was again arrested under DORA and charged with six separate offences of sedition in relation to anti-conscription speeches he had made at open-air meetings throughout the Clydeside region during January and February of 1916. On 11 April Maclean was found guilty on four of the charges brought against him and sentenced to three years penal servitude.

In March 1916 an article appeared in The Worker, the newspaper of the Clyde Workers' Committee, entitled "Should the workers arm?". Soon afterwards William Gallacher (chairman of the CWC and member of the British Socialist Party), Walter Bell (business manager of the Socialist Labour Press and member of the Socialist Labour Party), and John Muir (editor of 'The Worker') were arrested and charged under DORA with the offence of intending to cause sedition. At their trial in April 1916 all three were found guilty and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment each.

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In March 1916 an open-air meeting was held in Glasgow Green in opposition to the Military Services Act and the introduction of conscription. The speakers at this meeting included James Maxton, Independent Labour Party activist, James MacDougall, Brisith Socialist Party activist, and Jack Smith, a Clydeside anarchist. On the days following this meeting these three men were arrested and charged under DORA with the offence of intending to cause sedition. At their subsequent trial in April 1916, at the same Edinburgh High Court and before the same judge and lord advocate as the defendants in 'The Worker' trial, all three men were found guilty and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment.

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The introduction of the Defence of the Realm Act allowed the government to mount a concerted campaign against the leading socialists and militant trade unionist figures in the Clydeside region. Under DORA, freedom of speech became a casualty of the war and the government used the clauses in this act to successfully deport, prosecute and imprison those who it feared were spreading discontent amongst workers in the munitions districts.

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In June 1917 the prime minister David Lloyd-George visited Glasgow to receive the freedom of the city and was met by a large hostile crowd protesting at the imprisonment of John Maclean. At the ceremony at St. Andrews Halls in Glasgow, Lloyd-George had to be escorted under heavy police and military guard. The following day John Maclean was released from prison on ticket of leave having served 14 months and 22 days of a three-year sentence.

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Following the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in October 1917, John Maclean was appointed Consul for Soviet Affairs in Great Britain in February 1918. He opened an office for the consulate at 12 Portland Street, Glasgow, but this was not recognised by the British authorities, and Maclean and staff at the consulate were to suffer frequent intimidation and harassment by the authorities. In April the police raided the offices of the consulate and arrested John Maclean under DORA on 11 charges, all related to attempting to cause mutiny, sedition and disaffection amongst the civilian population.

At his trial at Edinburgh High Court in May 1918, Maclean defended himself and declared "I am not here as the accused, I am here as the accuser of capitalism, dripping with blood from head to foot". Maclean was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to a period of five years penal servitude. In July 1918 Maclean, fearing that his prison food was being interfered with, began a hunger strike. A national campaign for his release gathered momentum, and large demonstrations were held in London, Leeds, and throughout Scotland.

On 11 November 1918 the armistice was signed and the first world war ended with the allies victorious and Germany defeated. On 3 December John Maclean was released from prison on ticket of leave and was granted a royal pardon by the King for his two prison sentences of 1916 and 1918. Maclean rejected the free pardon by the King, telling the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that it was the workers who campaigned on his behalf that earned him his freedom and not the King.

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