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

Events

The General Strike on Clydeside 1926

image thumbnail

The General Strike, which lasted from 3 to 12 May 1926, was of course a national event, but one which depended on local response and organisation for what success it had. The decision to call a general strike was made by the council of the British Trades Union Congress in support of the miners who went on strike on 30 April against reduced wages and increased working hours imposed by the mine owners.

In Glasgow on Saturday 1 May there was a huge demonstration (estimated by the Daily Record at 25,000) through the city to a rally in Glasgow Green in support of the miners. This was to be expected in an area where trade unionism with a recent militant tradition was so strong. The relatively slight impact which the subsequent strike had on the city was because of the TUC's decision not to call out workers in the engineering and shipbuilding trades at the outset of the strike. Engineering and shipbuilding workers were eventually called out on Wednesday 12 May, but that was the day the General Strike was called off.

The main groups of workers who were called out on 3 May were those in transport (dockers, railwaymen, seamen, tramway, bus and underground workers), the printing trades and the building trades. The main impact of the strike in Glasgow, as elsewhere, was therefore the disruption of transport and the disappearance of the normal press, although for those directly involved in either the organisation or the breaking of the strike it was a significant political experience.

image thumbnail

The organisation of the strike in Glasgow was in the hands of the Trades Council which became, for the duration of the strike, the core of a Central Strike Coordinating Committee (CSCC). Seventeen local area strike committees were also formed as a means of keeping closely in touch with the rank and file strikers. The maintenance of communications was one of the main functions of the strike committees. Couriers carried instructions from the STUC, which was based in Glasgow, to the central and local strike committees and the trade unions, and back came reports of local support, strike-breaking incidents and requests for advice and help in solving problems which arose at local level.

image thumbnail

Many of these problems arose from ambiguities in instructions to unions where only some members were called out, and to whom exemptions had been granted by the TUC, e.g. to building workers involved in hospital and municipal housing. The CSCC had the job of deciding many of these individual cases.

image thumbnail

Food permits for the transport of essential food supplies were issued by the STUC. Picketing was organised by the unions who had their own strike committees. In Scotland the only distribution of general news to those involved in the strike were the four editions of the STUC strike bulletin, and the STUC warned strikers against believing news from any other source, especially the BBC. In the second week the STUC organised the publication of the Scottish Worker, which was compiled from general editorial material from the London-based Worker along with reports of local news from around Scotland.

image thumbnail

To the extent that it was called the General Strike was overwhelmingly supported in Glasgow, although some strikers did trickle back in the second week, especially in the tramways. The services that were still able to run during the strike were maintained and run by volunteers and non-striking staff members who were organised by the government's Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS).

The OMS took over the entire running of the Glasgow Corporation Tramways Department and unsurprisingly this operation was the main focus of the disturbances that were associated with the strike. Trams and buses were stopped in the street by strikers and/or sympathisers, and in the resulting clashes windows were broken and sometimes vehicles were more seriously damaged. The Corporation also subsequently paid a total of 2697 12s 9d to private haulier motor hirers and shopkeepers in compensation under the Riot Acts for damage incurred during the strike. The most serious incident occurred at the Ruby Street tram depot in the East End (where clashes between pickets and police were most common) when miners from Cambuslang turned up to picket and were met by a baton charge from police inside the depot.

The extent of student and volunteer involvement in strike-breaking is difficult to establish. The Students' Representative Council of Glasgow University proclaimed itself neutral, and the number of students involved was certainly not as high as in Edinburgh or St Andrews. Few references to the special constables survive: 41 were recruited in the Northern Division of the Glasgow Police from a very mixed bag of trades and professions. They were reviled by the strikers, even more than the regular police, but are commended for their courage in Douglas Grant's The Thin Blue Line, the history of the Glasgow police.

image thumbnail

The end of the strike was bitter for those most closely involved in its organisation and for those who lost jobs or union membership as a result. The Tramways Department refused to reinstate 316 employees, and George Outram Ltd and James Hedderwick & Son, the two main Glasgow newspaper publishers, refused to re-employ any union members. They maintained this position until the second world war. This tough line was not reflected in the tone of the Emergency Press which was produced on behalf of the six Glasgow daily papers. It emphasised any signs of weakening in the strike, just as the Scottish Worker emphasised signs of solidarity, but the Emergency Press used mildly denigrating cartoons to boost the morale of the working population and to undermine the spirit of the strikers who, in fact, were instructed to black it and anyone who sold it.

Previous  image thumbnail  Index  image thumbnail  Next

Glasgow Digital LibraryRED CLYDESIDEPEOPLEEVENTSGROUPSLITERATUREINDEX