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


Petition for the release of CWC leaders, 31 Jan 1919

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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 ex-servicemen to the fore, quickly retaliated with fists, iron railings and broken bottles, and forced the police into a retreat.

During the ensuing riot many demonstrators and policemen were injured and the leaders of the 40 hour strike were arrested and charged with incitement to riot. These leaders included Emanuel Shinwell, William Gallacher and David Kirkwood. At their joint trial in April 1919 at the High Court in Edinburgh the jury failed to be convinced by the defence of both Shinwell and Gallacher who were found guilty and sentenced to five months and three months imprisonment respectively. The charges against Davie Kirkwood were dropped when his defence was able to produce photographic evidence which showed him being felled by a police baton before he could make his way out to George Square. This photograph undoubtedly saved Kirkwood from the same fate as his co-accused.

Feelings ran high in Glasgow after the sentencing of the strike leaders and their was widespread anger that the actions of the police, who many observers viewed as the real cause of incitement to riot that day, were not called into question. A petition was started calling for the release of the jailed strike leaders and although it was a success in terms of the large numbers who signed it, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Robert Munro refused to entertain the release of Shinwell and Gallacher. This is perhaps not surprising given that during the 40 hours strike he was quoted as describing the strike as a " Bolshevist uprising".