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


The 40 Hours Strike 1919

The 40 Hours strike led by the Clyde Workers' Committee (CWC) was the most radical strike seen on Clydeside in terms of both its tactics and its demands. The objectives of the strike were overtly political; they were to secure a reduction of weekly working hours to 40 in order that discharged soldiers could be found employment, and to stop the re-emergence of an unemployed reserve, thereby maintaining the strength of labour against capital.

The leaders of the CWC had repudiated a nationally negotiated 47-hour week agreement that had been reached between the engineering employers and officials from the engineering and shipbuilding trade unions. The CWC had also gained widespread support amongst workers and other important trade union bodies within the Clydeside area for their demands for a 40-hour working week.

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Initially Clydeside employers were unconcerned about the strike, the feeling being that the strike was the result of an internecine dispute between official and unofficial trade union leaders and that this was little to do with them. Both the government and trade union officials were also initially unconcerned, feeling that without official support the strike would quickly peter out.

These positions were to change dramatically four days into the strike. By 30 January 1919 40,000 workers in the engineering and shipbuilding industries in Clydeside were out on strike. In addition electricity supply workers in Glasgow had also gone on strike in sympathy, as had 36,000 miners in the Lanarkshire and Stirlingshire coalfields. It was reported that during the first week of the strike not a single trade in the Clydeside area was left unaffected by strike action. The rapid spread of the strike was attributed to the large-scale deployment of flying pickets by the CWC, largely made up of discharged servicemen.

On 29 January 1919, after a rally of strikers in Glasgow and a march to George Square, a deputation from the CWC managed to secure a meeting with the Lord Provost of Glasgow. At this meeting the strike leaders requested that the Lord Provost ask the Council to compel employers to grant workers a 40-hour week. The Lord Provost was unable or unwilling to give the deputation a reply to their question without consulting colleagues, and asked them to return on 31 January when he assured them he would be able give them a reply.

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