Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

17/9/2004

Bloody Friday

It’s a fact. During the First Great European War of 1914-1918, no country lost more people in combat, as a proportion of population, than Scotland.

Before the war commenced, the Scots were proud of their reputation as providers of the bravest and fiercest regiments in the British Army. At the onset of war no draft was required in Scotland, there was a veritable flood of volunteers. But the mood changed quickly when the scale of the carnage became apparent and streets, towns and villages were stripped of living young men.

In the years running up to the war, Glasgow was a city in political ferment. Brilliant orators like John MacLean attracted crowds of thousands to hear speeches advocating Marxist Socialism. And the evangelists of Socialism were casting the seeds of ideas on fertile ground. Glasgow, and in particular Clydeside, was the engine room of the British Empire. Half of all the world’s shipping was built in shipyards on the Clyde.

But the workers who produced the goods lived in poverty, dirt and squalor. They worked 54-hour weeks for subsistence wages and the idea of having a more equal share of the vast profits generated by shipbuilding was, not unreasonably, an appealing one.

The war turned the screw but didn’t shut off the rhetorical supply. The able men went off to the front and the remaining population of working age, including the womenfolk who traditionally stayed at home bringing up the family, were called on the make up the difference. Except, they were asked to strive harder, more labour for no more pay.

Women making grenades – Glasgow 1916

They weren’t completely submissive. The Glasgow Rent Strike of 1915 demonstrated the power of organised labour and caused the government of Lloyd George to pass the Rent Restriction Act, setting rents at pre-war levels and forbidding landlords from raising them.

When the war was over, the troops returned to a city, where there was full employment and falling demand. If nobody was sinking ships, there was no requirement to build as many.

The unions agitated for change. Shortening the working week would mean more demand for labour. A 30-hour week with a guaranteed minimum wage of £1 a day was originally demanded. At a conference in Glasgow on January 18th 1919, the union leadership and the Clydeside shop stewards eventually compromised on a call for a 40-hour week with further reductions if this failed to provide the necessary number of jobs. They also agreed that a General Strike would be called for January 24th to concentrate the minds of the employers.

For more go to the link on the rhs

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