rentstrikes


Remembering the Glasgow Rent Strike and Mass March of 1915: A Victory for Class Unity

100 years ago, 17th of November 1915, thousands of women along with thousands of shipyard and engineering workers marched through the streets of Glasgow to the Sheriff’s Court and City Chambers. A victory celebration lay ahead.

In the Spring of that second year of the First World War, landlords of Clydeside had decided to milk more profit by increasing rents in their ill-maintained tenements. They figured that the women would helplessly comply while the men were taken up risking their lives at the front, or their health in the munitions factories. But the women were not having any of that!

Women didn’t have the vote yet, but they had courage and each other’s backs when they said – We are not removing! Word and deed united: sheriff officers got chucked into the midden, and the tenement back courts echoed with radical ideas and opposition to the war.

For the months to come, Govan women showed how powerful the working class can be when united against the capitalist system.

Soon Glasgow and Clydeside districts were propelled by a massive grass roots movement against those large rent increases imposed by the landlords. Over 25,000 tenants refused to pay the rent increase. The struggle spread to the Clydeside engineering workshops and shipyards, and to other cities in Scotland and Northern England.

The defiant mass march of 17 November sent shock waves all the way to Westminster. The state, fearful of the spread of strikes and radical protests, immediately passed the Rent Restriction Act of 1915 stopping rent rises for the duration of the war, plus 6 months after.

This was truly a victory of the working class over the ruling class– one that reverberated throughout the country, igniting hope for the future. It is a moment in our radical history we should not forget.

100 years on, the state continues to stir up war fever and flag-waving extravaganzas to distract us from major cuts to education and NHS while nuclear weapons system, Trident, gets full funding.

Like the rent strikers, we need to organise and fight back: to speak truth to power.

The rent strikers took inspiration from all those who resist capitalism, imperialism, and militarism. They exchanged news, gave speeches, wrote pamphlets, and took to the streets believing in the power of international working class solidarity and women’s liberation.

Their courage back then means something for each of us today. Their example is ours to follow.

On 17 November, 2015, at 12pm, there will be a Walk of Pride from the Dewar’s statue in Buchanan Street to the City Chambers, George Square. This action is a tribute to the 1915 mass march, and to rent strikes as a tool of struggle throughout the world. It is being held in conjunction with Spirit of Revolt’s November archival exhibition at the Mitchell Library, The Glasgow Rent Strike:100 Years On; the Scottish Peace Network‘s Counter-Centenary Project; and the ongoing work of the Clydeside branch of the Industrial Workers of the World.

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Film screening 1

4 June 2015

Govan screening banner

Document Human Rights Film FestivalSpirit of RevoltScottish Peace NetworkIndustrial Workers of the World (IWW)

Present

We are not removing! Two films and a blether for the centenary of the 1915 Rent Strikes

Pearce Institute, Thursday 4 June 2015, 7pm

Free / donations welcome / Refreshments provided / Free crèche (please book)

Fairfield Heritage Centre (located a short walk away) will be open before the event

The 1915 rent strikes, which started in the back-courts of Govan tenements, were a famous victory in the ongoing struggle for decent, affordable housing, and an example of working-class solidarity in action. While the workers were risking their lives at the front, or their health in the munitions factories of the First World War, the landlords tried to increase the rents. But the women were not having any of that. They didn’t have the vote yet, but they had each other’s backs when they said – We are not removing!

Films:

Red Skirts on Clydeside (1984, 43min)

Introduced by filmmaker Jenny Woodley

When this film was made, the importance of women in the history of social movements on the Clyde had been all but forgotten. The filmmakers bring this history back from the archives through interviews with women who knew Mary Barbour, Helen Crawfurd, and Agnes Dollan. Hear how the sheriff officers got chucked into the midden and how the tenement back courts echoed with radical ideas!

You Play Your Part (2011, 24min)

Introduced by filmmaker Kirsten MacLeod

Twenty-seven years after the original film was made, Govan women reflect on their lives and roles by the Clyde in a unique collaborative women’s history film project.

There will be some time and refreshments between the films for anyone interested in the rent strikes centenary or in contemporary housing issues to meet and chat.

Free crèche will be available, please contact the organisers to book a place.

Fairfield Heritage Centre will be open until 7pm on this evening. A short walk from the Pearce Institute, featuring displays on shipbuilding and local history, including the rent strikes, in A-listed shipyard offices: http://www.fairfieldgovan.co.uk/heritage/

Earlier that day there is an event at Glasgow University on film and history, including films about the UCS work-in, Pollok Free State, and the Govanhill Baths. Please click here for details.

Download the flyer


‘A Grateful Country Will Never Forget You’

Document: C. A. Glyde, Pamphlets for the People. No. 5, A grateful country will never forget you. Bradford, 1915. Warwick Digital Collections, Maitland Sara Hallinan collection

Available online: A grateful country will never forget you
Comment

The real enemy of the workers in every so-called civilised country is Capitalism and Landlordism, in the guise of rent, interest, dividend, and profit-mongering. (p. 12)

As war dragged on into 1915, the effects of wartime profiteering were plain to see. The cost of living was rising –  not only rents, but many other essentials. The assistance that had been promised to soldiers’ families was slow to come, and insufficient. More people had to seek aid from charitable organisations or the Parish, which meant being subject to them policing your behaviour and stopping support if you were accused of any ‘immorality’.

This pamphlet, published in Bradford by an Independent Labour Party councillor in June 1915, makes a case against militarism and documents the situation at that point. The author argues that  the romantic view of heroism and patriotism is used by the State for recruitment, but once the war is over, those promises to soldiers and their families, as well as all the workers involved in the war effort, are swiftly forgotten. He refers back to the case of soldiers who fought in Crimea and South Africa, “thrown on one side like sucked lemons”, rejected for jobs and receiving 5 shillings a week (about £15).

Separation Allowance rates. Imperial War Museum.

Separation Allowance rates. Imperial War Museum.

In March 1915, the separation allowance for a soldier’s wife was 12s 6d (£27). As Glyde argues,

Since the war started not only have many of the dependants of those on active service been half starved, but they have also been harried by charity visitors, some of whom have behaved worse than the most hardened Poor Law relieving officer. They have also been publicly exposed for their supposed drinking habits (…) Magistrates have passed restriction orders which prevented women from entering public-houses during certain hours of the day. (p. 9)

On top of this, the capitalists were exploiting the war situation to raise prices and extract more profit from the consumers’ pockets. In his example from a family of five living in London, Glyde shows that in the first five months of war the price of groceries and coal had gone up by about 20%.

In his conclusion, the author points out that the capitalists who now speak of ‘patriotism’ “know as much about the principle as a crocodile knows about arithmetic”, and their patriotism is sordid and selfish, creating exploitation, starvation, and exclusion.

The “Patriots” allow millions of human beings (…) to be herded together in slums. No attempt has been made to properly house these millions owing to the hostility of the slum owners and propertied classes. We were told that the money could not be found to build them (…) yet money can be found to run a war at a cost of three millions a day, and bomb shells are being used at a cost of £1,000 each. (p. 19)


Falkirk Herald, 24 April 1915: The War Relief Fund fails Glasgow families

A very important factor in boosting recruitment at the start of WW1 was the promise that soldiers’ families would be looked after, with the institution of a Separation Allowance. This was a meagre amount and many families had to rely on other forms of support. The Prince of Wales fund was one such initiatives, and national campaigns had been carried out to collect money for it. However, this was a centralised fund, and Scottish families soon found that it was much harder to get money from it than it was to donate to it! This article describes the establishment of a local fund to support soldiers’ families. A Liberal ex-Provost,  Samuel Chisholm was one of the founders.

Full text below. From the British Newspaper Archive.

Screenshot from 2015-04-24 15:59:16

GLASGOW AND WAR RELIEF. Prince of Wales Fund and Payment of Rents. Institution of Local Fund. As a result the dissatisfaction with the distribution of Glasgow contribution to the National Relief Fund a largely attended and representative meeting of citizens was held in the City Chambers. The object of the meeting was the establishment of a local fund, which is to be available for augmenting and supplementing the assistance now being given to the wives and other dependants of soldiers and sailors in cases where the separation allowances were not sufficient. The National Relief Fund in London had declined to supply the funds for the payment of rents of four shillings a week and under in necessitous cases, the sum required being approximately £5OOO per month. The Lord Provost was accompanied by the Duchess of Montrose, Lord Blythswood, Sir Archibald Campbell of Succoth; Sir Samuel and Lady Chisholm. Sir D. M. Stevenson, Bart.; Sir Archibald M’lnnes Shaw, Sir Chas. Bine-Renshaw. and others. Explaining the position, the Lord Provost said that after the outbreak of the war the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association fell somewhat into the background before the Prince of Wales’ Fund, which, they were led to believe, would advance all the necessary money towards the relief of the dependants ofsoldiers and sailors. till a fortnight ago that fund supplied Glasgow alt the money needed, though some months ago the fund authorities intimated that they could not permit of rents being paid. One the greatest comforts to the absent husbands was undoubtedly the fact that they knew that, whatever happened, their wives and children would always have their homes, and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families Association felt that if any relief was to be given the relief in providing home was the most necessary thing to be given. They were, therefore, assembled to take steps to carry out what the Prince of Wales’ Fund would not allow them to do – to keep faith with the men who had gone to the front, for Glasgow citizens would nor allow any man come back and find he had no home to come to. (Applause.) GLASGOW’S REBELLION. Sir Samuel Chisholm, on behalf of the Glasgow Branch of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families association, explained that the local Executive had protested and remonstrated against the withholding of money because part of it was to go in payment of rent. -A month’s grace was granted by the London Executive, who, however, repeated the injunction that rent was not to be paid. It was against that that the Glasgow Association had not only protested, but had now rebelled. (Applause.) They declined to accede to that for two reasons. First, because it was cruel and unjust to the women in question ; and, second, because they were certain that there was no surer way of restricting that recruiting for their Army which the welfare of the Empire depended than treating in this cruel way the wives and dependants of the soldiers and sailors. (Applause.) He did not believe there was any German spy the Committee, or any pro-German, but he thought that no German could devise a more effective way to stop recruiting, and injuring and impeding the action of our Army, than the action of the National Relief Committee in connection with their Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Fund. (Hear, hear.) Mr William Hutchison, LL.B., pointed out that they were not asking the public to pay the rent of everybody whose people were at the war, but of women who had no children and were getting 12s 6d a week, of mothers whose sons were the war, and those other dependants where the allowances were not sufficient. The action of the Prince of Wales’ Fund in refusing to pay the rents of these people might almost be characterised as another German atrocity. (Hear, hear.) LOCAL FUND INAUGURATED. It was moved Sir Charles Bine Renshaw that the meeting, being satisfied that there was urgent need for the raising of a fund in Glasgow, apart from the National Relief Fund, which would be available for augmenting and supplementing assistance given for the wives and children and other dependants of soldiers and sailors in cases where the separation allowance was not sufficient, request the Lord Provost to open such a fund, and commend it to  the support of the public. There was doubt, Sir Charles declared, that localities needed full freedom to consider local requirements. The proposed fund would be administered locally by those who had graduated in administrative difficulties. Sir Arch. M’lnnes Shaw seconded, and the resolution was adopted. DONATION FROM LORD NEWLANDS. Amid applause, the Lord Provost, having announced that Sir D. M. Stevenson had offered to contribute £6O a month long as it was required, read letter from Lord Newlands,  regretting his inability to be present, in the course of which he stated that it seemed to him monstrous that Glasgow herself should be allowed no voice at all in the allocation the immense War Relief Fund which the great generosity of her citizens had so  splendidly provided. Of all the claims which there were upon them in connection with war relief, there could be none more deserving than the maintenance of the homes of our heroes on active service. Those them who, unfortunately, could not keep the flag flying the front were bound to do what they could keep the homes going here. (Applause.) […] At the close of the meeting it was intimated that the donations to the new fund amounted £5021.”


Forward, 13 Feb 1915

More Trouble Brewing for the Working Class

This article in the Independent Labour Party’s newspaper, Forward, shows that at the beginning of 1915 there were clear signs that the landlords were organising to keep rent prices high by creating an insured compensation for unlet properties, and that Glasgow Corporation further exacerbated the housing shortage by rejecting the ILP’s proposal to build new houses with the surplus generated by the tramways.

Images from Glasgow Digital Library