Rent strikes

A lot has been written about the Glasgow rent strikes of 1915. In part this is because this is seen as one of the first big moments in the wave of working-class resistance and political organisation that became known as ‘Red Clydeside’. They are also an example of a grassroots movement that had an obvious, direct effect, as it influenced Parliament to pass the Rent Restrictions Act at the end of the year. And they are connected to many other significant movements, such as the anti-militarist and women’s suffrage campaigns.

However, the rent strikes are very interesting in their own right – not only as a prelude, and not only in terms of a parliamentary victory. They show that people can organise themselves to address the problems that affect them, practising solidarity and taking direct action. Women were not even allowed to vote – so they defined their own ways to be heard, not through a political system that excluded them, but by getting together with other people facing the same issues. If the landlords wanted to increase rents – they could refuse to pay. If their neighbours were going to be evicted – they could stop the bailiffs from coming in. In the process, their communities were strengthened and empowered.

As John Couzin has written,

The rent strikes were not led by any one person or group. This was a genuine popular struggle involving; women, housewives, the “National Unemployed Workers Movement”, militants, organised vigilantes, propagandists and housing associations. (Radical Glasgow)