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Not so red

Ideas of reaction and bigotry can often be just as powerful as those of solidarity and class unity. The celebrated Forty Hours Strike in 1919, when English tanks occupied the centre of Glasgow and which culminated at the ‘Battle of George Square’ also witnessed violent anti-black rioting. On 23 January 1919, tensions among dock workers at the Broomielaw over the ‘employment of Chinese and alien coloured seamen on British ships’ spilled over into a battle with sailors from Sierra Leone, with ‘revolvers and knifes’ used. The role of the two seamen’s unions on the Broomielaw was essentially of deep seated hostility to immigrant labour, which they saw as driving down wages and conditions. Shipping companies did exploit the differentiation in wages between white and African workers, yet it’s unclear if much attempt was made to challenge this by the organised Left or from within the labour movement. The racist riots were ignored by Forward and the Socialist Labour Party’s The Socialist.


David Kirkwood was one of the men feared by an establishment which believed him capable of igniting a Bolshevik revolution in Britain and who once famously warned that "the socialist republic would be established at the point of a bayonet'. In the “Battle of George Square” Kirkwood had a policeman crack him on the head with a baton, knocking him unconscious. As chairman of the shop stewards committee at Beardmore's Kirkwood came to be forever linked with Red Clydeside through a series of war-time strikes against the introduction (dilution) of unskilled workers to do skilled engineers jobs. Nevertheless, Kirkwood took pride in the productivity records achieved by the Beardmore's workforce. He was able to say: "What a team! There never was anything like it in Great Britain. We organised a bonus system in which everyone benefited by high production. Records were made only to be broken. In six weeks we held the record for output in Great Britain, and we never lost our premier position.''

Kirkwood was one of 29 Labour MPs elected in Scotland at the 1922 election. He remained in Parliament until 1951. He then became Baron Kirkwood of Bearsden.

Local children would sing this ditty:
“Vote, vote, vote for Davie Kirkwood,
Vote, vote, vote for all his men,
Then we'll buy a tommy gun,
And we'll make the Tories run,
And you'll never see a Tory again."

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