Showing posts with label Glasgow. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Glasgow. Show all posts

Monday, August 05, 2013

Remembrance


Sixteen million people died in the First World War. No fewer than  one in 40 of the nine million British and  Commonwealth troops came from the single city of Glasgow. 200,000 men from Glasgow fought, 17,695 were killed and many many more were wounded with lasting injuries and lost limbs. We should remember the futility of their deaths in “the war to end wars”

16,000  British  men are recorded as being conscientious  objectors. The Richmond Sixteen  were 16 men taken from  Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire where the Non-Combatant Corps was based, to an  army camp in northern France, refused to  unload supplies. They were court-martialled  and, as an example to others, sentenced to  death by Lord Kitchener. They were  only saved from this fate by Kitchener’s own sudden death and the prime minister,  Asquith, who  their sentence to  10 years’ hard labour. We should remember the social stigma these heroes had to bear for the rest of  their lives.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Facts of the Day

An estimated 36,367 children in the Glasgow City Council area are living below the poverty line, according to the research.

Statistics from the Scottish Government last month revealed 710,000 people north of the border - including 150,000 children - were living in relative poverty in 2011-12.

The number of people sleeping rough on the streets of Scotland exceeds 1,700. The highest numbers of rough sleepers are in the Edinburgh and Dundee council areas, Edinburgh had 363 rough sleeper cases and Dundee had 97.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Anarchism in Glasgow

Some may find this article on the history of anarchist and socialist activity in Glasgow of interest.

The earliest known Glasgow anarchist history centres around the figure of Duncan Dundonald, a Clydeside-based engineering worker who is said to have met Mikhail Bakunin in Geneva in 1869, translated the Revolutionary Catechism in 1870, and then returned to Scotland to carry out anarchist propaganda and revolutionary sabotage. His obscurity to later generations of Glasgow anarchists could be related to the fact that he emigrated to Australia, possibly in the 1890s, where he settled in Melbourne and continued his activities under the assumed name of Donald Duncan.

In 1884 was the founding of the Social Democratic Federation branch in Glasgow. Many of those involved in the SDF had been members of the Democratic Club and/or the Republican Club in the city, and were in the main ardently anti-parliamentarian. This caused divisions as happened elsewhere, and when William Morris broke away to form the more vibrant Socialist League, most Glasgow SDF members simply de-camped to the new body. Branches then quickly appeared in other parts of Scotland.

In 1886 there was the visit to Glasgow of Peter Kropotkin. In 1888,  Lucy Parsons, partner of Albert Parsons, one of the executed Haymarket martyrs. Emma Goldman made her firstvisit in 1894. Voltairine de Cleyre in 1897 and 1903

By 1937, there were 3 groups of libertarians in Glasgow, Aldred's United Socialist Movement, Wm McDougall's Anti-Parlimentarian Communist Federation and Anarchist Federation of Frank Leech.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ca' Canny

The Libcom website has an interesting working class history article on the Glasgow dockers "ca' canny" go slow campaign of 1889.

To break strikes the employers regularly brought in scabs from other cities. Workers had to devise another industrial struggle strategy.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Talking socialism

Cde Donnelly will open the March 20th Branch talk with the subject The Rise of Chinese Capitalism

Cde Cumming will open the April 17th Branch talk with the subject The Curse of Capitalism

The proposed Day School programme
Saturday, 11th May

 POLITICS TODAY

1pm to 2.15pm The Rise of Scottish Nationalism Vic Vanni
2.15pm to 3.30pm The Occupy Movement John Cumming
3,45pm to 5pm The Threat of War Brian Gardner

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Global Govanhill

Govanhill on the south side of Glasgow is home to some 15,000 has people from an estimated 42 different nationalities living within one square mile. Why Govanhill?  The availability of cheap, private-let housing is one practical reason. Also, immigration is self-perpetuating – the presence of an established community makes it more likely others will come and settle. Govanhill was at one time a mining village outside Glasgow. It started to expand significantly from 1837 with the foundation of the Govan Iron Works, known to this day, even though it is long gone, as Dixon’s Blazes. The Irish also began to arrive in Glasgow in large numbers at around this time, estimated at more than 1,000 people a week during 1848 – escaping the famine and seeking employment. In the 1960s, with the demolition of the Gorbals tenements, a second wave of Irish moved to Govanhill. At the end of the 19th century, heavy industry began to draw Jews from Poland and Lithuania. Significant immigration from the Indian sub-continent, in particular from Pakistan, was a phenomenon first observed in the 1960s and 1970s. The sheer numbers of Irish and Asians living in Govanhill during this period led to the area being nicknamed Bengal/Donegal.

Along Allison Street you can daunder up and down and hear not a word of Glaswegian, spoken. It’s all Urdu, Romani, Slovak, Polish, Czech, Somali, Igbo and more. Much of the shop front signage is in Arabic. Completely dominant is the presence of food and drink. A smell of spice and other aromas so strong you can taste it: haleem; nihari; fried fish; dried fish; chana chat; chips; and, of course from the pubs the reek of beer. Available is lado, barfi and gulab jamun (balls of dough, deep-fried and dipped in syrup) or ewa agoyin – a Nigerian dish of beans and stew. Italian Scots  established so many beloved chippies and ice-cream parlours. The Asian immigrants started to arrive in the 1970s. Pakistan was the main country of origin, very few Indians.  There are  biryanis, daal, mustard-leaf saag and curry options, about half of which include meat on the bone – the traditional way of doing it, with way more flavour and naan bread. Also now on the multi-cultural menu is goja, a Romani word, the bowel of a pig stuffed with potatoes and garlic, then boiled or fried.

Since 2004, when Slovakia and the Czech Republic joined the EU, another ingredient has added flavour to the Govanhill melting pot – the Roma people. There are thought to be around 3,000 in the area, and in some parts of the district they appear to be the most populous group; one local primary school has a majority eastern European population and very few English-speaking pupils. The first Roma in Glasgow were asylum seekers from Slovakia, escaping racial hatred. Most, now, are economic migrants, coming from villages in the region of Michalovce. In Glasgow, they have found casual work in potato and chicken processing factories, though, increasingly, jobs are hard to come by. Romanian nationals have very restricted access to the benefits system, and there is anecdotal evidence that some Roma from that country, now living in Govanhill, cannot afford to feed themselves and thus go through the bins of private residences and shops, looking for food.

Kelly’s is one of a number of pubs in the area which cater to those remnants of the Irish population once so dominant here. Tony Mai Gallagher, 71, from Kincasslagh, Donegal moved to Glasgow in 1954 at the age of 12. He well remembers the anti-Irish, anti-Catholic prejudice of his earlier years, and this experience softens him towards the Roma. "Harmony is what we need.” he says

Taken from here

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

"Send them Back"

Professor Tom Devine, director of the Scottish Centre of Diaspora Studies at Edinburgh University, welcomed plans for a planned monument in Glasgow to commemerate the 100,000 who fled to the city to escape starvation in Ireland in the 1840s. But he warned that it must not be "founded on comforting myth and unproven beliefs".

Far from highlighting Glasgow's generosity, almost 50,000 immigrants were sent back to Ireland.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Education - a fail mark

Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh came joint first in Scotland, (along with Glasgow’s Jordanhill School), after figures released showed 69 per cent of S5 pupils obtained three Highers or more. A few miles away not one student left either Wester Hailes Education Centre or Castlebrae Community High with a Higher, let alone the qualifications needed for a university place.

In Glasgow, just 5 per cent of students at Govan High School obtained three or more Highers, while schools in deprived areas of Aberdeen and Dundee also performed poorly.

Meanwhile Scotland's university for the elite, St Andrews, where Prince William and Kate Middleton studied, is accused of failing to enrol students from the poorest backgrounds - only 13 students from the most deprived backgrounds of the country in 2010/11 – 2.7% of the student intake.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Without the Rose-tinted Glasses


This rather unsympathetic article by Gary Girod about Red Clydeside is of interest and a rich source of facts and details.

The Background

For many years, the Left have painted a picture of Glasgow and Red Clydeside as a revolution that almost was. Some have argued that the unrest in Glasgow during WWI and the immediate post-war period was a prelude to the establishment of a workers' republic in Scotland. Willie Gallacher's said of the 40 Hours' Movement that "we were carrying on a strike when we ought to have been making a revolution." Memoirs written decades after the 1914-1919 period and the government's hysteria paint a picture of Clydeside which was far more revolutionary in hindsight than it ever was in reality. In 1983 Iain McLean's "The Legend of the Red Clydeside" asserted that Red Clydeside was neither a revolution nor "a class movement; it was an interest-group movement." Glasgow was not Petrograd and it never could have been. Its goal to maintain the standard of living in Glasgow as the war strained the economy. According to the 1916 STUC report, the cost of living between July 1914 to July 1915 increased by 35% while food prices increased by 17% in small towns and 19% in cities.This would prove to be but a mere taste of the war's costs for the lower class. By December 1917, food prices had increased 106% while the cost of living increased by 85% to 90% as compared with pre-war levels. Workers' wages did not even come close to keeping up with this inflation. By April 1917, skilled laborers' wage increased by only 50%.

In 1913, for the first time in the history of Great Britain, a census of production catalogued the wealth of Great Britain. According to the report the £712,000,000 that formed the net output of Great Britain was divided between 6,984,976 workers, which would mean that if this wealth was divided evenly, each person would make  £102 per year. However, the average wage of workers in Great Britain was "officially stated to be not more than 24 shillings per week, or  £62 4/- per annum. Thus in 1907, the British worker was generous enough to pay the manufacturer  £40 per annum for the privilege of working to produce wealth. The Scottish Trades Union Congress uses the findings of the report to calculate the inequality amongst engineers and determined that the "net output per person employed [was]  £108." Meanwhile, the average annual wage of engineers was £67. "There is the simple answer, £41 per employed person to the capitalist." The 1920 Manifesto of the Socialist Labour Party notes that "of the wealth produced in this country, roughly £1,700,000,000 per annum, the workers' share is, according to capitalist authorities, less than £665,000,000 so that the working class gets little more than a third of the wealth produced." The manifesto would conclude that "this is wage-slavery."

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Glasgow Effect


"It's a human tragedy on a massive scale," says Gerry McCartney, an epidemiologist at NHS Scotland.

David Walsh, a lead researcher at Glasgow Centre for Population Health adds: "You are talking about thousands of people dying before their time."

Whether it is deaths from cirrhosis, drug abuse, lung cancer, murder or suicide, Glasgow's mortality rates are easily the highest in Britain, and among the highest in Europe. Life expectancy at birth in Glasgow is the lowest in the UK – more than six years below the national average for Glaswegian men (71.6 years, compared with a UK average of 78.2 years), and more than four years below average for Glasgow's women (78 years, compared with the UK average of 82.3). And because Glasgow is home to more than 10% of Scotland's total population, with nearly 600,000 people in the city itself, and more than a million in the greater Glasgow area, Glasgow's problems are very much Scotland's problems.

Despite years of research and decades of evidence that something has gone terribly wrong in the heart of Scotland's largest city, the underlying causes of Glasgow's fatally poor health remain something of a scientific mystery.  Deprivation accounts for less than half (around 40%) of Glasgow's "mortality gap" compared with the rest of the UK. The other causes are still unknown.  There are no fewer than 17 competing explanations for Glasgow's ill health.

Glasgow's city boundaries contain some of Britain's most deprived neighbourhoods. Liverpool and Manchester, for example – have rates of deprivation every bit as high as Glasgow, yet their life expectancies are substantially higher. Glaswegians neither binge-drink nor smoke more than their peers in Liverpool or Manchester. What's more, even Glasgow's most affluent citizens, those in the top 10% of the income distribution, die significantly younger than their counterparts in other British cities.  Obesity rates in the city are actually lower than in some English cities.

Drug abuse (particularly heroin), knife crime, murder and suicide are all significantly more prevalent in Glasgow than in other cities. What is it about life in Glasgow that seems to predispose some of its citizens to such destructive behaviours?

Socialist Courier has documented the evidence that the type of society we live in - capitalism - and the suffering inflicted in the past, can be seen as a culprit for the Glasgow Effect

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Grin and bear it

WhatClinic.com surveyed more than 3000 private dentists in the UK, including 50 in Glasgow and 30 in Edinburgh. Overall, it found that the average cost of a standard check-up in private dental practices has risen by 22 per cent in just one year.

Private dental patients in Edinburgh are paying almost double the cost of treatment in Glasgow, it has been claimed. The average cost of a standard consultation in the city has risen to £74 – the second highest rate in Britain – compared with just £27 in Scotland’s second city. There is also a wide disparity in the cost of more complex procedures, with a bridge costing £443 in Edinburgh compared with £293 in Glasgow, dentures set patients back £473 compared with £260 while a dental implant costs an average of £2273 in the Capital – more than £800 more than in the west.

Overall, private healthcare comparison company WhatClinic.com said that patients in the Capital were having to fork out an average of 42 per cent more for treatment compared with their Glasgow  counterparts.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Past Reflections 3

 It’s a pity that there is so little written information about the history of Glasgow branch. However,  when I joined in 1963 there were still two founder members of the branch  and some other members who knew stories about the branch’s early days while the old minute books contained some really fascinating tales, but be warned, what I can tell is mostly hearsay. 

There may have been individual members in Glasgow before the branch was formed because in 1907 the SOCIALIST STANDARD carried details of seven newsagents in the city where the S/S could be obtained.

The founding of the branch was reported in the December 1924 issue of the S/S, but branch details in the S/S vanished in August 1927 so there was no Glasgow branch until the details re-appeared in October 1928. Included among the early members were John Higgins, Tommy Egan, Harry Watson, “Professor” Barclay, W. Falconer and Alex Shaw.

I’ve already written about the contribution made by Alex Shaw but it was probably John Higgins who did most to establish the party in Glasgow. Higgins was fearless in face of hostility: for example, in 1930 he spoke at a meeting which included a number of communists in the audience, and he read out part of a bill placed before the German Reichstag which included a proposal to expropriate the entire property of all Eastern Jews without compensation. The communists raged at the Nazis for this  until Higgins revealed that it was the German communists who were proposing this bill and this can be verified in Alan Bullock’s “Hitler, a study in tyranny” (pages 172/3).

Another outstanding speaker, this time indoors, was Tony Mulheron. He paced about the platform, speaking without notes, and was as good to watch as to listen to. Paul Foot of the SWP was a big fan of Tony and so was I. One evening during the war Tony was speaking at an outdoor meeting and Esme Percy, a well known actor of the day, joined the audience and saw fit to criticise Tony’s diction. Tony’s response was to point out that all over the world millions of people were being killed, maimed and enslaved yet here’s a man who is only concerned with trivia. After the meeting a chastened Percy was nevertheless invited to accompany Tony and some members to the home of a comrade who had a supply of hard–to-get whisky!

Tony had a fondness for using grandiose-sounding words. For example, he described a short spell when he was out of the party in the 1930s as “a brief hiatus”, and the water for his whisky was “aqua pura”. A bit pretentious? Maybe, but what a character and what a speaker.

Vic Vanni

Friday, July 20, 2012

How other see us

How the the Small Party of Glesga' Bookies (as the local branch in Glasgow was known in its early days because, it turns out, a number of its members were bookies, an illegal occupation back then) has been seen by others.

At the Barras market in Glasgow about 25 years ago open air political meetings were not uncommon, and the best were conducted by a fiery brand of working-class revolutionaries called the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Founded about a hundred years ago (and still going, I’m glad to say) and proudly hostile to all other allegedly socialist or communist political parties, they had several fine speakers and in those less apathetic days could always raise a fair crowd of the starvelings whom they hoped to rouse from their slumber. Scorn for their hearers’ meek acceptance of poverty and satire upon the quality of goods and services supplied to the workers were prominent in their arguments, as when the speaker would draw our attention to an evil-looking greasyspoon caff and recite parts of the horrible menu, concluding with Stomach pump free of charge. Once, when challenged by a wee bauchle with scarce a backside to his trousers on the grounds that ‘under socialism we widnae be individuals’, the agitator on the soapbox paused from his remarks on the rival attraction of ‘Jehovah’s Jazzband’ (a Salvation Army ensemble) just down the street, fixed him with a baleful eye, and loosed a withering tirade about how the questioner was obviously a proud specimen of individuality, with your individual Giro and your individual manky shirt and your individual football scarf and your individual council flat and your individual Scotch pie for your individual dinner . . .It went on for ages, a tour de force of flyting”. [Kenneth Wright, Glasgow Herald, 13 February 2001.]

"The Labour Party, Trades Council and the STUC . . . were largely responsible for securing the biggest postwar demonstration in Glasgow till then, at the start of the 1960s. Incidentally, that was the demonstration that produced the slogan to end all sectarian slogans. Just as we were turning round the corner of Sauchiehall Street two grim stalwarts of the Socialist Party of Great Britain were standing heralding the march with a huge banner and slogan which read: ‘This demonstration is useless – You must first destroy capitalism. [Janet and Norman Buchan, “The Campaign in Scotland”, in The CND Story, edited by Hohn Minnion and Philip Bolsover, 1983, p. 53.]

Scotland's most famous living anarchist, Stuart Christie:

    [Writing of the Workers Open Forum that existed in Glasgow in the 50s and 60s] I remember one exemplary SPGB graduate speaker mounting the platform, drawing a ten-shilling note from his pocket and holding it dangling from his thumb and forefinger for a quarter of an hour or so while delivering a devastatingly witty attack on money. The audience of thirty or so were spellbound. There was not a single heckler, until he set fire to it”. My Granny Made Me An Anarchist: 1946-1964, 2003, p. 157.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Brief history of Glasgow branch

To say times were hard when Glasgow branch was formed in 1924 would be a serious understatement. The branch consisted of working men, only some of whom had jobs, and money was so scarce that in the early days branch meetings were sometimes held in the open because members couldn’t afford to rent a hall.

If funds were lacking then energy and commitment were not, so members threw themselves into making the party known in the city. John Higgins, the first branch secretary, was particularly effective at this and his meetings Glasgow Green gave many Glaswegians their first introduction to the party’s case.

To branch members knowledge meant everything and they were determined to have as much of it as they could, so classes on Marxist theory, logic, etc, were an essential feature, but the main activity was always indoor and, especially, outdoor meetings. Glasgow branch always had a reputation for having first-class speakers and even our opponents, whatever else they thought of us, conceded that.

Two outstanding examples of this were Alex Shaw* and Tony Mulheron. Shaw was an old-time street corner orator with an ability to have his audiences in stitches – his lampooning of some of Glasgow’s left-wing folk heroes, especially the “Red Clydesiders”, was hilarious. Mulheron, by contrast, was in his element on the indoor platform. Tony was extremely articulate and had a witty, flamboyant speaking style that could turn even the driest-sounding theoretical subject into an entertainment.

During the war activities were stepped up. Ever more meetings were held and new, younger speakers came forward. The wartime scene was brightened by visits from London speakers taking a break from the Blitz and, later on, doodlebugs and V2 rockets.

After “peace” was declared the momentum was maintained and the branch’s biggest ever audiences attended meetings at the St. Andrew’s Halls and the Cosmo cinema. Membership increased and the branch even acquired its own premises. In 1949 a second branch was formed in the city and this lasted until 1961.

In the late 1950s an influx of younger members revitalised activities, and in the 1960s candidates were fielded in three parliamentary and five municipal elections. More outdoor speaking stances were opened and there were public debates aplenty with Labourites, Leninists and others.

Added to all this was a winter programme of Sunday evening indoor meetings which ran from October to April and continued for many years. This meant that members had to wrack their brains to come up with titles for around 30 meetings every winter!

Today the old propaganda methods, which were the branch’s strength, are all but finished. People will no longer come to indoor meetings or stop and listen to those held outdoors, and this means that the branch has had to adapt to the new situation. Now we organize day schools, discussion groups, hand out leaflets at demos, provide speakers and other assistance for party activities elsewhere in the country etc.

Glasgow branch has for over eighty years played its part in the party’s activities. Its members have, in the past, given generously of their time, effort and abilities, and today’s members, despite very different and difficult conditions, strive to maintain this record.
 V.V.
2004
* see here for a report on Alex Shaw in a 1931 debate with the SLP

Friday, June 08, 2012

Red Clydeside's Racism

In previous blogs on the history of Scottish labour we have observed how religious bigotry often marred attempts to unite the working class. But racism has also existed and been exploited for sectional advantage by supposed internationalists.

In all the major sea-ports of Britain communities a non-white sea-farers arose, many marrying local women. In Glasgow they mostly settled around the harbour area, commonly known as Broomielaw.

Many Red Clydesiders have become Scottish national heroes, remembered for their fight for workers' rights. Seamen's leader, president of the Glasgow trades and labour council and chairman of the 40 hr workers’ strike committee, Emanuel – Manny – Shinwell gained fame for his part as a left-wing trades union official in 1919, finding himself thrown into jail on Bloody Friday. But Stirling University historian Dr Jacqueline Jenkinson, in her book "Black 1919", accuses Shinwell of encouraging Glasgow seamen to launch a series of attacks on black sailors. Jenkinson reveals how Shinwell's British Seafarers Union banned black members and how labour histories of the period  fail to mention this Glasgow race-riot .

Jenkinson said: "There has been a reluctance to accept that many of the Red Clydesiders promoted actions that were discriminatory and unfair to the black sailors. Manny Shinwell was one of those who campaigned to stop black sailors getting work. His radical seamen's union, the British Seafarers Union, openly banned black members. It was felt they were keeping Scots out of jobs when they returned from service in the First World War, and lowering wages. Shinwell gave what some consider inflammatory speeches in which he condemned the employment of black sailors in the merchant fleet."

Professor Elaine McFarland, a specialist in modern Scottish history at Glasgow Caledonian University, said: "Red Clydeside does have this dark, racist underbelly, and there has been a reluctance to expose it. It may be due to the political leanings of some historians, but there has been a sentimental view of those who took part in Red Clydeside."

Socialists are only too aware of the racism that can inveigle itself into the trade union movement. Our companion blog SOYMB  recently re-published an appeal from Jewish workers about the descrimination they were facing from elements within the British TUC in the 1890s

The SPGB had reason to distance itself from certain members of the Socialist Party of Canada for their anti-Chinese statements in the early 20th century.

Addressing a meeting of migrant workers in London in 1892, dockers leader Ben Tillett told them: “Yes, you are our brothers, and we will do our duty by you. But we wish you had not come.”

Keir Hardie argued: “It would be much better for Scotland if those [Scottish emigrants] were compelled to remain there [in Scotland] and let the foreigners be kept out. Dr. Johnson said God made Scotland for Scotchmen, and I would keep it so.” According to Hardie, the Lithuanians migrant workers in the mining industry had “filthy habits”, they lived off “garlic and oil”, and they were carriers of “the Black Death”. He described the typical Irish immigrant coal-miner as having "a big shovel, a strong back and a weak brain"

E.D. Morel of the Independent Labour Party and future Labour MP, could describe colonial French troops as "black savages" .

The Glasgow Evening Times were able to employ the words "sambo" and "nigger" in its articles.

The two main sailors’ union, the British Seafarers Union and the the National Sailors’ and Firemen’s’ Union, played the "race" card to attract and mobilise white members at the expense of their black co-workers. The operation of a "colour" bar by sailors’ unions heightened dockside tensions around Britain’s seaports. Prominent Glasgow labour leaders enforced and supported the "colour" bar on black and Chinese sailors. They opportunistically played on this manufactured division within the low-paid and low-skill seafaring workforce as part of the wider campaign for a 40-hour week to reduce unemployment pressures caused by demobilisation. Trade union leaders endeavoured to involve white British sailors in the general strike called in Clydeside, by tying on-going white sailors’ protests against the "unfair" competition posed by overseas labour to the 40-hours strike action. During waterfront speeches at sailors meetings, Shinwell linked the predudices among white British merchant sailors about the ‘unfair’ competition provided by overseas "Asiatic" labour, placing them into a wider industrial setting. He offered dissatisfied white British merchant seaman an opportunity to voice their concerns about workers from overseas undercutting their wages and threatening their job opportunities as part of the wider strike movement. The rioting at the harbour and the threat of more in the succeeding days drew public attention to the 40-hours campaign. The day before the general strike descended into violence on ‘Bloody Friday’ Shinwell presided over a third meeting of sailors in a week, where he ‘…urged them to take effective steps to prevent the employment of Chinese labour on British ships….’  A newspaper report reads: “...Councillor Shinwell, of the BSU, who addressed the meeting, directed attention to the large number of British seamen and firemen who were at present unemployed and the large number being demobilised who would find it difficult to secure employment aboard ship. This he attributed to the refusal of the government to exclude Chinese labour from British ships, and it was essential, he said, that action should be taken at once.”

Willie Gallacher joined with Shinwell on 28 January to address sea-going members of the BSU and other unionised sailors at the harbour to persuade them to take part in the strike action. The tenor of this meeting was no different from the ones addressed by Shinwell; again, the tactic was to import the old demand that black and Chinese crews should be expelled from British ships into the broad strike campaign. The strike committee viewed support from white sailors as useful in widening the 40-hours protest movement and were none too particular as to how such involvement was secured. Shinwell and Gallacher were simply parroting the mis-conception that it is the poor unfortunate immigrant who is responsible for wage cuts and unemployment.

Jenkinson uncovered newspaper accounts that reported Shinwell's role in a Glasgow race riot in 1919. She said:"He played a celebrated role in the protest in George Square on 31 January 1919. But just a week before, on 23 January, he also played a key role in a very violent attack on 30 African sailors. Newspaper reports tell how he spoke to 600 sailors and it was quite a rabble-rousing speech about black and what he called Asiatic, or Chinese, sailors. This led to around 30 black sailors being chased by a baying mob down James Watt Street. On 23rd January that year fighting broke out on the Glasgow waterfront between black and white sailors waiting to sign on to a ship. According to three newspaper reports, whites were being signed up in preference to blacks. A fourth report claimed that blacks were being signed up in preference to whites."

The riot on Thursday 23 January 1919 began at the signing-on hall in James Watt Street a few hours after a Shinwell speech. The black sailors, fled from the hiring yard, pursued by a much larger crowd of white sailors. Locals joined the crowd, swelling its numbers to several hundred. The mob, using guns, knives, sticks, bricks and other makeshift weapons, attacked the nearby sailors' retreat in Broomielaw in which the black seafarers had taken refuge but the mob smashed all the windows and they were turned out on to the street. The black sailors fled back to their own boarding house. When this, in turn, was attacked by the rioters, some of the black sailors fought back with guns, shooting one of the mob. One black sailor was singled out and attacked with knives, leaving him with a gaping wound in his back. The police eventually intervened, this time by taking thirty of the black sailors into 'protective custody'. All of them were charged with riot and weapons offences. Only one of the white rioters was arrested. Shinwell blamed the violence on the arrival in Glasgow of black West African sailors from Cardiff and the recent appearance of a group of Chinese sailors from Liverpool.

The 1919 Glasgow race riot proved the first of a number that spread to major ports throughout Britain such as South Shields, Salford, Hull, London, Liverpool, Cardiff, Newport and Barry. Five people were killed, dozens seriously injured, and over 250 people – usually blacks – arrested and soldiers deployed to stop the rioting. The origins of the riots in Glasgow and elsewhere lay in the policies pursued by shipowners in that national wage rates for sailors hired in Britain (who were almost certain to be white) had been  established after the 1911 seafarers’ strike but rates of pay for those hired overseas (who were almost certain to be black or Chinese) were lower by as much as 25-50%. The trade union response to shipowners using black sailors to cut their labour costs was not to campaign for an extension of the 1911 wage rates agreement to cover all sailors employed on British ships but to demand an end to the employment of foreign (black and Chinese) sailors. Instead of directing the union's wrath at the capitalist class which exploits and takes advantage of the lack of working class unity, Shinwell openly backed the idea of securing jobs for white British sailors at the expense of foreign black sailors.

Such was the perception, that when shipping companies employed foreign (black and Chinese) sailors rather than white (British) sailors, the latter saw themselves as being undercut in the jobs market by the former. This was exacerbated  by the increased unemployment of the  post-war demobilisation when white sailors who had quit the merchant navy to join the Royal Navy, or who had been conscripted to join it, demanded ‘their’ jobs back in the merchant navy. Yet  many of those jobs had already been filled by foreign seafarers. Thus, at the time of the Glasgow riot there were an estimated 400-500 unemployed white sailors in the city. The rioting was triggered by intense job competition among merchant seaman. However, a black sailor from any part of the Empire eg Sierra Leone (where the 30 sailors originated from) was just as British as a white sailor from Glasgow and would be paid the higher rate, and likewise any foreign sailors hired in Britain – because they had arrived here on another ship, or because they had settled here. While whites viewed blacks as foreign, different and inferior, blacks viewed themselves as citizens of the British Empire. The black workers attacked in Glasgow were regarded by the white crowd not as fellow Scots caught up in the same contracting post-war job market but as outsiders trying to snatch employment from white Scottish workers. Shinwell's speeches amounted to not much more than “British jobs for British workers”, scapegoating black and Chinese sailors for unemployment amongst ex-servicemen.

Colonial Britons were used as a convenient "industrial reserve army of labour" during wartime but after the war soon found their continued presence among the white British working class was resented. Black people were viewed as an "alien" element in the workforce by white rioters whose violent actions against their employment were ultimately appeased by the launch of an extended programme of repatriation for black colonial residents throughout Britain in summer 1919. By August 1921 repatriation forced two thousand black workers and their dependents out of Britain under protest. However, many others stayed put in Glasgow, continuing to live and work in the city. But the race-rioting at the docks had served its purposes, limiting the job opportunities for black sailors. Following the riot shipping employers’ were more reluctant than previously to hire black sailors in the port. The increased difficulty in finding employment provoked an organised  protest campaign as members of Glasgow’s black population worked together to publicise the growing destitution among black seafarers caused by the long-term unemployment. The African Telegraph in April 1919 reports "In Glasgow there are more than 130 British seamen walking on their uppers, down and out. They happen to be coloured men, but they are all true British-born subjects, who have served on British ships during the war."

Sylvia Pankhurst's, Workers' Dreadnought, of the Workers Socialist Federation described the sea-port race riots as by-products of capitalism and a divide and rule tactic of the employers. "Do not you know that if it pays to employ black men employers will get them and keep them even if the white workers kill a few of the blacks from time to time?"  It also wrote: "The fight for work is a product of capitalism; under socialism race rivalry disappears.” and asked "...those who have been Negro hunting: - ‘Do you wish to exclude all blacks from England?’ If so, ‘do you not think that blacks might justly ask that the British should at the same time keep out of their countries?’ "

The Socialist Labour Party's journal The Socialist commented: “It is useless to contend that coloured labour cannot be organised. If white men have approached coloured labourers in an arrogantly superior manner, it is small wonder that they have been unable to organise them. ... ‘Alien’ on the lips of one of the working class should have only one meaning – the Boss and all that is his." It bitingly explained  "The Trades Unions have prided themselves on having ousted coloured labourers from certain occupations... Black men and yellow men have been attacked for doing precisely what white men do. This, of course, is but the logical development of the Trades Unions’ policy which is prepared to strike rather than that any unskilled white worker should get a 'skilled job.' "

The temptation to blame your unemployment or wage level on foreign labour may be strong. But nevertheless such views are false. The blame lies elsewhere. You must not blame another worker for your poverty. The clash on the Broomielaw can be taken as an example of how one element of the working class can be made the scapegoat, by those supposedly protecting the interests of all workers, in order to secure a better deal for their members, at the expense of the minority.

Shinwell went on to become a Independent Labour Party then Labour Party MP, chair-person of the Labour Party, Minister of Fuel and Power in the post-war Labour government, Secretary of State for War, Minister of Defence, Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and Baron Shinwell of Easington. It is ironic that he played a role in this campaign against black sailors when Shinwell himself was a victim of anti-semitism. After a Tory MP told Shinwell, who was Jewish, to "go back to Poland" during a debate in Parliament in 1938, Shinwell crossed the floor of the chamber and punched him.

Sources from here and here and here


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Engels on Edinburgh and Glasgow

Edinburgh

Dr. Alison describes a similar state of things in Edinburgh, whose superb situation, which has won it the title of the modern Athens, and whose brilliant aristocratic quarter in the New Town, contrast strongly with the foul wretchedness of the poor in the Old Town. Alison asserts that this extensive quarter is as filthy and horrible as the worst districts of Dublin, while the Mendicity Association would have as great a proportion of needy persons to assist in Edinburgh as in the Irish capital. He asserts, indeed, that the poor in Scotland, especially in Edinburgh and Glasgow, are worse off than in any other region of the three kingdoms, and that the poorest are not Irish, but Scotch. The preacher of the Old Church of Edinburgh, Dr. Lee, testified in 1836, before the Commission of Religious Instruction, that:

"I have never seen such a concentration of misery as in this parish," where the people are without furniture, without everything. "I frequently see the same room occupied by two married couples. I have been in one day in seven houses where there was no bed, in some of them not even straw. I found people of eighty years of age lying on the boards. Many sleep in the same clothes which they wear during the day. I may mention the case of two Scotch families living in a cellar, who had come from the country within a few months.... Since they came they had had two children dead, and another apparently dying. There was a little bundle of dirty straw in one corner, for one family, and in another for the other. In the place they inhabit it is impossible at noonday to distinguish the features of the human face without artificial light. – It would almost make a heart of adamant bleed to see such an accumulation of misery in a country like this."


In the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, Dr. Hennen reports a similar state of things. From a Parliamentary Report, it is evident that in the dwellings of the poor of Edinburgh a want of cleanliness reigns, such as must be expected under these conditions. On the bed-posts chickens roost at night, dogs and horses share the dwellings of human beings, and the natural consequence is a shocking stench, with filth and swarms of vermin. The prevailing construction of Edinburgh favours these atrocious conditions as far as possible. The Old Town is built upon both slopes of a hill, along the crest of which runs the High Street. Out of the High Street there open downwards multitudes of narrow, crooked alleys, called wynds from their many turnings, and these wynds form the proletarian district of the city. The houses of the Scotch cities, in general, are five or six-storied buildings, like those of Paris, and in contrast with England where, so far as possible, each family has a separate house. The crowding of human beings upon a limited area is thus intensified.

".....the house," says an English journal in an article upon the sanitary condition of the working-people in cities, "are often so close together, that persons may step from the window of one house to that of the house opposite – so high, piled story after story, that the light can scarcely penetrate to the court beneath. In this part of the town there are neither sewers nor any private conveniences whatever belonging to the dwellings; and hence the excrementitious and other refuse of at least 50,000 persons is, during the night, thrown into the gutters, causing (in spite of the scavengers' daily labours) an amount of solid filth and foetid exhalation disgusting to both sight and smell, as well as exceedingly prejudicial to health. Can it be wondered that, in such localities, health, morals, and common decency should be at once neglected? No; all who know the private condition of the inhabitants will bear testimony to the immense amount of their disease, misery, and demoralisation. Society in these quarters has sunk to a state indescribably vile and wretched.... The dwellings of the poorer classes are generally very filthy, apparently never subjected to any cleaning process whatever, consisting, in most cases, of a single room, ill-ventilated and yet cold, owing to broken, ill-fitting windows, sometimes damp and partially underground, and always scantily furnished and altogether comfortless, heaps of straw often serving for beds, in which a whole family – male and female, young and old, are huddled together in revolting confusion. The supplies of water are obtained only from the public pumps, and the trouble of procuring it of course favours the accumulation of all kinds of abominations."


Glasgow

Glasgow is in many respects similar to Edinburgh, possessing the same wynds, the same tall houses. Of this city the Artisan observes:

The working-class forms here some 78 per cent of the whole population (about 300,000), and lives in parts of the city "which, in abject wretchedness, exceed the lowest purlieus of St. Giles' or Whitechapel, the liberties of Dublin, or the wynds of Edinburgh. Such localities exist most abundantly in the heart of the city – south of the Irongate and west of the Saltmarket, as well as in the Calton, off the High Street, etc.– endless labyrinths of narrow lanes or wynds, into which almost at every step debouche courts or closes formed by old, ill-ventilated, towering houses crumbling to decay, destitute of water and crowded with inhabitants, comprising three or four families (perhaps twenty persons) on each flat, and sometimes each flat let out in lodgings that confine – we dare not say accommodate – from fifteen to twenty persons in a single room. These districts are occupied by the poorest, most depraved, and most worthless portion of the population, and they may be considered as the fruitful source of those pestilential fevers which thence spread their destructive ravages over the whole of Glasgow."

Let us hear how J. C. Symons, Government Commissioner for the investigation of the condition of the hand-weavers, describes these portions of the city:

"I have seen human degradation in some of its worst phases, both in England and abroad, but I did not believe until I visited the wynds of Glasgow, that so large an amount of filth, crime, misery, and disease existed in any civilised country. In the lower lodging-houses ten, twelve, and sometimes twenty persons of both sexes and all ages sleep promiscuously on the floor in different degrees of nakedness. These places are, generally, as regards dirt, damp and decay, such as no person would stable his horse in."

And in another place:

"The wynds of Glasgow house a fluctuating population of between 15,000 and 30,000 persons. This district is composed of many narrow streets and square courts and in the middle of each court there is a dung-hill. Although the outward appearance of these places was revolting, I was nevertheless quite unprepared for the filth and misery that were to be found inside. In some of these bedrooms we [i.e. Police Superintendent Captain Miller and Symons] visited at night we found a whole mass of humanity stretched out on the floor. There were often 15 to 20 men and women huddled together, some being clothed and others naked. Their bed was a heap of musty straw mixed with rags. There was hardly any furniture there and the only thing which gave these holes the appearance of a dwelling was fire burning on the hearth. Thieving and prostitution are the main sources of income of these people. No one seems to have taken the trouble to clean out these Augean stables, this pandemonium, this nucleus of crime, filth and pestilence in the second city of the empire. A detailed investigation of the most wretched slums of other towns has never revealed anything half so bad as this concentration of moral iniquity, physical degradation and gross overcrowding.... In this part of Glasgow most of the houses have been condemned by the Court of Guild as dilapidated and uninhabitable – but it is just these dwellings which are filled to overflowing, because, by law no rent can be charged on them."


Condition of the Working Class in England, by Engels, 1845

Friday, May 11, 2012

UCS Shipyard Occupation - What we said

Former Glasgow shipyard trade unionist Sammy Barr recently passed away.  Alongside Jimmy Reid and Jimmy Airlie and Sammy Gilmore - he was one of the organisers of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders workers occupation in 1971. The shipyard work-in was an alternative to a strike to thwart attempts by the then Conservative government to close the yards by refusing subsidies. The decision meant at least 6,000 of the 8,500 shipyard workers employed by UCS would have to be made redundant. The work-in saw workers manage and operate the UCS shipyards until the government changed its policy. It was intended to prove that the yards were viable. The Heath government finally relented in February 1972 and announced a £35m injection of cash into the yards. Within three years, shipbuilding on the Upper Clyde had received about £101m of public grants and credits, with £20m going to the UCS.

The following is an article written at the time of the UCS work-in.

A Report from the Clyde

At the time of writing the UCS situation is still unresolved. It would appear that the government's plans for Govan and Linthouse may be extended to include Scotstoun with the remaining division, Clydebank, possibly being sold to a private buyer encouraged by favourable government terms. This would give the workers concerned a respite, however temporary, and leave them still hoping - and we shall return to this - that a future Labour government will nationalise the whole Upper Clyde shipbuilding complex. Whatever happens it seems unlikely that the original proposals which meant a reduction of another 6,000 jobs and the closure of the Scotstoun and Clydebank yards will go through. It looks, then, as if the resistance put up by the men has been at least partially successful. Of course their actions have nothing to do with Socialism and fall within the confines of trade union activity, an activity which is and only can be defensive in nature.

Much ink has been spilled over these events and many opinions have been expressed on the "work-in" tactics employed in the struggle. Several alternative courses of action have been suggested, the most popular one being that a "sit-in" would be more productive. This would entail occupation of the yards with no work being done on the ships already under construction in the hope that the delay would force the government to capitulate. However, this would mean finding money to pay the entire workforce instead of, as at present, only the several hundred made redundant. As the weekly wage-bill for UCS amounts to £250,000 then it can be seen that the task of providing even half this sum each week would be a monumental one. Also, it is unlikely that such a tactic would have secured as much popular support as the work-in and doubtless the shop stewards' committee to ok these and other considerations into account. Then there is the possibility that a non-working sit-in would present the government with an excuse to clear the yards on the grounds that the men had no legitimate reason for being there.

It is heartening to see a group of workers refusing to passively accept the sack, but we deplore the repeated promises to work harder and give the fullest cooperation to their employers in future. Of course these promises may only be so many words and were, after all, the product of having had the unemployment gun held to their heads. At least they didn't meekly accept their fate or rely solely on appeals to Labourite and trade union leaders to save them. They took positive action on their own account.

It could be argued that since shipbuilding is, at least at present, unprofitable and is bound to be run-down anyway, then the redundant workers should bow to the inevitable, take their redundancy payments, if any, and get out. This view could be supported by pointing out that even if the UCS workforce could be maintained at its present level then this would probably be at the expense of shipyard workers elsewhere : more orders coming to the Clyde means less orders for Tyneside or Belfast. This, of course, is true but because the industry is declining there is already a high level of unemployment in shipbuilding on Clydeside, so the chances of finding work locally are poor.

For many it would mean uprooting their families to seek work in England or overseas. And it is unreasonable to expect workers who generally think production for sale at a profit (capitalism) is the only way to run society, to put first the interests of the whole working class - that will come when they are socialist minded and not before. They joined a trade union for the limited purpose of combining with their fellow members on a craft basis to protect their own interests. We recognise this and accordingly don't expect revolutionary policies from non-socialist trade unionists.

We also recognise that before men can have any views at all, political or otherwise, they must have access to the necessities of life. They must have sufficient food, cothing, shelter, and all the other things which have come to be regarded as making life tolerable. For most workers nowadays "necessities", or their current standard of living, aren't acquired by dole money. Living standards should rightly be measured in relation to the wealth of society. Despite all the talk about how well-off to-day's workers are, their wages only enable them to live in a state of relative poverty. Nevertheless, these wages at least prevent them sliding into destitution which for many is what dole money means. Besides, there is either the personal experience or the handed-down knowledge of what large scale unemployment can do to men, so they feel that their backs are to the wall and that they must unite to save their jobs.

In their fight to change the government's mind the men have an unrecognised ally - the fact that governments cannot simply ignore political, economic and social pressures. For example, the Tories must have been dismayed at the general response to the proposed sackings and closures; they cannot afford to lose too many votes between now and the next general election. Also, the consequences of such severe unemployment might well result in increased social problems like the break-up of families or a steep increase in the crime rate, and there have been local warnings to this effect. So factors like these could account in part for the softening of the government's attitude.

The whole UCS episode has once more thrown into relief the utter hopelessness of the "left-wing". They have offered every solution under the sun but the real one; they will talk about absolutely anything except production for use and the abolition of exchange relationships. Some of their utterances have been simply ridiculous. The Communist Party actually called for an "end to redundancies and the nationalisation of shipbuilding". As if nationalisation ever meant anything less than the rationalisation of the labour force involving, as with British Rail and the Coal Board, large scale redundancies. Hugh Scanlon of the Engineers claimed that success for the UCS could mean the abolition of unemployment in Britain. Small wonder if workers remain convinced that their problems can be solved within capitalism. Scanlon should know that while production for profit remains, then so must unemployment in one degree or another. The "Militant" Trotskyists were outraged that the government sbould grant Yarrow's, which is outside the UCS,$4.5 million of "taxpayer's money". Apparently the taxes wbich are a burden on the capitalist class alone should be spent in a way Trotskyists approve of. We also bad the usual "appeals" for "soviets" plus howls that the imagined revolutionary situation was being betrayed by traitors, etc., etc.

Whatever the outcome on Clydeside the unpleasant fact remains that the production for profit system will still be with us. Even if the UCS workers realised their dearest wish to see the four yards remain as an integrated whole, production there as elsewhere must be subject to capitalism's economic laws - it must be profitable or, if under nationalisation, at least make the minimum of loss. This means that the process of removing as much unnecessary labour as possible must continue. Indeed, J. Reid, the men's spokesman, recognises this when he argues that by remaining together the yards would be "more viable" through a "lack of duplication in terms of marketing, design, research and many other factors" (Glasgow News 11 October). The avoidance of duplication is only achieved by sacking some of the workers concerned. So in order to be "more viable" the realities of capitalism - the need to produce cheaper ships to meet competition - must result in future sackings whether by the hand of the government or even by a shop steward's committee.

There is no way out of this. The fact is that in shipbuilding, just as in every other industry, the productive forces have outstripped the demand. True, there will be a continuing growth in the amount of tonnage required to meet the increasing volurne of world trade, but even a considerable increase in the demand for ships could not satisfy the present world capacity to produce them, so the contenders will still have to fight for a share in the market.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain will continue to urge workers everywhere to resist attacks made on their living standards by their employers. This is a basic necessity so long as capitalism lasts. At the same time we recognise such action to be purely defensive, besides never-ending, and which still leaves the factories, mines, shipyards, land, transportation systems, and the other places where wealth is produced, in the hands of the owning class. We therefore have organised politically to work to bring nearer the day when capitalism's inhumanity, waste and chaos will be swept away by the democratic action of the majority of the world's working class - the useful people.

Vic Vanni
(Socialist Standard, December 1971)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

The 1926 May Days

“The miners occupy the front trenches of the position singled out for attack and if their wages are reduced it will be the beginning of a general wage reduction” (John Wheatley, Labour MP)

The General Strike lasted from 3rd to 12th May

Over the years a struggle had been developing between a growing militant working class and the employers and the state.The industrial working classes defined British politics in the 1920s; some 7 Million workers (one in six of the population) were employed in heavy industry or the land. Two million men worked down the mines and hundreds of thousands of others were employed in the iron and steel industry, in the railways and docks, in the building and engineering industry and in textiles and transport. The 1926 General Strike was initiated to defend the living conditions of the miners. The longer-term view of the 1926 General Strike sees it as the inevitable outcome of a struggle between classes that began during the First World War. Soldiers returning to Britain after the Great War did not find their land fit for heroes, rather one fit for zeroes. Miners that had spent years in trenches returned to pits where they were treated worse than before they had volunteered to defend the British Empire. The miners together with the dockers and railway workers formed in 1919 a Triple Alliance of one and a half million trade unionists. 1919 saw major strikes and demonstrations taking place, although they ended in disunity and failure. In 1920 a general strike was threatened to prevent British intervention in Russia against the Bolsheviks. During 1921-22, the mines were given back by the Government to private ownership and wage cuts were introduced. When the miners responded with industrial action, lock-out notices appeared, troops were deployed at the coalfields and the government declared a state of emergency. As hundreds of thousands from other industries came out in support of the mineworkers, the leaders of the other big unions reneged upon the promises of sympathy strikes. The day became known as Black Friday. Its consequence for the mineworkers was wage cuts that reached as much as 40% in some pits.(the pattern that was repeated as tragedy in 1926) In a planned a general offensive against workers, targeting the miners in July 1925 mine owners announced that they were increasing the working day, cutting wages and tearing up all previous agreements. The TUC responded by ordering an embargo on the movement of all coal, of which stocks were low and so the government encouraged the pit-owners to climbdown. The unions declared this Red Friday, a victory. In fact, it  was only a postponement of the coming battle.

On the eve of the strike a May Day demonstration (estimated at 25,000) marched in support of the miners through Bridgeton to Glasgow Green with a sense of solidarity. There was a realisation by workers that joint action by the whole trade union movement was needed to defend the wages and conditions of the working class. It was a matter of an injury to one, was an injury to all. Because of a general reductions in profits,  British capitalism was intent upon reclaiming their losses by attacking the pay and conditions of their employees. Stanley Baldwin made it clear that what his government required was pay cuts throughout British industry. Once again, the miners were the initial target. Workers concluded that the struggle in the mining industry was the key to the future working conditions of all British workers. The government was primed for a fight and was in no mood for compromise. Parliament was to be sidelined as Regional Civil Commissioners were appointed and given control over the country. Britain was to be ruled by decree. All leave for members of the armed forces was cancelled, as troops and armoured cars were stationed at the key centres of industrial militancy. The government was worried about what might happen in the great industrial cities like Glasgow and sent 7 naval vessels to the Clyde in an attempt to overawe the strikers. Naval ratings were used to protect the strikebreaking Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies volunteers unloading cargo at the Glasgow docks.

The main groups of workers who were called out on 3rd May were those in transport (dockers, railwaymen, seamen, tramway, bus and underground workers), the printing trades and the building trades. The main impact of the strike in Glasgow, as elsewhere, was therefore the disruption of transport and the disappearance of the normal press. 

The organisation of the strike in Glasgow was in the hands of the Trades Council which became, for the duration of the strike, the core of a Central Strike Coordinating Committee (CSCC). Seventeen local area strike committees were also formed as a means of keeping closely in touch with the rank and file strikers. The maintenance of communications was one of the main functions of the strike committees. Couriers carried instructions from the STUC, which was based in Glasgow, to the central and local strike committees and the trade unions, and back came reports of local support, strike-breaking incidents and requests for advice and help in solving problems which arose at local level. Problems arose from ambiguities in instructions to unions where only some members were called out, and to whom exemptions had been granted by the TUC, e.g. to building workers involved in hospital and municipal housing. The CSCC had the job of adjudicating upon many of these individual cases. Food permits for the transport of essential food supplies were issued by the STUC. Picketing was organised by the unions who had their own strike committees.

In Airdrie and Coatbridge in Lanarkshire, the local Council of Action issued permits for transport through its transport sub-committee and organised pickets of up to 4,000 to shut down road and rail movements which it had not sanctioned. In Arran the same procedure was adopted, though here, unlike anywhere else in the west of Scotland, the transport committee granted permits for the local buses on the grounds that they served working-class people. Mass picketing was the chief means used to try to keep scab transport off the roads and rails. In Irvine and Auchinleck in Ayrshire, pickets of up to 500 stopped buses taking workers to the local docks and obstructed railway lines to hold up trains.

In the Vale of Leven, one of the most militant areas in the west of Scotland, another Council of Action were formed. Strike committees were also formed throughout North Ayrshire, the Stirlingshire coalfields and East Renfrewshire.

"Defence militias" were created in some places such as East Fife, which consisted of 700 workers who fought pitched battles with police and paramilitaries. The  STUC stayed outside of these groups, condemning them.

The Perth Strike Campaign Committee was responsible for coordinating action and making the strike as comprehensive as possible. One of its actions was to control the main roads in and out of Perth, so that only vehicles with a Strike Committee permit could do so, pickets controlled the roads to Forfar, Dundee, Edinburgh and Crieff. Striking workers held mass meetings on the North Inch throughout the strike, which was very effective in Perth. The vast majority of the men on strike came from the railways - 1800 NUR and ASLEF members employed by London Midland & Scottish Railways and London & North Eastern Railway. Other strikers were road workers; tram company workers; and those employed at John Pullars & Sons, (later to be Pullars of Perth, the dry cleaners) and Campbell’s Dye works.  A key figure in the General Strike in Perth was Tom Murray, ILP member and of the National Union of Clerks (he later joined the International Brigades in Spain and became a political commissar in the Machine-Gun Company of the British Battalion). Another important local man involved in the strike committee was the railwayman, John Haig. A churchman and an elder of the United Free Church. One of the most intimidating and menacing sights of the General Strike in Perth must have been when columns of soldiers marched through the town in full combat gear. Several companies of the 2nd Black Watch were brought down from the north in a show of state strength. From Perth, they marched through Fife and onto Stirling.

Strikers in Kinross occupied the town hall, which then became the headquarters of the strike committee. Pickets in Kinross controlled roads in and out of the town and issued permits to drivers wishing to use these roads.

In Edinburgh a central strike committee operated from the NUM headquarters in Hillside Crescent. A football pitch was used to impound vehicles that did not have trade union passes. On the 6th there were serious disturbances in Edinburgh.

Women also joined the industrial battlefield and joined picket-lines, protesting against blacklegs and fundraising for the cause. In Lochgelly, Fife, a crowd of "hostile women" assaulted workers who tried to go back to work. Seven were imprisoned as a result. In Ayrshire, 29 women were arrested for intimidating workers who had returned to the mines: they beat tin cans and trays as they followed the men along the road to the colliery. In South Lanarkshire, women threw mud and shouted at blackleg labour. In Lockerbie, women followed such men home, bawling and shouting "scab", hitting tin cans and spitting on them as they walked.  Women were also involved in protest marches and parades. In early May, women in East Lothian, drove around in an open-top carriage, singing "The Red Flag", waving the red flag, and urging others to join them. In Edinurgh, one Mary Gagen was charged with throwing "earthenware vessels" at police from her window. 

The police and OMS volunteers tried to run a tram service through Rutherglen. The first tram driven by university students protected by police got as far as Rutherglen High Street where it was surrounded by hundreds of strikers. The trolley was taken off the overhead wires, the students were manhandled, and the police beat a hasty retreat. The tram stood in the High Street silent and still for the rest of the strike. Crowds were inclined to gather in the streets, they were unorganised crowds who resented the activities of blacklegs and tended to show their anger. Spontaneous mass picketing frequently occurred throughout the strike, large numbers of men and women from a district would go out to try and stop any strike breaking activity, putting themselves at risk to arrest and imprisonment. The usual targets were buses, trams and lorries. On Tuesday the 4th of May, in the east-end of the city, three buses were attacked and overturned. On Thursday the 6th of May a miners' picket marched to Ruby Street tram depot, Ruby Street was a cul-de-sac with the tram depot gates at the top; as the miners reached the tram depot gates the gates swung open and an army of police charged out with batons drawn, a violent scene ensued with many arrests. On the same day in the city centre of Glasgow attempts were made to stop buses, one being overturned and ten people arrested. There were other violent clashes at Bridgeton with 64 arrests. There were riots on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with 120 arrests. In Glasgow the solidarity of the strike and the spontaneous mass picketing was an indication of the strength of feeling in support of the strike.

On Monday May the 10th 100 people appeared before the Glasgow Sheriff Court, 22 were given from 1-3 months hard labour. On the same day at the Glasgow Police Courts a further 100 cases were dealt with for minor offences. There were a large number of arrests in Glasgow during the nine days. By Monday morning about 300 had been arrested, of which 120 had been arrested in the east-end of the city between Wednesday and Friday. The police violence and high number of arrests seemed to have no effect on the morale of the strikers. Towards the end of the first week of the strike there seems to have been unprovoked police violence. This may have been an attempt to intimidate the people in the hope that they would abandon outdoor meetings and mass picketing. Bridgeton seems to have seen some of the worst of this, following the mass picket of the Ruby Street tram depot. During the day of Friday 7th the police attacked the Bridgeton area, a busy, densely populated working class district, making 44 arrests. The reason given was that youths were holding up bread vans and coal lorries. In the evening crowds gathered in the streets around Bridgeton Cross, the police and mounted police attacked the crowds with batons. The following day the Bridgeton Parish and Town Councillors complained to the superintendent of the Eastern Police Division of, "The molestation of unoffending citizens by agitated policemen who were accused of unwarranted interference with a number of persons."

There was widespread anger at the conduct of the police, even more so against the Specials - they were reviled by the strikers even more than the regular police - and at the severity of the sentences. Regulations were passed giving power to the police to prohibit public meetings. Courts were being seen as instruments of class hatred and vengeance. In one hearing a well dressed young man was charged with stone throwing in a disturbance and given 3 months on the evidence of two policemen, contrary to several independent witnesses. A woman charged with mobbing and rioting was arrested on Friday the 7th of May she was refused bail and held in remand for two weeks in spite of the fact that she was the mother of 5 young children. On May the 14th the Labour group on the City Council called for a full inquiry into the conduct of the police after receiving several complaints from uninvolved citizens about unwarranted attacks on them, in particularly by the Specials. Tales of police and strikers playing football together never happened in Glasgow. There were calls for workers to carry "walking sticks" as a means of defending themselves, however instructions from the higher echelons instructed the workers to be peaceful and law abiding even though this was proving almost impossible due to the attitude of the police.

The Students' Representative Council of Glasgow University proclaimed itself neutral, and the number of students involved in scabbing was never as high as in Edinburgh or St Andrews. At Edinburgh University, over 2,000 out of 3,953 students enrolled as “volunteer workers” during the strike (in recognition of which a local ship-owner donated £10,000 to the university). At St. Andrew’s University, virtually all 650 students signed up as scabs. However: at Glasgow University only 300 out of 5,000 students scabbed.

In Scotland the only distribution of general news to those involved in the strike were the four editions of the STUC strike bulletin, and the STUC warned strikers against believing news from any other source, especially the BBC. The lack of published material during the strike had been a difficulty, information being carried by word of mouth round the area by walking, cycling or motorcycle. Political divisions of the Left that had been fiercely debated over the years had been forgotten, the main theme of all debate was to make the strike solid. The STUC appeared critical to local unauthorised strike bulletins and in the second week the STUC organised the publication of the Scottish Worker, which was compiled from material from the London-based Worker along with reports of local news from around Scotland in what seems to be an attempt to provide a moderate “official” alternative to the local strike bulletins. The "Scottish Worker" was published on May the 10th and for the next six days. On the first day of issue 25,000 copies sold in the first hour.  In Edinburgh the print-run of a daily duplicated strike bulletin rose from some 6,000 at the start of the strike to over 12,000 by its close. The bulletin contained strike news only, plus a commentary on such news and a reply to government propaganda. The Communist Party's rank and file National Minority Movement, issued a daily "Worker's Press" until raided and closed down by the police. The police prevented strikers from holding meetings, this was a serious hinderance to attempts to discuss and share news of the strike. There were instances of the police forcibly breaking up strikers' meetings.

How solid the strike was can be seen from the these figures: of the 2400 railway clerks in Glasgow only less than 300 turn up for work, Glasgow Corporation had 1087 tramcars but less than 200 were able to run, none of them were running on the east-end routes, but only on city centre routes. A few buses were running between Glasgow and some places south and west of the city. There were almost no blacklegs from the great mass of unemployed in spite of their poverty and suffering.

The reaction by the vast majority of the Glasgow strikers to the end of the strike was of: surprise, anger, betrayal and disgust. The rank and file movement were still loyal and would not only have carried on but would have willingly heightened the struggle.
The Partick Strike Committee held a mass meeting in a cinema with an overflow meeting outside which resolved that, "We protest against and deplore the calling off of the general strike and, furthermore, we call upon the Scottish TUC to issue an immediate call for the resumption of the strike until such time as a definite basis for a settlement is forthcoming and an assurance given that there will be no victimisation as a result of the general strike."  The Glasgow Trades and Labour Council on the 14th of May passed the following motion by 149 votes for and 36 against, "That the Trades and Labour Council express to the TUC strong disapproval of the manner in which the general strike was terminated."

In spite of the depth of feeling, they made no attempt to continue the strike locally. It would appear that in Glasgow none of the strikers disobeyed the TUC's orders by continuing the strike in support of the miners. The end of the strike was bitter for those most closely involved in its organisation and for those who lost jobs or union membership as a result. Victimisation of strikers was rife. On the railways, tramways, at the Clyde Trust, at Singer's works in Clydebank and in the newspaper industry strikes continued on terms of reinstatement, strikers eventually having to make concessions to the employers. On the railways new conditions were inferior to those in place before the strike. On the Glasgow tramways 188 T.& G.W.U. members lost their jobs. In the newspaper industry in Glasgow the three main publishers, taking in the Glasgow Herald, the Evening Times, the Bulletin, and the Evening Citizen, refused to negotiate with the unions and refused to employ union labour. In many industries throughout Glasgow leading strike activists were never reinstated to their jobs.

Overall there existed little national coordination of the Action Councils and Strike Committees, and the STUC were attacked for reining in militancy. The relatively slight impact which the strike seem to have had on the city was because of the TUC's decision not to call out workers in the engineering and shipbuilding trades at the very outset of the strike. Engineering and shipbuilding workers did eventually receive the strike call on Wednesday 12 May - the day the General Strike was called off !!

The General Council betrayed every resolution upon which the strike call was issued and without a single concession being gained. The miners were left alone to fight the mine-owners backed by the government. Most commentators agree that the strength of the strike came from the solidarity of the grass-roots mass support and the weakness from above by an indecisive bureaucracy. The strikers shock at the call off was only matched by the employers' and government's unexpected surprise. It was claimed that a significant proportion of the union leadership feared victory:

“I am not in fear of the capitalist class. The only class I fear is my own.” J.R. Cleynes - General and Municipal Workers Union

Winston Churchill spelled it out clearly “It is a conflict which, if it is fought out to a conclusion can only end in the overthrow of parliamentary government or its decisive victory.” Labour Party leader Ramsay MacDonald echoed Churchill's view: “If fought to a finish as a strike, a general strike would ruin Trade Unionism, and the Government in the meantime could create a revolution…I hope that the result will be a thorough reconsideration of trade union tactics…”

And the trade union leaders were not going to challenge the state for as the strike continued, more and more control over the day-to-day functioning of society passed into the hands of the strikers. An Independent Labour Party activist remarked “There’s never been anything like it. If the blighters o' leaders here dinnae let us down we’ll hae the capitalist crawlin’ on their bellies in a week. Oh boy, it’s the revolution at last.”

Revolution was exactly what the trade union leaders didn't want. The General Strike had opened a Pandora's Box and in the words of NUR leader Charlie Cramp “Never again!” and said Turner of the TUC General Council:I never want to see another.

The rank and file of the trade union movement were disgusted. “A victorious army disarmed and handed over to its enemies.” (A Glasgow Strike Official)

The Socialist Party of Great Britain realistically understood that there was no immediate question of revolution. It favoured the general strike for the limited objective of exerting massive pressure upon employers to concede over pay or conditions.

Throughout those tumultanous events the Socialist Party had advocated "combined action by the workers to resist the wholesale onslaught by the masters upon wages and working conditions... that the old sectional mode of industrial warfare was obsolete; that, while the development of industry had united the masters into giant combinations, with interests ramifying in every direction, supported at every point by the forces of the State, representing the entire capitalist class, the division among the workers, according to their occupations, led automatically to their steady defeat in detail. The only hope, even for the limited purpose of restricting the extent of the defeat, lay, therefore, in class combination...economic and political ignorance kept the workers divided and the defeats went on. Yet even worms will turn, and rats forced into corners will fight...There is a limit even to the stupidity of sheep; and not all the smooth-tongued eloquence of their shepherds could prevent the flock from realising that they may as well hang together as hang separately."

The Socialist Standard lamented the TUC's lack of strike plans. "As an expression of working-class solidarity the response of the rank and file was unquestionably unprecedented; but the long months, nay, years of delay found effect in the official confusion between "essential" and non-essential occupations, the handling of goods by some unions which were banned by others and the issuing of permits one day which had to be withdrawn the next. Just prior to the strike the railwaymen were working overtime providing the companies with the coal to run their blackleg trains..."

The SPGB urged the working class to learn the lessons of the General Strike. "The outlook before the workers is black, indeed, but not hopeless, if they will but learn the lessons of this greatest of all disasters. "Trust your leaders!" we were adjured in the Press and from the platforms of the Labour Party, and the folly of such sheep-like trust is now glaring. The workers must learn to trust only in themselves. They must themselves realise their position and decide the line of action to be taken. They must elect their officials to take orders, not to give them!...It is useless for the workers either to "trust" leaders or to "change" them. The entire institution of leadership must be swept by the board." At the time we urged workers to workers that they "must organise as a class, not merely industrially, for the capture of supreme power as represented by the political machine...The one thing necessary is a full recognition by the workers themselves of the hostility of interests between themselves and their masters. Organised on that basis, refusing to be tricked and bluffed by promises or stampeded into violence by threats, they will emergence victorious from the age-long struggle. Win Political Power! That is the first step."
Socialist Standard June 1926  http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1920s/1926/no-262-june-1926/general-strike-fiasco-its-causes-and-effects

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

dirty glasgow

Pollution in several residential areas of Glasgow has reached potentially deadly levels. All the air quality monitors in the city are exceeding the maximum level for particulate pollution – one of the most dangerous forms with microscopic particles which can cause breathing and blood problems as well as increased risk of heart attacks.

Chris Connor, air quality specialist at the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, said "There is a particular concern about young children and toddlers in buggies as they're at a similar height to exhausts where the cocktail of pollutants is at its highest concentrations."




Broomhill Drive, Byres Road, Nithsdale Road and Battlefield Road are among the worst affected, with most of the pollution thought to be caused by buses, cars and taxis.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Scottish Slavery

"It wisnae us"

At the beginning of the 18th century, Glasgow was a poor town and Scotland, an isolated country. The 1707 Act of Union opened up trading opportunities and entrepreneurs seized their opportunity. The economic boom in the 18th and 19th century was built on profits from the West Indies, "...ultimately, profits built from slavery." according to James Cant, a Scottish historian re-examining the emergence of Scotland as an economic powerhouse. "We look at the agrarian revolution in Scotland, the scientific development, and we look at entrepreneurial excellence in Scotland. We never looked at the other side of the ocean to where the raw material and the wealth were truly coming from."

Iain Whyte, author of Scotland and the Abolition of Slavery, insists we have at times ignored our guilty past. He said: "For many years Scotland's historians harboured the illusion that our nation had little to do with the slave trade or plantation slavery. We swept it under the carpet. This was remarkable in the light of Glasgow's wealth coming from tobacco, sugar and cotton, and Jamaica Streets being found in a number of Scottish towns and cities. For many years, the goods and profits from West Indian slavery were unloaded at Kingston docks in Glasgow."

One of Scotland's foremost philosophers of the Enlightenment, David Hume, declared:
"I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilised nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or in speculation. No ingenious manufacture among them, no arts, no sciences."

Slavery has been dubbed "the most profitable evil in the world". It is estimated that 20,000,000 African people were bought or captured in Africa and transported into New World slavery. 75% of all Africa's exports in 18th century were enslaved human beings. Only about half survived to work on the plantations, with a slave's life expectancy averaging a mere four years. Young Scotsmen rushed to the West Indies to make quick fortunes as slave masters and administrators. Many Scots overseers were considered among the most brutal. There are many examples of mistreatment and abuse of enslaved Africans by Scots. The conduct of these Scots was often shocking – but this should not be surprising because we know that "under certain conditions and social pressures, ordinary people can commit acts that would otherwise be unthinkable".

It did not become illegal to own a slave in Scotland until 1778. Until then it had been fashionable for wealthy families to have a young black boy or girl servant. Scottish newspapers, such as the Edinburgh Evening Courant and the Caledonian Mercury from the 1740s to the 1770s, carried adverts offering slaves for sale or rewards for the capture of escaped slaves.

Many of our industries, our schools and our churches were founded from the profits of African slavery. Scottish capitalists reaped the fruits of their labour in the colonies in the sugar, cotton and tobacco plantations. These industries saw Glasgow and much of the country flourish, were built on the backs of slaves. The profits slaves helped to create kick-started the industrial revolution in Scotland and brought it's merchants and traders great wealth. Familiar names such as Tate and Lyle was built on slavery. James Ewing of Glasgow who owned Caymanas sugar plantation in Jamaica built the Necropolis.

Scotland dominated the Virginian tobacco market. By 1720 Glasgow imported over half of all the American slave-grown tobacco. The "Tobacco Lords" made their fortunes in the colonies before returning to Scotland, many building large mansions. Tobacco made up over one third of Scotland’s imports and over half its exports. This trade was fantastically profitable and tobacco traders became some of the richest men in the world. Landowners had an interest in the tobacco trade and had the money to invest in ships. The noveau riche behaved outrageously with their new-found fortune. The Trongate in Glasgow’s Merchant City was their own private street. It was paved. They did not want to walk on muddy roads with the riff-raff as it would ruin their outfits. Poor people were beaten if they used the Trongate. Buchanan Street was named after a tobacco merchant called Andrew Buchanan.

The "Wee" Free Church was founded in 1843 . It raised some funds from slave-owning Presbyterian churches in the United States. Many people felt that the Free Church was therefore sympathetic to the slave-owners and opposed to the emancipation of the slaves. "Send back the money" became a popular rallying cry. The Church of Scotland did not petition Parliament to end the Slave Trade or Slavery.

Even schools have a dark history. Bathgate Academy was built from money willed by John Newland, a renowned slave master and Dollar and Inverness Academies had a similar foundation of being funded by West Indies profits.

A host of other buildings and institutions Glasgow The Gallery of Modern Art (Stirling Library) was originally built by tobacco merchant William Cunningham as his home. Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Harmony House, Inveresk Lodge, were either bought or built using money acquired from slavery.

In St Andrew Square in Edinburgh there is a monument toHenry Dundas, who prolonged British slavery in the Caribbean by stopping MPs voting for its abolition. He also tried to reverse the independence process in Haiti as he feared similar rebellions damaging the economics of British slavery. He selected governors for the slave islands and, as governor of the Bank of Scotland, loaned money to shore up the slave business of his friends. When Wilberforce tried to secure the abolition of the slave trade, Dundas frustrated the process and forced him to add two notorious words to his Bill "gradually abolished". These two words ensured that slavery lasted 31 more years. To achieve abolition,£20 million was also paid in compensation to slave plantation owners in the West Indies - over 40% of the national budget, the equivalent of around £1.12 billion.

Alexander Allerdyce of Aberdeenshire was a slave trader. He took more African slaves to Jamaica than the entire population of Aberdeen at the time.

John Glassford owned 25 ships in nine trading posts in Maryland and eleven in Virginia. By 1775, Glassford controlled more than half the Clyde. He helped finance the Forth and Clyde canal. He set up the Fowlis Academy, a school for art and design.

By 1800 there were 10,000 Scots in Jamaica. Scottish surnames such as Douglas, Robinson, Reid, Russell, Lewis, McFarlane, McKenzie, McDonald, Grant, Gordon, Graham, Stewart, Simpson, Scott, Ferguson, Frazer and Farquharson are common in Jamaica. Many of the slave plantations were given Scottish names such as Monymusk, Hermitage, Hampden, Glasgow, Argyle, Glen Islay, Dundee, Fort William, Montrose, Roxbro, Dumbarton, Old Monklands and Mount Stewart. In 1817 Scots owned almost a third of all the slaves in Jamaica.

Enslaved Scots

Startling as it may sound, the slavery of the native Scot continued longer than that of the black slave. In 1606, an Act was passed, which ordained that no person should fee, hire, or conduce any salters, colliers, or coal-bearers without a sufficient testimonial from the master whom they had last served, and that any one hiring them without such testimonial was bound, upon challenge within a year and a day by their late master, to deliver them up to him, under a penalty of £100 for each person and each act of contravention, the colliers, bearers, and salters so transgressing and receiving wages to be held as thieves and punished accordingly. The colliers and salters were unquestionably slaves. They were bound to continue their service during their lives, were fixed to their places of employment, and sold with the works to which they belonged. It had been the rule for the collier and his family to live and be cared for and die on the estate on which he was born. Up till the year 1661, colliers and salters were the only workers to whom the Act applied, but in that year an addition made embracing other colliery workers - named watermen, windsmen, and gatesmen. An Act passed in 1672, for the establishment of correction-houses for idle beggars and vagabonds, authorized "coal-masters, salt-masters, and others, who have manufactories in this kingdom, to seize upon any vagabonds or beggars wherever they can find them, and to put them to work in the coal-heughs or other manufactories, who are to have the same power of correcting them and the benefit of their work as the masters of the correction-houses.

So completely did the law of Scotland regard them as a distinct class, not entitled to the same liberties as their fellow-subjects, that they were excepted from the Scotch Habeas Corpus Act of 1701. In 1775 their condition attracted the notice of the legislature, and an act was passed for their relief . Its preamble stated that "many colliers and salters are in a state of slavery and bondage" and that their emancipation "would remove the reproach of allowing such a state of servitude to exist in a free country." But so deeply rooted was this hateful custom, that Parliament did not venture to condemn it as illegal. It was provided that colliers and salters commencing work after the 1st of July 1775, should not become slaves; and that those already in a state of slavery might obtain their freedom in seven years, if under twenty-one years of age; in ten years, if under thirty-five. The Act imposed so many conditions to be observed by those to be freed, such as they were obliged to obtain a decree of the Sheriff's Court that little advantage was taken of it. Moreover, many of the masters were not disposed to give up their old rights without a struggle, and they sought to retain their hold on the workers by advancing money which the poor colliers were too ready to accept and with the advances being kept up as debts against them the colliers were rarely in a condition to press their claims to freedom. Hence the act was practically inoperative. But eventually in 1799, their freedom was established by law


The White Slave Cargo

White servants came to the Colonies and the Caribbean before most of the African slaves. Large numbers of Scottish people were sent to the colonies largely against their will in the 17th and 18th centuries. Mainstream histories refer to these labourers as indentured or bonded servants, not slaves, because many agreed to work for a set period of time in exchange for land and rights. However, the term slavery applies to any person who is bought and sold, chained and abused, whether for a decade or a lifetime. Excerpts from wills show how white servants would be passed down along with livestock and furniture. During that indenture period the servants were not paid wages, but they were provided food, room, clothing. Indentures could not marry without the permission of their owner, were subject to physical punishment (like many young ordinary servants), and saw their obligation to labour enforced by the courts. To ensure uninterrupted work by the female servants, the law lengthened the term of their indenture if they became pregnant. One could buy and sell indentured servants' contracts, and the right to their labour would change hands.

Many early settlers died long before their indenture ended or found that no court would back them when their owners failed to deliver on promises. And many never achieved their freedom with many of the labourers dying before their 4 to 7 years were complete due to the harsh conditions and the often brutal treatment by the plantation owners. Those that survived often remained in the Caribbean and became managers and overseers.

Convicted criminals and political prisoners, including religious nonconformists, were also sent to the colonies as a workforce. In the late 17th century the religious turmoil in Scotland produced a regular supply of indentured labourers.Covenanters and Scottish royalists captured by Cromwell after battle were sold as indentured labourers to the West Indies. In 1666 the city fathers of Edinburgh shipped off "beggars, vagabonds and others not fitt to stay in the kingdome" to Virginia in the Phoenix of Leith under Captain James Gibson. The Scots Privy Council also saw indentured labour as an opportunity to get rid of undesirables and those guilty of certain crimes, and they regularly sent people to Virginia as a punishment rather than keep them in jail.

Ultimately indentured labour did not bring the profit desired. For example, the cost of indentured labor rose by nearly 60 percent throughout the 1680s in some colonial regions. A cheaper source of labour was sought and the plantation owners quickly realised the potential profit that could be made from buying and selling Africans, grasping the opportunity of using a malleable renewable labour force. When slaves arrived in greater numbers after 1700, white labourers became a privileged status and assigned to lighter work and more skilled tasks.

Wage Slavery

It was only when economists like Adam Smith suggested slavery hampered freedom of enterprise that the argument took hold that it was no longer financially viable. It was about economics. Now it was the turn of wage slavery to chain people.

Those who defended the slavery and indentured labour described how owners had to feed, clothe and shelter their enslaved workers and how this made them better off than labourers in the factories in Europe since the factory workers' very small wages hardly kept them in food and clothes and shelter. Capitalist factory-owners needed a flexible labour force and a reserve of workers they could draw on in times of expansion and who could be discarded in times of slump. They did not want to own their workers, precisely because they wanted, when business took a downturn, to be free of any obligation to maintain them as they would have had to with chattel slaves. They favoured “free” labour. They were only interested in buying their workers’ ability to work for a limited period. “Free” labour meant more than that the worker was just not a chattel slave. It meant that he or she was also not tied to the land either as a peasant or a serf. It means that the only productive resource they own is their ability to work, their labour-power, which they are “free” to sell to some capitalist employer or other. Socialists regard labour as free only where the labourers themselves individually or collectively own and control the means by which they labour (land, tools, machinery, etc.).

The legal, social and political status of wage-slaves is superior to that of chattel slaves. However, when we compare their position in the labour process itself, we see that here the difference between them is not a fundamental one. A wage or a salary is the price of the human commodity labour power, the capacity to work. Because workers are compelled to work for their employers for a duration of time, being exploited, the wages system is literally a form of slavery and the working class are wage slaves. We are all compelled to obey the orders of the “boss” who owns the instruments of production with which we work or who represents those who own them. In a small enterprise the boss may convey his orders directly, while in a large enterprise orders are passed down through a managerial hierarchy - overseers. But in all cases it is ultimately the boss who decides what to produce and how to produce it. The products of the labour of the (chattel or wage) slaves do not belong to us. Nor, indeed, does our own activity.

Another obvious difference between chattel slavery and wage slavery is that as a chattel slave you are enslaved – totally subjected to another’s will – at every moment from birth to death, in every aspect of your life. As a wage-slave, you are enslaved only at those times when your labour power is at the disposal of your employer. At other times, in other aspects of your life you enjoy a certain measure of freedom. The wage-slave has some scope for self-development and self-realisation that is denied the chattel slave. Limited to be sure, for the wage-slave must regularly return to the world of wage labour.

According to Engels: "The slave is sold once and for all; the proletarian must sell himself daily and hourly. The individual slave, property of one master, is assured an existence, however miserable it may be, because of the master's interest. The individual proletarian, property as it were of the entire bourgeois class which buys his labor only when someone has need of it, has no secure existence."

It is sometimes objected that wage workers are not slaves because they have the legal right to leave a particular employer, even if in practice they may be reluctant to use that right out of fear of not finding another job. All that this proves, however, is that the wage worker is not the slave of any particular employer. For Marxists, the owner of the wage-slave is not the individual capitalist but the capitalist class. Whether we choose the wages system or not, we are in reality bound to it. We are not by law bound to a single individual, but, in fact, to the capitalist class as a whole. You can leave one employer, but only in order to look for a new one. What you cannot do, lacking as you do access to the means of life, is escape from the thrall of employers as a class – that is, cease to be a wage-slave.

Frederick Douglass, a former slave, born on a Maryland plantation in 1817 makes it clear in his book My Bondage and My Freedom:
"In the country, this conflict is not so apparent; but, in cities, such as Baltimore, Richmond, New Orleans, Mobile etc; it is seen pretty clearly. The slave-holder with a craftiness peculiar to themselves, by encouraging the enmity of the poor, labouring white men against the blacks, succeeds in making the said white men almost as much a slave as the black slave himself. The difference between the white slave, and the black slave, is this: the latter belongs to ONE slave-holder, and the former belongs to ALL the slave-holders, collectively. The white slave has taken from his, by indirection, what the black slave had taken from him, directly, and without ceremony. Both are plundered, and by the same plunderers"

With slavery the workers themselves become commodities, they have no rights and are legally the property of the person who controls them. With the wage system the labour power of the worker becomes one of the main commodities in the marketplace. Capitalist social relations emerged with the expropriation of common land by the aristocracy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Enclosures destroyed the lives of thousands of peasant families, turning them into propertyless vagabonds. Deprived of their land, their homes, their traditional surroundings and the protection of the law, the expropriated peasantry were left to sell the one thing they possessed - their ability to work.

The Chartist, Ernest Jones, dismissed the demand for "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work", which was to ask for:
"...a golden slavery instead of an iron one. But that golden chain would soon be turned to iron again, for if you still allow the system of wages slavery to exist, labour must be still subject to capital, and if so, capital being its master, will possess the power and never lack the will to reduce the slave from his fat diet down to fast-day fare!"

The law grants us personal liberties, and we therefore have the right to make our own decisions: where to live; who to work for; or whether to work at all. But underlying this veil of freedom are the real, material, physical facts, and they run as such: you can only live where you can afford to live; you can only work for someone who will willingly employ you; and while you are under no legal obligation to work for anyone at all, you will find it a struggle to live while not doing so.

Noam Chomsky has explained that “the effort to overcome ‘wage-slavery’ has been going on since the beginnings of the industrial revolution, and we haven’t advanced an inch. In fact, we’re worse off than we were a hundred years ago in terms of understanding the issues.”

The Socialist Party appears to be the only political organisation in this country to take this task at all seriously. The Socialist Party do not just want to win a better deal for wage-slaves. We want to abolish slavery. We are the wage-slavery abolitionists! The influence of the capitalist system has ensured that many do not yet understand the necessity for the working class to free itself from slavery. It is a slavery not only of the body but of the mind too and that must be the worst enslavement of all.

Summer School

Summer School 2017

Summer School 2017  21st – 23rd July Fircroft College, Birmingham   These days, con...