Red Clydeside

‘Red Clydeside’ is the name given to a series of disputes, beginning in 1915 between the government and the workers in factories and engineering works in the Glasgow area.

Workers' strikes and government response

In January 1916 there were strikes over government plans to enforce dilution, where work previously done only by skilled workers was carried out by semi and unskilled workers in the engineering factories. The government ordered that the Clyde Workers'Committee (CWC) leaders be arrested and deported to Edinburgh, breaking the strength and organisation of the CWC.

The rent strikes also contributed to the tension on Clydeside in 1915. From the workers’ point of view the rent strikes were successful - the government met their demands. The strikers realised that they had power when the munitions factories went on strike in support of the women organising the rent strikes.

The government took a different view as it was concerned about possible disruption to wartime production. Newspapers described the strikers as greedy and selfish, and most public opinion supported the government. Many people believed the strikes were damaging Britain's chances of winning the war and endangering the lives of soldiers at the front by threatening the supply of munitions.

Radicalism

The Great War radicalised many Scots, especially women. In the political sense, radicalism means people banding together to take direct personal action to fight against perceived threats to their lives and working conditions. Radical action is defined as action taken to force change that would improve conditions.

Radicalisation of workers in the West of Scotland and elsewhere meant Scots became more politically aware and were prepared to take direct action to improve their living and working conditions. The 1915 ‘rent strikes’ are an example of this.

The rent strikes

As demand for war workers in the industrial areas around Glasgow increased, the demand for housing rocketed – and so did the rents that landlords charged. In February 1915, local women formed the Glasgow Women's Housing Association to resist rent rises. In May 1915 the first rent strike began and soon about 25,000 tenants in Glasgow had joined it.

The radicalisation of the women inspired male factory workers. They began to strike for wage increases, putting the government under pressure. The answer was the Rent Restriction Act – this froze rent at 1914 levels unless improvements had been made to the property. The strikers’ demands had been met and wartime production was maintained without disruption.

The strikers had learned an important lesson - that direct action could lead to positive results.