By Julie Sherry
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When the Clyde Ran Red

This article is over 11 years, 6 months old
Maggie Craig
Issue 369

When the Clyde Ran Red gives a warm, detailed account of the Red Clydeside movement, but doesn’t restrict itself to the period of the Great Unrest (1910 to 1919). It looks at history on the Clyde right through the 1926 General Strike, the “hungry 30s”, the Second World War and the Clydebank Blitz, and touches on the 1970s Upper Clyde Shipbuilders occupation in the final chapter.

The scene is set in early 20th century Glasgow – the “Second City of the Empire”. Craig vividly describes the elegant Cranston tearooms, beautiful art galleries and cutting-edge architecture. Glasgow was a trade hub as it was “the Workshop of the World”.But the following chapter, Earth’s Nearest Suburb to Hell, delves into how the other half lived. Craig brings us into a polluted, filthy city, rife with disease, with towering tenement slums.

Infant mortality was staggering. Out of every 1,000 babies, 205 more died in infancy in working class Broomielaw than did in middle class Kelvinside.Threaded through these horror stories, we’re also shown the defiance and militancy of workers’ struggle. The book gives a refreshing focus particularly on the struggles of women, in workplaces and in the community. Even the Glasgow tea rooms did not escape the Red Clydesiders. In 1920 a month-long strike by Kerr’s Cafe waitresses challenged long hours and bullying management ploys.

Describing the effect on the thousands who went to work in the Singer sewing machine factory, she says, “You got out into the world, achieved the status of a wage earner and had company of your own age during the day these young women tended to be more confident and were more likely to speak out.”From the spectacular 1911 Singer strike to leading Red Clydesiders such as Helen Crawford we are reminded of the central role women played throughout.

Craig also shows us that these working class fighters were, as well as leaders in their workplaces and communities, also closely tied to the suffragettes and the fight for the vote, and the drive for working class women to access birth control.The book covers a vast area of history. Chapters range from covering the role of Scottish workers in the Spanish Civil War to the impact of Glasgow’s 1930s dance halls on the city’s cultural scene.

It makes for interesting reading, with a wealth of facts and stories that explore working class history and the role of workers in shaping it.One weakness of the book is that, while it is incredibly descriptive, her concluding chapter falls short of drawing out the key lessons. The book tends towards explaining the “principle” of the Red Clydesiders as one “which in Scotland runs bone-deep”, attributing the determination to fight for a better world to the “democratic spirit of the Scottish people”, regardless of “our political views and the nuances between them”.As the book’s beginning made so clear, the problem with this position is that there is little common ground between rich Glaswegians and poor Glaswegians, no matter how “Scottish” they may be. Yet Craig’s book provides a wonderfully celebrative, optimistic and informative account of Glasgow’s history – and it’s well worth a read.

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