Battle of George Square

Last updated

Battle of George Square
Part of Red Clydeside
1919 Battle of George Square - David Kirkwood.jpg
David Kirkwood and Willie Gallacher being detained by police at the City Chambers
Date31 January 1919
Caused by
  • Anger with 47-hour working week
  • Unemployment
  • Reduced working week
  • Reduced unemployment
  • Strike action
  • Rioting throughout Glasgow
  • Running battles with police
Resulted in
  • Army units deployed to Glasgow
  • Workers return to work under guarantee of 47 hour week
  • Growth of Labour movement in Scotland
Parties to the civil conflict


  • Striking workers
Lead figures
Decentralized leadership

60,000+ protesters

(not all involved in violence)
Many injured

The "Battle of George Square" was a violent confrontation in Glasgow, Scotland between Glasgow City Police and striking Glasgow workers, centred around George Square. The 'battle', also known as "Bloody Friday" or "Black Friday", took place on Friday 31 January 1919, [1] 82 days after the end of the First World War. In its aftermath the leaders of the strike were arrested and British troops, supported by six tanks, were moved to key points in Glasgow and its surrounding areas. [2] There were no fatalities. [3]

Scotland Country in Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, the North Sea to the northeast, the Irish Sea to the south, and the North Channel to the southwest. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

George Square square in Glasgow

George Square is the principal civic square in the city of Glasgow, Scotland. It is one of six squares in the city centre, the others being Cathedral Square, St Andrew's Square, St Enoch Square, Royal Exchange Square, and Blythswood Square on Blythswood Hill. It is the Pantheon of Glasgow and the perpetual summer and winter palace of the people.

Strike action Work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work

Strike action, also called labor strike, labour strike, or simply strike, is a work stoppage, caused by the mass refusal of employees to work. A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances. Strikes became common during the Industrial Revolution, when mass labor became important in factories and mines. In most countries, strike actions were quickly made illegal, as factory owners had far more power than workers. Most Western countries partially legalized striking in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.


Forty Hours Strike

The end of the First World War saw the United Kingdom demobilise her military and industry from its war footing, reducing employment. This combined with the increasingly worsening domestic fiscal and monetary environment to create the prospect of mass unemployment. The Scottish TUC and Clyde Workers' Committee (CWC) sought to increase the availability of jobs, open to demobilised soldiers, by reducing the working week, from a newly agreed 47 hours, to 40 hours. [4]

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom (UK), officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and sometimes referred to as Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.


Demobilization or demobilisation is the process of standing down a nation's armed forces from combat-ready status. This may be as a result of victory in war, or because a crisis has been peacefully resolved and military force will not be necessary. The opposite of demobilization is mobilization. Forceful demobilization of a defeated enemy is called demilitarization.

Unemployment People without work and actively seeking work

Unemployment, or joblessness, is a situation in which able-bodied people who are looking for a job cannot find a job.

The resulting strike began on Monday 27 January, with a meeting of around 3,000 workers held at the St. Andrew's Halls. [5] By 30 January, 40,000 workers from the Clydes engineering and shipbuilding industries had joined. Sympathy strikes also started among local power station workers and miners from the nearby Lanarkshire and Stirlingshire pits. The rapid growth of the action was credited to flying pickets, [6] [ not in citation given ] most of whom were recently discharged servicemen. This was Scotland's most widespread strike since the Radical War of 1820, [7] [ not in citation given ] which had followed the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Mitchell Library public library in Glasgow, Scotland

The Mitchell Library is a large public library and centre of the City Council public library system of Glasgow, Scotland.

Solidarity action is industrial action by a trade union in support of a strike initiated by workers in a separate corporation, but often the same enterprise, group of companies, or connected firm. The term "secondary action" is often used with the intention of distinguishing different types of trade dispute with a worker's direct contractual employer. Thus, it may be used to refer to a dispute with the employer's parent company, its suppliers, financiers, contracting parties, or any other employer in another industry.

Lanarkshire Historic county in Scotland

Lanarkshire, also called the County of Lanark is a historic county in the central Lowlands of Scotland.

The 'Strike Situation in Glasgow' was discussed by the War Cabinet on 30 January [8] The meeting was chaired by Bonar Law in the absence of the Prime Minister, Lloyd George. Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War and Robert Munro, Secretary of State for Scotland, who were not members of the War Cabinet were in attendance, among others.

Bonar Law former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Andrew Bonar Law, commonly called Bonar Law, was a British Conservative politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1922 to 1923.

David Lloyd George Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, was a British statesman and Liberal Party politician. He was the last Liberal to serve as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Winston Churchill 20th-century Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British statesman, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was instead a member of the Liberal Party.

At the meeting concern was voiced that, given the concurrent European popular uprisings, the strike had the possibility to spread throughout the country. While it was government policy at the time to not involve itself in labour disputes, the agreed action was justified to ensure there was 'sufficient force' [9] present within the immediate locale of Glasgow to secure the continuation of public order and operation of municipal services. [10] The decision to use the armed forces to provide the requested force, in the absence of a declaration of martial law, required those forces be acting on behalf of a civil authority. [11] On the meeting's close, instructions were sent to Scottish Command informing of the situation and to be prepared to deploy troops if requested. [8]

Revolutions of 1917–1923

The Revolutions of 1917–1923 were a period of political unrest and revolts around the world inspired by the success of the Russian Revolution and the disorder created by the aftermath of World War I. The uprisings were mainly socialist or anti-colonial in nature and were mostly short-lived, failing to have a long-term impact. Out of all the revolutionary activity of the era, the revolutionary wave of 1917–1923 mainly refers to the unrest caused by World War I in Europe.

Municipal services service provided by a city government or municipality

Municipal services or city services refer to basic services that residents of a city expect the city government to provide in exchange for the taxes which citizens pay. Basic city services may include sanitation, water, streets, the public library, schools, food inspection, fire department, police, ambulance, and other health department issues and transportation. City governments often operate or contract for additional utilities like electricity, gas and cable television. Mumbai even provides a lighthouse service.

Military Organization primarily tasked with preparing for and conducting war

A military is a heavily-armed, highly-organised force primarily intended for warfare, also known collectively as armed forces. It is typically officially authorized and maintained by a sovereign state, with its members identifiable by their distinct military uniform. It may consist of one or more military branches such as an Army, Navy, Air Force and in certain countries, Marines and Coast Guard. The main task of the military is usually defined as defence of the state and its interests against external armed threats. Beyond warfare, the military may be employed in additional sanctioned and non-sanctioned functions within the state, including internal security threats, population control, the promotion of a political agenda, emergency services and reconstruction, protecting corporate economic interests, social ceremonies and national honor guards.

Violence between protesters and police

On 31 January, a large number of strikers (contemporary estimates range from 20,000 to 25,000 [12] ) congregated in George Square. They were awaiting an answer to a their petition which the CWC had delivered to the Lord Provost of Glasgow some days earlier. [13]

A petition is a request to do something, most commonly addressed to a government official or public entity. Petitions to a deity are a form of prayer called supplication.

Accounts differ on what initiated the violence on the day, but police testimony at the following trials records that the police baton charged the striking workers at 12:20. [14]

As the fighting started in George Square, a Clyde Workers' Committee deputation was in the Glasgow City Chambers meeting with the Lord Provost of Glasgow. On hearing the news, CWC leaders David Kirkwood and Emanuel Shinwell left the City Chambers and started towards George Square.

Kirkwood was knocked to the ground by a police baton. [15] Then he, William Gallacher and Shinwell were arrested. They were charged with "instigating and inciting large crowds of persons to form part of a riotous mob". [16] [17] Kirkwood was found not guilty at trial after a photograph was submitted to the court, showing him lying on the ground after being knocked out by police, before reaching George Square and the fighting.

After the baton charge, the outnumbered police retreated from George Square. The fighting between the strikers and police, some mounted, spread into the surrounding streets and continued into the night. [18] [ not specific enough to verify ]

Military deployment

Medium Mark C tanks and soldiers at the Glasgow Cattle Market in the Gallowgate 1919 Battle of George Square - tanks and soldiers.jpg
Medium Mark C tanks and soldiers at the Glasgow Cattle Market in the Gallowgate

The events of the day prompted the request for military assistance by the Sheriff of Lanarkshire. The deployment had already begun before the day's meeting of the War Cabinet, [19] which convened at 3pm. [20]

During that meeting Munro, Secretary for Scotland, described the demonstration as "a Bolshevist uprising". It was decided to deploy troops from Scotland and Northern England: troops from the local Maryhill barracks were not deployed because it was feared that men there might have sided with their neighbours. [3] General Sir Charles Harington Harington, the Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff informed the meeting that 6 tanks supported by 100 lorries were "going north that evening". [20] It was stated that up to 12,000 troops could be deployed.

It is sometimes suggested that the War Cabinet ordered this deployment, but this is incorrect: the government lacked the authority to deploy troops against British civilians without declaring martial law, which was not declared. The War Cabinet discussed the issue but the military deployment was in response to the request from the Sheriff of Lanarkshire. [19]

The first troops arrived that night, [21] with their numbers increasing over the next few days. The six Medium Mark C tanks, of the Royal Tank Regiment arrived from Bovington on Monday 3 February. [22] Machine gun nests were placed in George Square. The Observer newspaper reported that "The city chambers is like an armed camp.'The quadrangle is full of troops and equipment, including machine guns." [3]

The military arrived after the rioting was over and they played no active role in dispersing the protesters. [19] The troops guarded locations of import to the civil authorities throughout the period of the strike, which lasted until 12 February. The troops and tanks then remained in Glasgow, and its surrounding areas, until 18 February. [23]


Calm returned to the city by the Sunday. Despite the military deployment, there were no fatalities. [3]

With the strike over, the strikers gave up their cause for a 40-hour work week and therefore, by default, accepted the previously agreed 47 hours.

Key members involved in the strike were arrested in the immediate aftermath of the events of the 31st. Only two – William Gallacher and Emanuel Shinwell – were convicted, and were sentenced to five months and three months in prison respectively. [24]

Some of those involved claim that this came close to being a successful revolution. Gallacher said "had there been an experienced revolutionary leadership, instead of a march to Glasgow Green there would have been a march to the city's Maryhill Barracks. There we could easily have persuaded the soldiers to come out, and Glasgow would have been in our hands." [25] Most historians now dispute this claim and argue that it was a reformist rather than revolutionary gathering. [25]

Emanuel Shinwell, born to a Jewish immigrant family in London, ran in the municipal elections to the Glasgow Corporation following his release from prison. [26]

In the general election of 1922, the second election held after the passage of the Representation of the People Act 1918, Scotland elected 29 Labour MPs. Their number included the 40 Hour Strike organisers and Independent Labour Party members Manny Shinwell and David Kirkwood. [27] [28] The General Election of 1923 eventually saw the first Labour government come to power under Ramsay MacDonald. The region's socialist sympathies earned it the epithet of Red Clydeside. [29]

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  1. "The Battle of George Square". The Sunday Post.
  2. "Historian Sir Tom Devine calls for monument for George Square workers' uprising". The Sunday Post.
  3. 1 2 3 4 McKie, Robin (6 January 2019). "100 years on: the day they read the Riot Act as chaos engulfed Glasgow". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  4. "Manifesto of Joint Strike Committee, Glasgow, Feb 1919". Glasgow Digital Library. University of Strathclyde.
  5. "The 40 Hours Strike 1919". Glasgow Digital Library. University of Strathclyde.
  6. "The last reading of the Riot Act". BBC News. BBC Scotland. 30 January 2009.
  7. Lennon, Holly (15 December 2015). "Looking back: Scotland's political protests". The Scotsman.
  8. 1 2 "War Cabinet, Minutes of Meeting 522, 30 January 1919". UK National Archives. CAB 23/9/9
  9. The Glasgow Herald, 7 February 1919
  10. Pamphlet, Duties in Aid of the Civil Power, "Use of military personnel in aid of civil powers in event of civil disturbances and strikes". UK National Archives. WO 32/18921
  11. The King's Regulations and Orders for the Army (1914)
  12. "Debunking more myths around the battle of George Square". HeraldScotland. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  13. McLean, Iain (1983). The legend of Red Clydeside. Edinburgh: J. Donald. ISBN   9780859765169. OCLC   44884180.
  14. Evening News, 31 January 1919
  15. "David Kirkwood on the ground after being struck by police batons, 31 Jan 1919". Glasgow Digital Library. University of Strathclyde.
  16. "Kirkwood and Gallacher arrested during 'Bloody Friday', 31 Jan 1919". Glasgow Digital Library. University of Strathclyde.
  17. "Letter from lawyer of Emanuel Shinwell to defence witnesses in the 40 hours strike trial, 31 Jan 1919". Glasgow Digital Library. University of Strathclyde.
  18. JC 36/31, Trial transcript, evidence of the Chief Constable
  19. 1 2 3 "Debunking more myths around the battle of George Square". The Herald. 20 April 2018.
  20. 1 2 CAB 23/9/9, 'War Cabinet, Minutes of Meeting 523, 31 January 1919'
  21. Evening News, 3 February 1919
  22. Aberdeen Daily Journal (later Aberdeen Press & Journal), Tuesday 4 February 1919. "Tanks Reinforce Troops in Glasgow"
  23. Glasgow Herald, Tuesday 18 February 1919. "Departure of Troops from Glasgow"
  24. "Petition for the release of CWC leaders, 31 Jan 1919". Glasgow Digital Library. University of Strathclyde.
  25. 1 2 McKie, Robin (6 January 2019). "100 years on: the day they read the Riot Act as chaos engulfed Glasgow". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  26. "Election address of Emanuel Shinwell, Labour candidate for Govan Fairfield ward, 4 Nov 1919". Glasgow Digital Library. University of Strathclyde.
  27. The Times, 17 November 1922
  28. "David Kirkwood: Biography". Archived from the original on 9 November 2013. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
  29. "Red Clydeside – 20th and 21st centuries". Archived from the original on 9 November 2013. Retrieved 6 November 2013.

Works cited