John MacLean Vanguard, December 1915

Rent Victories

Source: Unattributed, Vanguard, December 1915, p.4.
This article appears in a shortened form In The Rapids of Revolution, p. 83, 1978 Allison and Busby edited by Nan Milton (Maclean’s daughter) and is stated to be by John Maclean;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Through the tireless energy, of Mr. M'Bride, Secretary of the Labour Party’s Housing Committee, and ardent support of the Women’s Housing Committee an agitation was started in the early summer against rent increases in the munition areas of Glasgow and district. Evening and mid-day work-gate meetings soon stimulated the active workers in all the large shipyards and engineering shops.

Emboldened, the organisers by demonstration and deputation tried to commit the Town Council to action against increases. As it acts as the Executive Committee of the propertied class the Council shirked the responsibility of curbing the greed and rapacity of the factors and house-owners.

Enraged, the workers agitated more and more until the Government intervened by the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry – Dr. Hunter and Prof. Scott. This was the signal for all the factors in the city to give notices of increase of rent. They anticipated that this united front would influence the Commissioner (as it did), and that the Government would compromise the situation by allowing half the demands to be made legal.

They all calculated without consideration of the awakened anger of the whole working class. People in the previously unaffected areas saw no objection to munition workers paying more but when they themselves became liable to increased rent they adopted the aggressive. Encouraged by the universal working class support, and irritated by the operation of the infamous Munitions Act, the Clyde workers were ready to strike. This several yards did when 18 of their comrades appeared before Sheriff Lee. Beardmore’s workers at Dalmuir sent a big deputation to tell the Sheriff that if he gave an adverse decision they would at once down tools. We have been favoured with a report of the proceedings in the Sheriff’s room from the principal spokesman. It is intensely interesting as described by one of the spokesmen. In the circumstances the Sheriff wisely decided against the factor’s demand for an increase. This was the first victory for working class solidarity. We state the cause of triumph in these terms advisedly, for it really was due to joint action and not to the justice of the case (and there could be no juster) that success came to our side.

The strike having taken place, the workers were bent on letting the Government know that out they would come again unless it restored rents to their pre-war level. It now transpires that Rent Bill will be passed, forcing all factors of houses, rented at 21 and under (30 in London), to reduce the rents to the level prevailing immediately prior to the outbreak of the Great Slaughter Competition.

To soothe the factors and the house-owners it is intended to force bond-holders and mortgage-holders to reduce the interest on their bonds and mortgages to the old rates. If this Bill is passed it will be a full victory for the mass action of the working class.

It should be noted that the rent strike on the Clyde is the first step towards the Political Strike, so frequently resorted to on the Continent in times past. We rest assured that our comrades in the various works will incessantly urge this aspect on their shop-mates, and so prepare the ground for the next great counter-move of our class in the raging class warfare – raging more than even during the Great Unrest period three or four years ago.

Bear in mind that, although the Government has yielded to enormous pressure, it must do something to balance the victory Remember how Lloyd George came out with the Munitions Act as a reply to the victory of the striking Clyde engineers, and let that put us all on our guard.

We are of opinion that the reply will come in the form of a. attempt to compulsorily hold back a bit of each worker’s wage to finance the war; all the more so in view of the engineers’ timely demand for an increase of wages owing to increased cost of living The argument will be that if the Government is penalising house owners and bond-holders, why ought it not to detain a portion of the workers’ incomes to help their trench-mates to win the war. Workers, beware!

Our contention is that thrift should begin at the top amongst those who live on “unearned income.” These people are living as luxuriously as ever they did, and intend to do so as long as circumstances let them. Just the other day we read that furs selling for fifty guineas at the beginning of the year are now fetching about eighty guineas. This means that, scarcity apart, an increasing demand is being made for such luxuries. This further means that the wealthy are more spendthrift than they were earlier on in the war, and that they are of opinion that all sacrifices ought to be made by the poor, whose wages are so low that they cannot be other than thrifty.

Readers ought to know that three years ago a report was issued of an investigation into the living of about a hundred families in working class wards in Glasgow. The investigators found that one out of every three families had to live under starvation conditions, on the assumption that every penny was put to the utmost use. These same conditions prevail to-day, with an infant mortality now deplored by wealthy ladies who themselves refuse to bear youngsters enough to fill up the gaps of war, and who consequently are anxious to keep up the balance of population by amateurish attempts to save the kiddies who, by misfortune or mistake, happen to enter this devilish world. In the circumstances it would be preposterous, as well as impolitic from a capitalist standpoint, to hold back anything from wages. We well know that an attempt will at first be made to limit deductions to those earning 2 and more per week. When once the “principle” has been established the process will be gradually applied to all workers by the same piecemeal method as Lord Derby intends to use to force conscription.

It is up to the workers to be ready, and resist with a might never exerted before. Whether the Clyde Workers’ Committee as constituted to-day is able or willing to cope with the situation is doubtful; but it is just as well to give it a further chance with the added support of miners and railwaymen. However, just as this unofficial committee views with suspicion the official committees of the various unions, and attempts to act as a driving force, we warn our comrades that they ought to adopt the same attitude towards the unofficial committee and see that it pushes ahead. If it still clings on to academic discussions and futile proposals, it is their business to take the initiative into their own hands as they did in the case of the recent rent strike. Remember that the only way to fight the class war is by accepting every challenge of the master class and throwing down more challenges ourselves. Every determined fight binds the workers together more and more and so prepares for the final conflict. Every battle lifts the curtain more and more, clears the heads of our class to their robbed and enslaved conditions, and so prepares them for the acceptance of our full gospel of Socialism, and the full development of the class war to the end of establishing Socialism.

A victory at football, draughts, or chess, is the result of many moves and counter-moves. We do not lie down and cry when our side loses a goal. No, we buckle up our sleeves and spit on our hands, determined to get two goals in return, or more. So in the game of life. It advances from move to move, ever on grander and grander scale. Let us be up and doing all the time never giving the enemy time to settle down to a peaceful enjoyment of victorious plunder. Prepare, then, for the enemy’s counter-stroke to our victory on the rent question!