John MacLean Internet Archive                                                    From the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement

Sack Dalrymple, sack Stevenson: The Forty-hour Strike

by John Maclean

Delivered: Pamphlet, Autumn 1919
Transcription\HTML Markup: Scottish Republican Socialist Movement Archive in 2002 and David Walters in 2003
Copyleft: John MacLean Internet Archive (, 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

A terrible blow was struck at the working class of Scotland on Bloody Friday, 31 January 1919. A mass movement was started on the Clyde on the Monday prior to reduce the working week to forty hours. The movement rapidly spread over the industrial belt of Scotland. A strike for a forty-four-hour week was simultaneously proceeding in Belfast, where the stoppage was almost complete. The Tyneside also had its strike on the meal-time question…. Had the strike feeling spread the whole country might have been involved, and in the temper of the people at the time the government feared a revolution such as had swept Germany into the hands of the “right” socialists.

The movement had to be nipped in the bud, and the opportunity presented itself in the move of the workers, who appealed to the Lord Provost of Glasgow to force the employers to grant the shorter working week.

On the Wednesday the Lord Provost told the strikers’ deputation to call at the City Chambers on Bloody Friday. Meantime, acting under instructions from Bonar Law, the Lord Provost made preparations to trap the people. The tramway services provided the authorities with the required provocation on the fatal day. The strikers had calculated that the tramway workers would join them, and so disorganise the transport to and from the works.

The failure of the tramwaymen to respond to the strike call embittered the strikers, who on occasions became very nasty to them. This was known to the authorities, who in consequence planned that cars should run through George Square as usual on Bloody Friday, although the Square was packed with as immense a crowd as had ever gathered there before.

The man immediately responsible was the general manager, James Dalrymple. Of course, he was acting in conjunction with the police under Chief Constable Stevenson; and the latter was carrying out the instructions of the capitalist town councillors led by the magistrates and the Lord Provost.

Had no cars been sent through the Square, packed to excess with strikers who were provoked by the treachery of the tramwaymen and [tramway] women, no riot would have been started and the Chief Constable’s “gallant” men would have got no excuse to crack the skulls of defenceless, innocent people….

The tramway workers were not entirely to blame for being at work. On their side, the major part of the blame rests on the shoulders of their then union (Municipal Employees’ Association) organiser, the brave soldier, Bailie A. Turner….

Of course fine profits were being made out of the trams, profits that largely ought to have gone to improve the lot of the employees. Dalrymple’s salary went up all right. When the war broke out, Dalrymple used the car system and the profits, not only to help recruiting and other war work, but to get a knighthood as well. That is why I nicknamed him “Sir” James Dalrymple from early on in the war, a form of ridicule that probably played some part in turning people against him and preventing him attaining the desired goal.

He used his spies effectively at the depots, and by that means stampeded men into joining the army without any show of force or open threats on his part…

Naturally amongst those remaining on the car system in January 1919, there was a feeling of complete despondency and demoralisation. Turner had been away fighting the enemy in France when he should have been fighting them in Glasgow. The women, who had been introduced on to the cars for the war period, had neither interest in the union as a rule nor in any fight for a shorter working week.

Under these conditions it would be very wrong to hold the car workers absolutely responsible for the scabbing during the forty hours strike. The above explanation shows clearly enough to the usual member of the working class who has seen the spy system and the victimisation system in operation, that the essential blame for the cars being out during the strike of January 1919 must be placed on the shoulders of Mr James Dalrymple….

The tramway system of Glasgow has been boasted of all over the world as the triumph of municipal socialism. From the standpoint of profit-making efficiency I have no objection to raise. But socialism implies security, comfort, and happiness for the people who actually run the cars.

Victimisation is the opposite of security, and spying is degrading both to the spy and the one spied upon. Spying implies that it “pays” to hold your tongue; it spells ruin if you speak your mind. Socialism means that your bread and butter are secure no matter what you think. Socialism means that you are free and entitled to speak your mind.

Under socialism the making of profit will give place to the comfort of the employees…. From a labour standpoint the “municipal socialism” of the Glasgow trams is a ghastly blank…