John MacLean Internet Archive                                                                                  Revolutionary Communist Group

The Unemployed

First Published: The Vanguard, November 1920
Transcription\HTML Markup: Revolutionary Communist Group, 30 March 1998 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

The report of the trial of a Finn who is alleged to be a courier between Lenin and revolutionaries in this country has brought to light a letter supposed to be written by Sylvia Pankhurst. She is supposed to tell Lenin that she got lads to create disturbances amongst the unemployed whilst Lansbury and the other London mayors were discussing matters at 10 Downing Street.

If she wrote it, then Sylvia acted as a police provocateur, consciously or unconsciously. At any rate whether she is guilty or not, the work was that of the police to head back any dangerous outburst when unemployment grows worse as the year proceeds.

We find the same in Glasgow. I start the unemployed demonstrations. All goes well till the Monday the London crowd get a smashing. On that date men, discharged from the Albion Motor Works and Beardmore’s M shop at Parkhead Forge on the Saturday, meet at the Glasgow Green Monument, and talk about seizing works as some of the unemployed did at Coventry. The Clyde Workers’ Committee fasten on, and J.R. Campbell boasts at 31 N. Frederick Street that he will capture the committee established at the first demonstration convened by me.

We had at our first meeting appointed a deputation to meet the Trades Council and the Town Council and we got down to business right away.

The Trades Council was not anxious to move, but we have succeeded in getting it on the way a bit in the usual slovenly way.

The Town Council had to receive our deputation since it was the last meeting prior to the elections. A refusal meant a sure win for Labour at the elections.

We demanded food at municipal restaurants as the most urgent question of all. Then work on farm colonies at trade-union rates of pay, with representation on all committees employing the unemployed. We requested houses to shelter full families on the colonies. We urged the corporation to proceed with all available work of a new and repair character. Failing work we urged emigration to Russia, amidst the laugher of the men who do not intend to lose their slave class. Finally, we requested use of a city hall in which the unemployed might meet and comfortably discuss the situation.

The day following our deputation, Campbell and his committee met ours and wished to drive us contrary to the programme laid before the corporation. I left them in disgust, and told all to the unemployed. They followed after, and Campbell addressed the meeting. Unanimously the meeting agreed that the already existing committee proceed with its work.

Under powers from the meeting, the committee right away interviewed Bailie John Stewart, convener of the Municipal Restaurants Committee, and Baille John Wheatley, convener of a special committee to find work under corporation auspices for the unemployed.

The committee has also urged the Distress Committee to meet it, as well as the Parish Council and the Education Authority.

We have found up-to-date every committee willing to convene a special meeting to discuss matters with us.

Bailie Wheatley’s committee met our delegates and agreed to grant the City Hall three times a week and agreed to convene the heads of departments to get work under way. The next day this was done. The Restaurant Committee meets on 28 October and the Distress Committee on 29 October. Never before in the history of Glasgow was such alacrity shown. Why? Because our committee appears every day lobbying Labour councillors and others on every issue. We wish the Education Authority to proceed with boots, clothes and food for the children. We wish Barnhill Poorhouse to be placed at the disposal of the homeless.

In fact, we mean to exhaust every constitutional method of safeguarding the unemployed of our class. Whatever happens after that we certainly will not be to blame.

To rush a work just now would mean split heads and a defeat for the Labour candidates. To use the misfortunes of the unemployed to increase those misfortunes is pitiable, but at the same time to defeat Labour is positively criminal. A Labour Town Council will respond to our pressures more readily than a bourgeois one. If labour fails then a forceful revolutionary fight is the logical next stage. Unemployment has not really begun yet, neither has the winter. There is ample time for desperate deeds before the winter is over if other and more “constitutional” means fail.

Only provocateurs would rush the situation at this juncture. Had the Clyde Workers’ Committee pursued the fight for the shorter working week after Bloody Friday we might see reason for their anxiety about the unemployed at the present time. Their only desire is to undermine honest attempts to wage the class war, to keep in the public eye, or worst of all do the dirty destructive work of the capitalist class. They have done sufficient this last eighteen months to earn the contempt of every real revolutionist.