Vanguard December 1915

Stirring Events in Glasgow

Source: Unattributed, Vanguard, December 1915, p.2 & 3;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

After the first act of the farce had been played in the Sheriff Court, on the 16th November, in the Govan School Board Room came the second.

The clergymen and reactionaries who form the majority of the Board met in conclave to pass a resolution for the dismissal of John Maclean, and thus to conclude the conspiracy against him.

Before these individuals had gathered, a large number of trade unionists, co-operaters and other citizens mainly from the Govan district, had assembled in the streets near the Board Offices.

The very moment the doors were opened many people rushed up the stairs and filled the Board Room. Doubts were expressed as to whether the room could hold so many people as were gathered, and a long queue was formed, reaching far down Bath Street. Only some of those waiting could find admittance; about a thousand were excluded. While their friends inside were following carefully the proceedings of the Board, those outside raised cheer after cheer for Maclean, and sang revolutionary songs.

The brave members of the School Board were, however, afraid to deliberate publicly. Their business was dirty enough, and naturally they sought to do it under cover of darkness. So sure were they of their righteousness, so confident were they of their “arguments” that they endeavoured to hide themselves in a back room. In this respect the Govan School Board is quite unique. No other public body in the West of Scotland does business in such a fashion. No other body is so much afraid of its electors.

The only representative of the workers upon this reactionary assembly – Mr. Hopkins, of the A.S.E. bitterly opposed the idea of the private discussion of a matter which deeply concerned the working class movement in Glasgow. Mr Stewart, knowing as he undoubtedly does, the feelings of the co-operative movement on this question considered it necessary to second the motion for publicity. Needless to say the courageous individuals on the Board, led by a merchant, Mr. Shanks, decided by 9 Votes to 2 to retreat from the fierce glare of publicity into the private room where no light could penetrate.

When the result of the vote was evident, the electors in the room raised a most vigorous protest. A storm of hooting burst from them, and many declared their determination to remain in order to see justice done to Maclean. The chairman called upon them to leave the room. This they emphatically declined to do. Some commenced to sing the “Red Flag,” and soon, the whole band were in chorus. Only the intervention of Comrade Hopkins, in whom the people recognised a staunch upholder of working class principles and a vigorous opponent of the obscurantist policy of the Board, convinced the excited people to leave the room. Before leaving however, under the very noses of the members, they gave three hearty cheers for Maclean.

This however, did not save the poor creatures of the School Board from further trouble. One crowd went out, and another fresh and more numerous rushed in. One of the public from Beardmore’s, Dalmuir, made a strong speech against the action of the Board. His speech was punctuated by applause from his fellow-workers. The gentlemen of the Board lost their heads, and the chairman deserted his post, leaving his poor flock to the tender mercies of the disgusted electors. The situation was complicated by a brawny riveter from Fairfield occupying the vacant chair. When the Board members had managed to conceal themselves in committee rooms, a tremendous meeting was commenced outside.

Notwithstanding the intense cold, a solid mass of workers stood for three hours listening to speeches delivered from the rostrum provided by the steps of the Board Office. The majority of these workers had come straight from their toil to the meeting. Their interest in the case was so keen that in spite of the weather and their hunger they remained right to the end.

The speakers were dealing with John Maclean’s educational activity amongst the working classes, which is the real motive underlying the disgraceful action of the Board.

Finally Mr. Hopkins appeared. A hearty cheer was given for him by the crowd. He intimated that the Board, sitting in private, had decided by a large majority to dismiss John Maclean from his employment.

This news was met with intense indignation by the audience. Three groans were given for the School Board, and cheers for Maclean. “The International,” “Red Flag,” and other Socialist songs were sung. The crowd formed into line and, singing as they went, marched to the foot of Bath Street.

The information that Maclean had been victimised created consternation in Govan and in the entire working class community of Glasgow. The feeling was so great that in many of the large factories and works a strike of protest was suggested.

When next day, eighteen munition workers were summoned at the Small Debt Court for refusing to pay increased rents, several of the large shipyards in Govan – Harland & Wolfs, Stevens, and Fairfield, as well as some on the other side of the river – struck work and marched in processional order to the city.

One contingent marched up to Lorne Street School and took Maclean with them. They carried him shoulder-high through the streets of Glasgow, and ultimately reached their goal, the county Buildings in Hutcheson Street.

About ten thousand workers formed into a huge meeting in the street, and were addressed by John Maclean, standing upon an improvised platform – a newspaper board held on men’s shoulders by comrades Macdougall, Gallacher, Councillor Dollan and others. The meeting resolved “that unless the Government took action to reduce rents to their pre-war level, a general strike on the Clyde would follow.

Another resolution denouncing the action of the Govan School Board in dismissing John Maclean and demanding his immediate reinstatement was adopted. A large crowd formed itself into a procession and marched to the Govan School Board Offices, outside of which a short meeting was held.

Later on the scene of action was transferred to the Court itself, where the proceedings showed, “a certain liveliness.” A large staff of police guarded the doors of the Court. They were, however, absolutely unable to prevent a crowd from entering the buildings A deputation from the workers outside was allowed to enter.

Needless to say, the Court was overcrowded. Towards mid-day Councillor Izett approached the Bar of the Court and asked:- “Who is responsible for this Court?” Mr. Gilbert Gunn, writer, said the Sheriff was engaged elsewhere on another case.

Councillor Izett: “In the name of the workers I protest against this delay.” The cheering which greeted this declaration brought the Sheriff from his chambers. Turning to the gallery he said that they were permitted in the Court by his special sanction as they were legitimately interested in the proceedings that were to take place. Should there be any repetition of the noise, concluded the Sheriff, the Court must be cleared at once.

Mr. Malcolm Nimmo, one of the defenders, asked if the Sheriff would receive a deputation from the Dalmuir workers. The Sheriff, after some hesitation, agreed to deliberate with the deputation in his private room.

Then the Sheriff appeared on the bench. The proceedings were short and sweet, and the result, satisfactory. All the cases were dropped. A cheer was given for the Sheriff, and the demonstrators joyfully went home.

On the way back to Govan a strong detachment marched down Cornwall Street to the Lambhill Street School. There they stopped, a meeting was held and cheers were given for Maclean, in which the school children heartily joined.

The Clyde Workers Committee, which contains representatives of all the trades in the most important yards and factories on the Clyde, have adopted with acclamation the following resolution:-

That this meeting of delegates from all the trades of the Clyde district expresses its abhorrence of the actions, both of the Government and the Govan School Board in imprisoning John Maclean and depriving him of his means of livelihood. Such action, in the opinion of this delegate meeting, is revenge for Maclean’s vigorous educationa1 activity in the working class movement of this country. This meeting, therefore, demands the immediate release of Maclean from prison and his reinstatement.”

Another resolution was carried inviting the workers of Kinning Park and Plantation districts to withdraw their children from the schools under the Govan Board until Maclean had been, reinstated. Many delegates demanded a strike as a necessary measure to be taken for the preservation of working class liberties. At meetings of the workers of Parkhead Forge, Howden’s, P. & W. M'Lellan’s, Fairfield Shipbuilding Yard, and many others, similar resolutions have been adopted. Hundreds of trade union branches have either sent resolutions of protest or, like the Southern District of the Iron moulders, have appointed deputations to wait upon the Govan School Board.

The Secretary of the Govan Labour Representative Committee, Mr. Geo. Galloway, writes as follows: –

“I have sent a resolution to the Board protesting against dismissal, and demanding reinstatement. If have also asked them to receive a deputation at next public meeting. Two of our Committee will attend. I expect Glasgow and Govan Trades Councils to send two delegates each.” Mr. Galloway adds that he expects all the Trade Union branches in Govan to flood the Board with resolutions, and concludes, “if this does not succeed then we must do something stronger.”

Very characteristic is the decision of Weir’s workers.


That we immediately get into touch with all Conveners of Shop Stewards or Representatives of the Kindred Trades with a view to levying ourselves 1d, 2d, or such a sum as would be sufficient to employ our victimised fellow worker, John Maclean, as an independent organiser, at a salary equivalent to what he was in receipt of from the Govan School Board. Furthermore, that we henceforth labour unceasingly until Comrade Maclean, is reinstated in his former position.

Glasgow Branch,
212 Broomielaw,
19th November, 1915.

Govan School Board,
Bath Street,

Dear Sirs, I am desired on behalf of the above Society to write you with reference to the recent dismissal of Mr. John M'Lean from his position as teacher in one of the schools under your jurisdiction.

I may mention that this Society has over 3,000 members in the district, about a 1,060 of whom are estimated to reside in the Plantation and adjacent districts, so that you can understand the matter is one in which we are deeply interested.

We hold the view that Mr M'Lean’s dismissal without any definite charge being formulated is manifestly unfair, and in our judgment he should be immediately reinstated in the service of the Board.

I have therefore to forward to you the following resolution: –

“That the British Seafarers Union, composed of members who reside in the district covered by the Govan School Board, expresses its strong disapproval of the Board’s action in dismissing Mr. John M'Lean, and respectfully suggests that the whole question be re-opened with a view to Mr M'Lean’s reinstatement.

Yours faithfully,
(Signed) B. SHINWELL, Secretary.

* * *

On the 24th November, the day when Maclean was released, at 7.45 am, a number of people had gathered near the prison gate. It appeared, however that with the object of avoiding any demonstration the authorities had let him out a little before the usual time.

A demonstration, however, took place. A deputation of forty miners in pit clothes, and with lamps burning, arrived from South Lanark in Central Station at nine o clock. This picturesque deputation caused a sensation in the station, and in the streets through which they marched. People it the sight of them asked: “Where is the strike?” Crowds of women, thinking it was in connection with the rents, cheered them as they passed along. “Is it a rent strike?” they were asked.

“No,” they replied, “we are here to protest against the imprisonment and dismissal of John Maclean.” “Good luck to you, brave fellows,” echoed in reply.

They came out to Pollokshaws, to Maclean’s house, in order to be sure that their friend was alive and hearty in spite of his imprisonment.

Then they marched through Pollokshaws to a hall, where a meeting took place.

At one o clock the deputation came to the gates of Fairfield Shipbuilding Yard, and a monster meeting of the workers was held. It was a picturesque scene. The deputation with lamps burning stood here and there, scattered amongst the huge mass of workers. Strong resolutions of protest against the Government and the Govan School Board were adopted. Also a resolution against the Munitions Act and conscription was passed. The crowd enthusiastically sang the “Red Flag” and the “International.” Then the deputation went home carrying the greetings of the shipyard workers to the miners of S. Lanark.

* * *

The Free Speech Committee, jointly with the Herald League, had arranged to hold an Anti-Conscription Demonstration in the City Hall on Monday, 29th November. A contract was concluded with the Town Council, deposit paid, tickets and posters issued. At the last moment the contract was broken and the demonstration prohibited.

The Free Speech Committee in reply to this issued an urgent appeal to the workers entitled, “The Town Council Scandal,” in which they declared that the doors must be opened on Monday and the demonstration proceed.

A very impressive demonstration was held in the open air, almost at the doors of the City Hall. Over 3,000 munition workers and others stood for two hours in a drenching rain listening to vigorous speeches.

The enthusiasm and determination exhibited at the meeting are indescribable. Glasgow, seldom sees such gatherings.

The speakers who were booked for the City Hal1, besides appearing at the open air meeting delivered speeches against conscription at the Panopticon, Metropole and Pavilion on the previous Sunday.

Now the magistrates prohibit meetings being held in the Panopticon. Will Scottish people submit to such tyranny? The last word lies with you, citizens of the city!