Updated: Feb 26, 2021
100 years ago, 17th of November 1915, thousands of women along with thousands of shipyard and engineering workers marched through the streets of Glasgow to the Sheriff’s Court and City Chambers. A victory celebration lay ahead.
In the Spring of that second year of the First World War, landlords of Clydeside had decided to milk more profit by increasing rents in their ill-maintained tenements. They figured that the women would helplessly comply while the men were taken up risking their lives at the front, or their health in the munitions factories. But the women were not having any of that! Women didn’t have the vote yet, but they had courage and each other’s backs when they said – We are not removing! Word and deed united: sheriff officers got chucked into the midden, and the tenement back courts echoed with radical ideas and opposition to the war. For the months to come, Govan women showed how powerful the working class can be when united against the capitalist system.
Soon Glasgow and Clydeside districts were propelled by a massive grass roots movement against those large rent increases imposed by the landlords. Over 25,000 tenants refused to pay the rent increase. The struggle spread to the Clydeside engineering workshops and shipyards, and to other cities in Scotland and Northern England.
The defiant mass march of 17 November sent shock waves all the way to Westminster. The state, fearful of the spread of strikes and radical protests, immediately passed the Rent Restriction Act of 1915 stopping rent rises for the duration of the war, plus 6 months after. This was truly a victory of the working class over the ruling class– one that reverberated throughout the country, igniting hope for the future. It is a moment in our radical history we should not forget.
100 years on, the state continues to stir up war fever and flag-waving extravaganzas to distract us from major budget cuts to education and NHS while the nuclear weapons system, Trident, gets fully funded.
Like the rent strikers, we need to organise and fight back: to speak truth to power. The rent strikers took inspiration from all those who resist capitalism, imperialism, and militarism. They exchanged news, gave speeches, wrote pamphlets, and took to the streets believing in the power of international working class solidarity and women’s liberation. Their courage back then means something for each of us today. Their example is ours to follow. On 17 November, 2015, at 12pm, there will be a Walk of Pride from the Dewar’s statue in Buchanan Street to the City Chambers, George Square. This action is a tribute to the 1915 mass march, and to rent strikes as a tool of struggle throughout the world. It is being held in conjunction with Spirit of Revolt’s November archival exhibition at the Mitchell Library, The Glasgow Rent Strike:100 Years On; the Scottish Peace Network’s Counter-Centenary Project; and the ongoing work of the Clydeside Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World.