IT was a time of turmoil in Scotland’s largest city, with disorder on the streets and British troops drafted in to keep order.

The Battle of George Square in 1919 saw Red Clydeside reach boiling point as workers rallying for better conditions came face to face and fist to fist with baton-wielding police.

Yet it is little known that in the days before that famous incident of civil disorder another riot took place in the streets and lanes of Glasgow.

And it was not the agents of the powers that be who were the target of the workers’ anger, but black sailors who it was feared were taking jobs from white Glaswegians.

Now, with concerns about immigration thrust to the fore by the endless Brexit debate, this forgotten race riot is being marked on its 100th anniversary by campaigning charity the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) with a call to remember the lessons of the past.

The riot on January 23 came against a backdrop of mounting tensions in the UK’s industrial centres, as men recently returned from the battlefields of France came home to find unemployment, low pay and deprivation awaiting them.

With growing demands from shipyard workers and their unions to lower the working week on Clydeside from 47 hours to 40 to free up jobs, there were also fears among sailors that foreign workers were undercutting them by being cheaper to hire.

When a racially mixed group of seaman gathered at the merchant marine office in James Watt Street to look for work, the battle lines became drawn.

Insults were traded between black and white workers and soon fighting broke out among the two groups, with the Commonwealth sailors greatly outnumbered.

More than 30 black sailors tried to flee, but out on the streets a large mob hundreds strong formed and began to give chase, with local men joining in.

Eventually a force of 50 police officers had to be drafted in to try and restore order, by which time the black sailors had sought refuge in their boarding house on the Broomielaw.

Contemporary reports say that the building was put under siege by a mob wielding makeshift weapons, knives and even guns brought home from the war, who began smashing windows and trying to force their way inside.

To bring an end to the disturbance, the police took all 30 black sailors into protective custody, although all were charged with riot and weapons offences – in contrast to the white mob, which was dispersed with no arrests. Three people were injured – a black West African sailor named Tom Johnson, who was stabbed –and two white sailors: Duncan Cowan, who was shot, and Thomas Carlin, who suffered a knife wound.

Local press reports displayed little sympathy for Johnson, who was described as “... a d***** from Sierra Leone, who speaks little English,” and the incident would spark a debate on the way black sailors were being treated, not all of it to Glasgow’s credit.

And while the dispute was over low pay, modern research has cast blame at the feet of trade union leaders for stoking divisions.

Academic Dr Jaqueline Jenkinson, a professor of history at the University of Stirling who has researched the incident, writes: “Prominent Glasgow labour leaders enforced and supported the ‘colour’ bar on black and Chinese sailors.”

She adds: “They opportunistically played on this manufactured division within the low-paid and low-skill seafaring workforce as part of the wider campaign for a 40-hour week to reduce unemployment pressures caused by mass demobilisation.”

CRER’s Zandra Yeaman and Lou Dear, joint authors of a blog post on the riot to mark the 100th anniversary, said that the riots roots had disturbing parallels to modern Scotland.

They write: “The use of race as a means to scapegoat individuals caught up in structural economic injustice remains unchanged 1919-2019. Competition for jobs, and housing was used to fuel the race riot of 1919 and has been repeated throughout the century.”

They add: “Just as the very same institutions divided the white workers and the black workers in 1919, it allows for the oppressed to be pitched against each other without challenging the engine that drives the oppression.”