THE BATTLE of George Square – or Bloody Friday, as it became known – marks its 101st anniversary later this month and it remains a defining moment in the city’s political history.

On January 31, 1919, a crowd of between 20,000 and 40,000 people gathered in the square during a strike called in pursuit of a 40-hour week.

The strikers, who were mostly engineering workers called out by the Clyde Workers’ Committee, and their families wanted to hear from the Lord Provost if the government would respond to the strike leaders’ request and intervene in the dispute.

Fearing an uprising, dozens of police officers were posted outside the City Chambers, but it all kicked off when a fight broke out between a striker and an off-duty soldier on a tram passing by George Square.

Glasgow Times:

It spilled into the crowd and sparked a riot, which spread to other parts of the city. Luckily, no-one was killed, though many were injured.

Author and former SNP Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill published a book about the event to mark its centenary last year.

Glasgow 1919: The Rise of Red Clydeside details what happened in the aftermath of the riot, when soldiers were sent to the city and billeted in the City Chambers.

Glasgow Times:

That night and over the weekend, armed soldiers from Scottish and English regiments were posted at electricity stations, rail stations and bridges, tram depots and gas works.

A dozen strike leaders later stood trial at the High Court in Edinburgh, including Manny Shinwell, David Kirkwood and Willie Gallacher.

Shinwell and Gallacher were found guilty of incitement and two others were convicted of mobbing and rioting.

Many myths have sprung up around Bloody Friday, including the story that Winston Churchill sent tanks to ‘roll into the crowd’.

Glasgow Times:

A photograph used by many newspapers and magazines to illustrate stories about the Battle of George Square shows a tank moving through crowds on a Glasgow street.

The Herald, sister newspaper of the Glasgow Times, discovered recently that this photo had in fact been mis-labelled with the wrong date and put in the archive.

It was actually taken a year earlier, in January 1918, to highlight Tank Week, an initiative designed to sell National War Bonds and War Savings Certificates to fund the war effort.

Tanks were sent into the city, but after the riots had finished and only on the following Monday, to reinforce the message that order had to be restored. Martial law was never declared.

Within a week of the riot, a compromise was met and the working week was reduced to 47 hours.

The events leading up to Bloody Friday are the subject of much debate and discussion, and research into what really happened continues.

Nevertheless, it was a key date in the Red Clydeside era of political radicalism that characterised Glasgow in the early 20th century.

Historic Environment Scotland’s website ( provides interesting insight into the tensions which led to this period of militant politics, as workers stood up to employers over worsening conditions.

“Many felt the Liberal government of the time did not represent the working class,” it says. “Workers protested throughout the war years, striking in factories, mines and shipyards....At the same time, landlords increased rents despite housing shortages. The Clydeside Rent Strike of 1915 saw organisations like the South Govan Housing Association (led by Mary Barbour and Helen Crawfurd) take action.”

Those strikes, and the introduction of the Munitions of War Act which allowed employers to increase working hours and cap wages, made for a tense time and things came to a head shortly after the end of the First World War.