THE Battle of George Square or ‘Bloody Friday’ that took place in January 1919 is sometimes depicted as tanks storming crowds in the streets to quell revolution.

The truth is less explosive.

Glasgow Times: George Square during riot, Glasgow Trades Council, 1919. Pic: Glasgow City Archives

Papers from the Glasgow Trade Council collection held at the City Archives show. tanks arrived days after the ‘battle’, and protestors were largely demonstrating for improved conditions for Glasgow’s working class, not to take over the government.

At the end of World War One, there were growing tensions in Britain. Thousands of returning soldiers needed new employment. At the same time munition factories were closed leaving scores of industrial workers without a job. The Clyde Worker’s Committee (CWC) (whose members included prominent socialists such as William Gallacher, David Kirkwood and John MacLean), the Glasgow Trades Council and other unions campaigned for the working week for engineers to be reduced from 47 to 40 hours, to allow for more workers to be employed. Engineering firms already struggling with reduced profits recoiled at the suggestion, leading to strike action, which spread to other industries such as shipbuilding and mining.

Glasgow Times: Map showing tram routes at George Square, 1919. Pic: Glasgow City Archives

The ‘40 hours strikes’ startled a worried government in London. The Lord Provost agreed to send a telegram to London outlining the workers’ demands. On January 31, around 70,000 workers and their families marched to George Square to hear the government’s response to the telegram.


Police forcefully attempted to clear the route of trams around the square, making baton charges into the crowd. A map showing the tram routes at George Square was later drawn up as evidence of the troublesome disruption caused by the large volume of strikers. The riled crowds responded by throwing bottles and stones at police . The strike leaders were caught up in the violence, with Kirkwood being knocked down by police. Tensions continued throughout the following days, with soldiers and tanks deployed.

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Kirkwood, Gallacher, Emmanuel Shinwell (chairman of Glasgow Trades Council) and others were arrested for incitement. The Glasgow Trades Council vigorously defended them, raising funds and obtaining photographs from The Bulletin to show their leaders being injured in the riots. Gallacher and Shinwell were found guilty and served brief prison sentences.

The day’s events left a strong legacy. Rather than being discouraged, many of those involved, like Shinwell were spurred to successfully pursue careers as MPs. Throughout the city there was a renewed political awareness with membership of the Independent Labour Party increasing, and the demand for better working and living conditions became a signature of Glasgow politics.