Battle of George Square
As troops returned from the battlefields of France and Belgium the spirit of national unity rapidly faded. Old questions of employment conditions, wages, and the unequal distribution of wealth and power among the classes in Britain arose once more. In Glasgow the unions in the shipbuilding and engineering sectors pushed for a drastic reduction in working hours, partly because the 54- or even 57-hour week worked before the conflict was unreasonable; partly to spread the work available among a workforce swelling with demobbed soldiers.
A strike that began on January 27 drew more supporters until by Friday January 31 there were upwards of 60,000 men out. The government of Lloyd George was concerned that the situation could escalate into a revolution, fears increased when large numbers gathered in George Square in support of their claims being presented to the Lord Provost.
How the ensuing riot started is disputed: some sources say the workers became aggressive, stopping trams and threatening order; others that the Glasgow police made a baton charge without any provocation. Whatever the cause, the square erupted into a mass brawl, with the police not discriminating between workers and their wives when it came to use of the truncheon.
Workers’ leaders such as Manny Shinwell were arrested and subsequently jailed; the government reinforced the troops in the area with English regiments, tanks and even artillery. Eventually calm prevailed; but the workers achieved a 47-hour week.
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