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1915: The Glasgow rent strike

Rent strike demonstration, Glasgow 1915

The history of a months-long rent strike of 30,000 Glasgow residents against profiteering landlords, forcing the government to freeze rents for the duration of World War I.

During the First World War, rent increases across Glasgow provoked massive working class opposition, mainly from women organised in tenants’ groups. Their struggle against profiteering landlords during extremely difficult circumstances is a valuable example of how collective action really gets results.

Starting in Govan that April, strikers paid only their normal rent, refusing the increase. Despite intimidation by rent collectors the strikers succeeded, and by June, the landlords had given in. News of the success spread to other parts of the city, where tenants organised agitation and propaganda against the landlords. The solidarity of the working class women was strong, so strong in fact, that it could not be broken by the rent collectors, who then had to apply to court to evict the tenants instead.

Sheriff officers were called in to serve the writs and carry out the evictions, but yet again the strikers took action, barring the path of any sheriff officers entering their communities. The rent strike reached its peak in October with 30,000 tenants taking part. Large scale demonstrations were held whenever an eviction notice was served.

In the face of such massive working class solidarity and action, the landlords changed their tactics, and attempted to pursue tenants thought the small claims court. That month 18 munitions workers were summoned to the court for non-payment. On the day of the hearing, 10,000 protesters from all over the city made their way to the court house to demand that the charges were dropped and that the rents be frozen at their original levels. If this was not done, they said, then a general strike was to be called for 22nd November.

The government was terrified by the rising working class radicalisation, and gave in to the demands of the strikers, ordering the sheriff to drop the charges. The Rent Restriction Act followed, which fixed rents at their pre-war level for the duration of the conflict and for six months after all over the UK.

Working class people are still being shafted by local councils and housing associations like Scottish Homes. Only a system as shitty as capitalism can make a market out of people’s homes. But if we work together, like the strikers in 1915, we can bring it to an end for good!

By the Anarchist Federation