The Weavers' Strike
Glasgow's Weavers’ Strike, 1787
Glasgow’s population at this period was around 60,000. Weaving was the main occupation in Glasgow and surrounding districts after the collapse of the tobacco trade due to the American War of Independence. The movement for parliamentary reform was still a seed in people’s hearts. It took the French Revolution to cause it to shoot and grow. Attempts by workers to unite in defence of their living standards were deemed an offence under common law. The weavers’ strike of 1787 was the first recorded strike in Glasgow’s history.
Around June 1787 the Glasgow weavers and those of surrounding areas learned that the payments for weaving muslin were to be cut. This would be the second cut to the weavers income in eight months. Many meetings were held around the districs and on June the 30th 1787 seven thousand attended a meeting on Glasgow Green. On the 4th of July terms of a unanimous resolution from the meeting appeared in a letter printed in the Glasgow Mercury. The letter was sent by James Mirrie on behalf of the committee appointed by the weavers. The letter pointed out that the cut suggested by the manufacturers would bring weavers income down by one-fourth while other trades had been rightfully rising in face of an increase in house rents and other means of subsistence. It also stated that they would not 'offer violence to any man or his work'.
The strike started in June and lasted through July, August, September in to October. Calton was a district then just outside Glasgow’s boundary. Most of the population of the district were weavers. Around mid-day on Monday 3rd September, the authorities of Glasgow learned that a large crowd of weavers had formed at Calton near the city boundary at Gallowgate. The Lord Provost and Magistrates arrived to disperse the crowd but were driven back by stones thrown by the weavers. Later in the day the authorities were informed that the weavers were again assembling and proposed to march to Glasgow Cathedral.
The 39th Regiment of Foot, under the command of Colonel Kellet was sent. With them went the Lord Provost, the Sheriff-Substitute, a Magistrate and others intent on dispersing the weavers. The groups met at a spot near Drygate Bridge. The soldiers were ordered to open fire, 3 weavers were killed outright and three were mortally wounded. A considerable number were wounded. How many can only be guessed at.
It is now accepted that the Riot Act was not read, it is claimed that the Sheriff-Substitute was preparing to read the Riot Act when the soldiers opened fire in self defence. After the riot Magistrates offered rewards for information leading to the arrest of activists. As well as James Granger, one of the main organisers of the strike, others were arrested but not brought to trial. On the 4th September the Magistrates brought in another regiment from Beith.
Towards the end of September Colonel Kellet and Major Powlet were presented with the freedom of the city. At the Tontine Tavern a dinner was given for the officers. Each soldier stationed in Glasgow was given a new pair of shoes and stockings.
Trial and Sentence
James Granger’s trial, he was then aged 38, married and had six children, took place in Edinburgh in the year 1788. It was the first case of “forming illegal combinations” in Scotland. He was found guilty on Tuesday 22nd July and sentenced on Friday 25th The sentence was that he be carried to the Tollbooth, to remain there until the 13th August, on which day he would be publicly whipped through the streets of the city at the hands of the Common Executioner; that he should then be set at liberty and allowed till the 15th October to settle his affairs, after which he is to banish himself from Scotland for seven years, under the usual certifications, in case of his again returning during that term. A severe price to pay for trying to prevent a wage cut. James Granger returned and took part in the 1811-1812 strike and lived to the age of 75.
Posted by John Couzin