Workers City

Workers City Archive

Introduction by members of The Strickland Distribution

This site contains an archive of texts – Workers City (1988), The Reckoning (1990) and the The Keelie (1990-93) – all produced by the Workers City group in the context of challenging the logics of public-private interests before, during, and after Glasgow City Council’s hosting of the European City of Culture in 1990. Workers City (1988) and The Reckoning (1990) were initially published as book anthologies; The Keelie was an irregular “scandal-mongering” newssheet that ran to over 20 editions between 1990 and 1993. These texts have been scanned, proof read, and made available by The Strickland Distribution, an artist-run group supporting the development of independent research in art-related and non-institutional practices.

Workers City group member and editor of their two anthologies, Farquhar McLay, describes the Workers City position in the introduction to The Reckoning like this:

The Workers City Group is not a political party. We do not have the financial resources available to our opponents. We do not [...] try to force our ideas down anyone’s throat. We argue. And when we have argued things out we try to place our point before the public. Naturally among ourselves we disagree in regard to many things. But one thing upon which we are all agreed is this: the city belongs to its people and not to the political gangsters and the big-money men whose only interest in Glasgow is what they can milk it for(1)

What was the European City of Culture 1990? The University Network of the European Capitals of Culture say this:

The European Capital of Culture is a city designated by the European Union for a period of one year during which it is given a chance to showcase its cultural life and cultural development. A number of European cities have used the City of Culture year to transform completely their cultural base and, in doing so, the way in which they are viewed internationally(2)

A Glasgow City Council information sheet describes Glasgow 1990 this way:

Glasgow City Council saw 1990 as part of a strategic investment programme, which would ensure the long-term future of the cultural sector and contribute greatly to economic and social regeneration. […] Glasgow was the first British city to successfully implement a strategy that used the arts as a catalyst for urban regeneration. This has now been replicated in many other parts of the world. […] The 1990 team made 2 strategic decisions that would influence how Glasgow would celebrate its title. They were: The cultural programme would take place throughout the year, rather than just for a few weeks or months as all previous cities had done. The definition of culture would include everything that makes Glasgow what it is: history, design, engineering education, architecture, shipbuilding, religion and sport, as much as music, dance, visual arts and theatre(3)

What was The Workers City group’s position on the European City of Culture 1990? In Farquhar McLay's Introduction to Workers City, he writes:

GLASGOW: European City of Culture 1990. The announcement came from the Tory Arts minister, Edward Luce, in October 1986. It had a sickeningly hollow ring to it. Looking at the social, cultural and economic deprivation in working-class areas of Glasgow, and thinking about the rigours of the new Social Fund and Poll Tax to come, it sounded like blatant and cynical mockery […] There is widespread acceptance that it has nothing whatever to do with the working-or the workless-class poor of Glasgow but everything to do with big business and money: to pull in investment for inner-city developments which, in the obsessive drive to make the centre of the city attractive to tourists, can only work to the further disadvantage of the people in the poverty ghettoes on the outskirts(4)

You can read much more by the Workers City group and an extended introduction to the texts by The Strickland Distribution on this site.

As Strickland Distribution, we had originally thought to republish these texts, both online and as hard copies. This republishing project became part of knowledge is never neutral, a year-long series of projects undertaken with Transmission Gallery, Glasgow. Knowledge is never neutral set out to explore the circumstances that surround cultural and knowledge production and sought to situate this production within a wider set of social and historical relations.

In reproducing and making available the Workers City texts we decided not to try and amend what may be typing errors in the original production process, some of which are obvious whereas others may be intentional. The decision to maintain the original text is also in recognition of the physical and communal circumstances in which it was produced; often rapidly and collectively in response to neoliberal developments in the city.

Close engagement with the Workers City texts made us question:

We are still wrestling with these and other questions. Opinions within The Strickland Distribution differ just as much as they did within the Workers City group. However, by making these texts available online we support the necessity to learn from and engage with past struggles in the so-called ‘creative city’ in Glasgow and elsewhere. With awareness that we approach these texts from a different set of contemporary contingencies, we ask: What and how can we learn from Workers City?


  1. Farquhar McLay, 1990, ‘Introduction’. In, Farquhar McLay, ed, Beyond The Culture City Rip Off - The Reckoning: Public Loss Private Gain, Glasgow, Clydeside Press
  2. University Network of the European Capitals Of Culture (n.d.), ‘History: European Capital of Culture’
  3. Glasgow City Council, ‘Glasgow 1990 European City of Culture’
  4. Farquhar McLay, 1988, 'Introduction', in Workers City, Clydeside Press