The Workers City Group were the first to take to the streets to make a stand in the defence of the real culture of Glasgow. When we demonstrated in Midland Street on the opening day of Glasgow's Glasgow, our loudest and most derisory jeers were reserved for Pat Lally and the rest of the Labour Party leaders. Little did he know that before the Year of Culture ended his political future would be under threat.
Some of the many banners we held aloft carried the slogan “There's a lot of con going on in 1990”. The full truth of that slogan is only now being exposed, as the facts about the multi-million pound scam, the biggest and most expensive flop in Glasgow’s history, begin slowly to emerge. Few could have guessed that by the end of 1990 all the directors of Glasgow’s Glasgow would stand accused of financial mismanagement, and that the councillors who flaunted themselves at the opening would be distancing themselves from the exhibition and blaming the accountants Touche, Ross and Co., who in turn would be threatening to sue the Council. What a sordid mess!
While the official labour movement has turned its back on the very principles that led to its birth, we were the only workers in Scotland to celebrate a hundred years of May Day on the 1st of May 1990. We marched through the streets of the Calton behind a pipe band when our arranged meeting in the Winter Gardens was cancelled due to the Labour-controlled District Council Parks Department shutting us out of the People’s Palace.
Two hundred workers marched behind the Marauders Pipe Band with a red banner in front saying “From Chicago to Glasgow 1890-1990 - One Hundred Years of May Day”. At the Calton Community Centre the children of the Calton greeted us. Later that night we had an action reading of Ann Kerr's play, “The Last Threads”, in which the author herself took part. Ann Kerr had worked in Rollins, the last weaving mill in Glasgow. The play, set in 1986, is based on the plight of workers who are paid off.
At the traditional May Day celebrations in Glasgow Green we set up a socialist platform without seeking permission from the District Council and re-established our right of free speech in Glasgow Green. It was an open platform where all groups could express their point of view. We had at least eleven speakers from various left-wing groups including anti-poll tax protesters. This was the first time for over fifty years that this type of platform appeared on the Glasgow Green.
Pat Lally deliberately passed over Elspeth King for the post of Director of Museums and appointed the asset-stripper Julian Spalding. Mr Spalding had excellent qualifications, having seen-off other curators like Elspeth King who stood in his way when he was the Director in Manchester.
Then to add insult to injury they appointed a nonentity, Mark O’Neil, to the post of Keeper of Social History, although he lacked Elspeth’s ability and experience, not to mention qualifications. He was obviously the creature of Lally and Spalding who were out to destroy the working class identity of the People's Palace.
In Elspeth’s defence the Workers City group held a demonstration outside the City Chambers where over a thousand people turned up to protest. We got over five thousand signatures on a petition, we had several packed meetings with speakers from all sides condemning Lally, and in the Glasgow Herald and the Scotsman five hundred letters appeared, the vast majority in support of Elspeth. The story reached the Independent, The Observer, The Spectator and the New Statesman.
We picketed the National Conference of Curators at the Theatre Royal, and got hundreds more signatures. It so impressed the delegates that one of them said he had been attending conference for ten years and had never seen a demonstration in support of any curator. When Elspeth spoke she got a tremendous reception despite the sleazy attempts of Spalding, O’NeiI and Davidson, the so-called Convener of Museums, to intimidate her by changing their seats.
Another struggle - the campaign to save Glasgow Green - has been sustained for a long period. Most citizens know that the District Council led by Lally has been promoting plans to lease more than a third of Glasgow Green to private developers from England. The lease is to be for 125 years. The Labour Council has no mandate for this policy. According to their election manifesto they are pledged to retaining public ownership and the improvement and development of the Green.
In the course of these campaigns we encouraged people to demonstrate outside the City Chambers. This they have done in growing numbers. On the day the East End Management Committee had to decide on the plans for the Green development, no room could be found large enough to hold the crowd, so the main council chamber was decided upon. The councillors did not know how to handle it and for one day the City Chambers really did belong to the people and the East End Management Committee rejected the development plans for the Green. One of the most refreshing incidents came when the Chairman asked how many spokespersons we wanted and, although most of us were thinking in terms of five or six, one wee woman shouted out: “Forty five!” There's confidence for you.
The last two attempts by Lally to defeat the campaign against the proposed developments shows just how desperate he has become.
Firstly on the instructions of his council, he had to convene public meetings to explain the plans and gauge public reaction. The super democrat Lally arranged four meetings but in different parts of the city and on the same day at the same time, most likely in an attempt to give the public protest a much weaker look. Once again he underestimated the people. Despite the presence of himself at one, Jean McFadden, the City Treasurer, at a second, and Councillor Crawford and Baillie Brown at the two others, they were comprehensively trounced at all four. Although the above named individuals took the chair at their respective meetings and tried to twist things to their own advantage, they one and all suffered humiliation as the plans were overwhelmingly rejected and the call went up for No Privatisation of Glasgow Green!
Lally’s latest effort is really beyond belief. It takes the form of a poll in the Evening Times with coupons to be filled in and returned to the town clerk. However, it is a purely private poll because Mr Lally decided on it without the backing of any council committee. He had no authority to launch such a poll, having consulted nobody but himself. All he has succeeded in doing is making Glasgow District Council look like a bunch of fools.
What we hope will be the final act took place on 21st November when 350 citizens turned up to protest outside the City Chambers. All the media were there including BBC television and ITV. Later in the evening a journalist phoned to say Lally and Co. had at last decided to shelve the controversial plans for Glasgow Green.
We welcome this. But we must stay vigilant and encourage ordinary people to assert themselves. Do not let career politicians of any party use you as voting fodder. Remember: we are many, they are few!