21st March 1911

Singer factory workers go on strike

For a little over two decades, starting in 1910, Glasgow and its surroundings were the focus of significant and sustained radicalism, which did much to improve representation and workers’ rights.

One of the first significant events was a March to April 1911 strike at Clydebank’s Singer sewing machine factory. Managers had asked the female workforce to commit to longer hours, at the same time as reducing their pay, which resulted in a dozen women downing tools. From there, things quickly ballooned.

10,000 workers on strike

On 23 March, the Dundee Courier reported that 10,000 workers from 30 different departments were refusing to work. It explained that “the dispute originated in the polishing department where it is alleged three time-workers were withdrawn, and twelve girls on piecework instructed to take over the scrutiny operations previously done by the former women. A claim for extra remuneration was refused, and the girls left the factory”.

By Monday 27 March, the Edinburgh Evening News was reporting that “several hundred more men joined the ranks of the strikers at the Singer Factory, Clydebank, this morning, bringing the number now unemployed up to about 12,000”. Negotiations still hadn’t begun, in part because the factory’s manager had been away, and only returned over the weekend.

The direct approach

After a period of negotiations with the strike committee, which they felt was going nowhere, the management approached the striking workers directly and asked whether they wanted to return to work. If 6000 of the 12,000 who had downed tools said yes, the factory would re-open.

Postcards were handed out to the workers so they could vote on the offer, despite the strike committee “strongly resent[ing] this method of settling the dispute”, according to the Belfast Telegraph of 5 April, and warning the strikers that the issue of collective bargaining was at stake.

But alas, the committee’s protest was in vain. Sufficient workers voted to return to the factory and, by Friday 7 April, the strike was at an end. The following day, the Aberdeen Press and Journal reported on the “surrender of Singer’s strike committee” after the firm refused to listen to any further deputations from it, saying that this would only complicate matters further. The workers returned to their stations on Monday 10 April after more than two weeks’ stoppage.



Other events that occured in March

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.