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Scotland and the Scots, 1707-2007

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Christian Auer

XIV. Political and social unrest

99. James Reilly, Hunger Marcher, 1934

Texte intégral

1The Hunger marches were held in the 1930s to protest against mass unemployment in the United Kingdom. Six national marches from many parts of Britain to London were organized between 1922 and 1936—the 1932 March, which started in Scotland, gathered a total of 100,000 marchers. There were also several marches that took place within Scotland, to Edinburgh, Glasgow or other places in Scotland. Most of the hunger marches were organized by the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. The route followed on all the national marches to London was almost the same: gathering in Glasgow then marching via Kilmarnock and Dumfries down into England.

2James Reilly was born in Glagow in January 1907. He joined the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement in 1932 and took part in the Hunger Marches of 1933, 1934 and 1936.

3Ian MacDougall (ed.), Voices from the Hunger Marches: personal recollections by Scottish Hunger Marchers of the 1920s and 1930s, vol. 1, Edinburgh: Polygon, 1990, p. 149-151.

  • 13 The Independent Labour Party was founded by James Keir Hardie in 1893. In 1900 it became an affili (...)

And then the ‘34 Hunger March cropped up. Previous tae the March, under no consideration would the Labour Party, the I.L.P.13 or any other working class organisation associate with us. But in the ‘34 March the I.L.P., especially the I.L.P., associated with us. There were John Heenan, a councillor from Parkheid, and John McGovern, M.P. for Shettleston. But most o’ the heavy work was all done by the active Communist Party members inside the N.U.W.M. I had joined the Communist Party in ‘32, in the Maryhill branch, six months afore I joined the N.U.W.M.

Well, anyway the ‘34 March got goin’. It was one o’ the best organised Marches tae take place. We moved from Glasgow down tae Kilmarnock. From Kilmarnock we went tae–I think it was Sanquhar, Sanquhar tae Dumfries. By this time the lads was out wi’ the tins collectin’. In Dumfries we set the place alight, went round the doors, a’ the active types. Trade unions came in wi’ their funds and suchlike.

And then we marched frae Dumfries over the Border and intae Carlisle. And from Carlisle we went into Kendal, I think it was. And I think between Carlisle and Kendal were the Shap Fells, a terrible route a’thegither. A’ ye could see was stray sheep at each side o’ the roadway.

So we proceeded from Kendal into Lancashire, Lancaster, then intae the Midlands and played a very active part there. But true enough once or twice we went into workhouses and had to march out again because o’ the bugs in the beds. We wouldn’t stand for them at a’. Oh, the itch was tragic. So we marched out. Anyway we proceeded.

  • 14 It was Sir John Gilmour (1876-1940), Secretary of State for Scotland from 1924 to 1929 and Home Se (...)

By this time I wis made a courier, along w’ another unemployed worker, Eddie Laughlin from Blantyre. He was a councillor. So we had to interview all the workhouse masters and see about the grub, the food they were prepared to give us. Over and above that we’d bought an old bedstead, an old motor, for £5, a ramshackle thing. I remember one incident in Warwick. We went tae Warwick and as soon as we tried tae interview the workhouse master we saw the police all over the place, loaded wi’ them. So we got hold o’ the Chief Constable and asked him the reason for it. ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘it’s no’ ma orders. It’s the Home Secretary.’ The Home Secretary was a Tory at that particular time, ah jist forget his name14. Well, anyway we tried to reason wi’ the Chief Constable. No, no, under no consideration: he took his orders from the Home Secretary. So we went back and seen the leadership o’ the March, Kerrigan and them, and explained the situation to them. George Crane I think it was, he was one o’ them, an engineer from Coventry. He knew the local district. Well, anyway Kerrigan and them went up tae see the Chief Constable and explained to him the actual conditions—we had marched twenty-odd mile—and the tragic state o’ the feet o’ the Marchers. So anyway under no consideration would he allow us. We were given the experience on previous Hunger Marches, in ‘32 and suchlikevI think that was in Birmingham: the Marchers was allowed tae sleep and then the polis wired intae them wi’ batons and suchlike.

I might say that the Labour Party at that time took up an antagonistic viewpoint. And I think it was Margaret Herbison they sent forward frae town to town tellin’ the trade union branches, the Labour Party branches, ‘Under no consideration give any money to these people that’s on the March.’ [It is possible that Margaret Herbison has been mistaken for Mary Sutherland (1895-1972), Labour Party’s women’s organiser in Scotland, 1924-1932, and Chief Woman Officer of the Labour Party, 1932-1960 (editor’s note)]. Well, I think it was the political line o’ the Communist Party at that particular time that antagonised them. I think they were called Social Fascists. Palme Dutt had written a book. He knew the experience o’ Germany and suchlike, you know, and the Labour Party never gave any sort o’ help or support tae the progress o’ the movement. So they had that against us the whole time. Over and above that, the mass media, the likes o’ the Daily Mail, were shoutin’ about Moscow dupes, and that we were the spokesmen for Moscow, and suchlike. [R. Palme Dutt (1896-1974), a graduate of Oxford University, was imprisoned in the 1914-1918 War for refusing to serve in the forces and was a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. His book was Fascism and Social Revolution, London, 1934 (editor’s note)]

But we still carried on. The workers still moved in wi’ their money, their pence and suchlike. And the committees that did meet us was a’ comprised o’ Labour Party members and suchlike. And they used tae ask for The Red Flag tae be sung. So their own bands struck up The Red Flag and made a devil o’ a noise. The rural people that never came in contact wi’ a working class or Labour Party meetin’, it sent excitement to them. Och, I can sing one o’ the songs, it’s a’ in bits and pieces:

From Scotland we are marching,
From down the mine and mill,
Our banners raised upon high.
We’ll go forward all the time
For we are the strong determined band
Each with a weapon in their hand.
We are the Hunger Marchers of the proletariat,
We are the Hunger Marchers of the proletariat.

When we came to the bit ‘Each with a weapon in their hand’–sticks, sticks, sticks. We shook it because we knew at any time the possibility o’ confrontation wi’ the police force and we were always prepared for it. Because from experience in the past wi’ the previous Hunger Marchers, the police waited till the Marchers were bedded down, maybe in workhouses or in some other hall, then they wired in wi’ their batons and gave some o’ the Marchers a terrible beating. I think Birmingham was one and I jist forget the other two or three. So when we came to that bit in the song, ‘With their weapons in their hands’, oh, we put the sticks awfy high and showed that we were prepared to meet any force because we were a band solidified for any thin’ that came along.

Notes

13 The Independent Labour Party was founded by James Keir Hardie in 1893. In 1900 it became an affiliate of the Labour Representation Committee, the forerunner of the Labour Party, established in 1906.

14 It was Sir John Gilmour (1876-1940), Secretary of State for Scotland from 1924 to 1929 and Home Secretary from 1932 to 1935.

© Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2013

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