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We Are Not Removing

Written by Lainey Dempsey (2021)

We Are Not Removing

She came fae Kilbarchan,
the third wan o’ seven
Her father wove carpets
to keep his weans fed
In the house o’ a weaver
if yer listenin yer learnin
Tis the poor grind the grain,
while the rich eat the bread
Before long young Mary Rough
thought this isne good enough
The workers are weary,
conditions are grim
They toil all their days away
for barely a peck o’ pay,
then doss wi’ their families
like fish in the tin

She wed David Barbour
and soon wis a mother
They scooped up their family
and moved tae the toon
At war wi’ The Kaiser,
noo Glasgow wis heavin
They dockers and workers
n’er put their tools doon
Nae hooses fir a’ the crew,
the landlords knew whit tae do
They hiked up the rents due to
desperate demand
Brave soldiers at war away,
their spouses were easy prey
But wi’ Mary up front
a’ the wives took a stand

We are not Removing
we will no be payin’
Yer bailiffs and factors will
aye meet oor rage
Yer purse we’re no fillin’
while oor men are sent killin’
for a nation that wont pay a
fair livin’ wage

The tenements buzzed wi’
the wimmin a’ plannin’
the closes and kitchens
their barracks and hive
wi’ a bell sat a sentry
at the territory border
Who’d ring oot a warnin’ when
the bailiff arrived
When he tried tae collect the rent
fae the targeted tenement
Every wummin aroon would be
crammed boot the door
They threw flour an’ rusty cans,
their laundry and fryin pans
As he scarpered fae Govan,
the wummin wid roar...
We are not Removing....

The council decided
their laws would be heeded
And eighteen protestors
they summoned to stand
Mary Barbour got busy
and rallied the masses
10,000 marched out
wi’ their placards in hand

The shipbuilders joined the
wi’ engineers standin’ proud
And threatened tae strike if the
law stayed the same
The eighteen were soon released,
rents frozen and decreased
And the crowd were still singing
as they turned tae go hame
We are not Removing....

Now oor Mary Barbour
had more tae be doin’
campaignin’ fer peace
she wis ay oan the road
A bold suffragette,
she wis workin fer wummin
tae bring social change
an’ tae lighten their load
A first female magistrate
her actions would resonate
for decades tae come as she paved
a new way
free school milk fer a’ the weans,
healthcare and better hames
Still making her mark since she
first was heard say...
We are not Removing, we will
no be payin
Yer bailiffs and factors will
aye meet oor rage
Yer purse we’re no fillin’
while oor men are sent killin’
for a nation that wont pay a
fair livin’ wage

It was due to a song released just over 20 years ago that I first became aware of Mary Barbour. Alistair Hulett’s song ‘Mrs Barbour’s Army’. It is not a song that suits me to sing but it did make me want to learn more about the story.


Once I started reading about the Glasgow Rent Strikes of 1915 I was blown away by the scale and significance of the tale, as well as by my own ignorance of it. The focus of ‘We Are Not Removing’ remains on the rent strikes but it also shares a little about the rest of Mary’s life both before and after. The title comes from the posters that were distributed to rent strikers. They would put these posters in the windows of their tenements to show their solidarity and defiance. As windows filled up with posters, more and more tenants were emboldened to join the resistance. The protests spread from Govan and Partick across the rest of Glasgow, then Scotland and on to England. Residents continued to pay their original rent but refused to pay the rise. They were criminalised and a clampdown began. Glasgow was in the middle of an industrial boom and was the beating heart of the UK war effort. A mid war general strike was at all costs to be avoided but as Mary Barbour, Helen Crawford and a core team of other significant women continued relentlessly with their campaigning, they were soon backed by the workers unions and the threat of a mass strike became very real. In December 1915 the ‘Rents and Mortgage Interest Restriction Act’ was introduced and all rents were frozen to pre-war levels. It was arguably the most successful example of direct action ever undertaken by the Scottish working class.

Campfire singalong by the mighty Ele Forster and Craig Bryce

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