The History of Leith

July 12, 2004

Freedom in Leith? Memories of the first Trade Unions. 1920/30’s

James Mackenzie remembers “We tried to start a union. A chap in the shop where I worked got all the barmen together to hold a meetin an’ get a union.

“So we booked the hall in India buildings down Victoria Street on the South Bridge. All had a meeting. “We’ve got to join the union” I think we paid 3d to start it to get the union cards made. On the Tuesday morning when you went into the pub-every pub in the town-there was a little slip there for ye “if you join you’ll union you’ll be sacked instantly”.

Olivia Wilson was a bit more experienced and knew her rights. She says “I was called before the board because I had spoken at this trade union meeting. They said did I appreciated that if I went on inciting their employees that I was in danger of losing my job and that they would make it their business to see that it would be very difficult for me to get another. I can remember feeling a little sick because it wasn’t easy to get jobs but I can remember saying very quietly “I suspected, in fact I was warned that this could be your attitude, but we still have a news media.” And I didn’t use a proper threat but they knew immediately what I meant. I said “Wouldn’t it be terrible if the Leith Provident was the start of another General Strike.

It’s from people like those above that we know enjoy the freedoms we have today. Freedom isn’t given out by the powerful to the poor and weak. The poor and weak must struggle for it and that struggle has been happening for generations and continues to this very day.

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