Glasgow: New Slums for Old
In Glasgow recently, the press gave a great deal of publicity to the collapse of a tenement in the Gorbals. Photographs of this victim of old age and disrepair were spectacular, showing one side of the building minus a wall and exposing a rabbit warren interior where the tenants lived, ate and slept. To the newspapers it was a one-day sensation. To the Socialist it was something much more.
Glasgow Corporation’s publication Industry on the Move (January, 1959), has this to say about the nightmare living conditions of workers in the city:
“There are over 80,000 people living at more than three persons to a room.”
And dealing with certain parts of Glasgow:
“These central districts home more than half a million people. In these areas most of the people have to share toilet facilities; only one house in five has an internal water closet—and few of the houses have a bath.”
The promise of better housing for the working class was, of course, in the programmes of all the reformist parties in the recent municipal election. Indeed, the last Labour-controlled council had the audacity to boast of their record and point to the new housing schemes on the city outskirts and their “overspill” programme, as solutions to the workers’ plight.
“Overspill” is a scheme to get Glasgow workers housed in another town. It is proving far from popular, even among the desperate, as it sometimes involves moving great distances, and suitable jobs are not always available in the new areas.
A sorry commentary on the housing schemes in the outskirts can be found almost daily in the Glasgow newspapers, in the forms of warrant sales. These are sales of household effects of workers hopelessly in debt. Many of them are in the homes of workers who live on the new housing estates and it is not hard to understand why. Although these houses are superior to the slums (it would be difficult for them to be inferior), the rent is almost invariably higher. This, coupled with the increase expense of travelling to and from work, lands many workers in the position of seeing their sticks of furniture compulsorily sold. In a single day recently in Drumchapel, there were five warrant sales in one street.
To those who have lived in a single room, the change to a three or four roomed dwelling with interior water closet and bath must seem like Utopia. But when you consider that such places were built mainly of the cheapest possible materials, it does not take much imagination to recognise them as the slums of the not-too-distant future. Already, peeling plaster, shrunken doors and badly made window frames bear silent witness to the shoddiness of production for profit.
And the grim irony of it all is that a physical shortage of houses does not exist in Glasgow. Like so many problems confronting Glaswegians and their brothers elsewhere, it is really one of poverty—the sheer inability to afford a decent place to live in. How then can this problem be solved within the present social set-up? The answer is a simple one. It cannot.
But this is not something which our Tory, Labour and other opponents are telling workers during the current local elections. They can be safely trusted to carry on flying in the face of fact and promising to remedy this evil which is as old as Capitalism itself. It is left to the Socialist candidate contesting North Kelvin Ward to point out the unpalatable truth and to give the only answer, Socialism.