A statue honouring pioneering ILPer Mary Barbour, who led the Glasgow rent strikes, was unveiled in Govan Cross in front of hundreds of people on International Women’s Day (8 March), after a long-running fundraising campaign by the Remember Mary Barbour Association (RMBA).
Barbour, whose name is still synonymous with tenants’ rights, was a central figure in the Glasgow strikes of 1915 against punitive rent rises. She helped form eviction resistance groups, mainly made up women, which were dubbed ‘Mrs Barbour’s Army’.
The RMBA raised over £100,000 to make the project possible while the people of Glasgow voted for their preferred statue, settling on a design by sculptor Andrew Brown (pictured here) which captures the day in November 1915 when Barbour led a 20,000-strong protest through the streets of the city.
Speaking when the winning design was announced, Maria Fyfe, chair of the RMBA said:“This sculptor’s intention was to present Mary Barbour, for now and for generations to come, in a way that captures the achievement for which she is best known.”
Barbour decided to take a stand after thousands of people had fled to Glasgow seeking work when World War I started in 1914. Landlords believed they could raise rents for women left behind while their husbands were at war or being held in German prisoner of war camps, thinking they would be a soft touch.
But Barbour led a backlash against the landlords, as thousands of people were already angry about lack of maintenance and poor living conditions in tenements in Glasgow.
Barbour’s fellow campaigner Helen Crawfurd once said: “The Glasgow Women’s Housing Association took up this issue, and in the working class districts, committees were formed, to resist these increases in rents.
“Cards, oblong in shape, were printed with the words ‘RENT STRIKE WE ARE NOT REMOVING’, and placed in the windows of the houses where rent increases were demanded.”
Barbour’s campaigning led to a change in government legislation prohibiting unscrupulous landlords from raising rents and evicting residents who couldn’t afford to pay.
She later stood for election as a Labour candidate in Govan, becoming one of the first women councillors in the city.