William Gallacher was a political activist and politician, famous for his trade union activities and a founding member of the British Communist Party.
Known as Willie, he was born at 39 Back Sneddon Street, Paisley on Christmas Day 1881. Like many children of working class families, he began work at a young age in a variety of part-time jobs. On leaving school he found work as an apprentice brass fitter and went on to work in the engineering trade.
In the years leading up to the First World War, Gallacher was actively involved in the developing trades union movement in the West of Scotland. He played an important role in organising industrial action in defence of working conditions and in support of rent strikes against profiteering landlords.
Gallacher's socialist convictions led him to oppose the First World War, and he campaigned against Britain's involvement. In 1916 he was imprisoned for 12 months for an article he wrote in the 'Worker' newspaper, which was said to be, "calculated to cause sedition and disaffection".
After the war Gallacher was among the organisers of a strike in support of a 40 hour working week. On the 31 January 1919 they held a rally in George Square, Glasgow, which was broken up by the police. This infamous event was known as the "Battle of George Square" and resulted in the arrest of the leaders, including Gallacher and Emmanuel Shinwell. Gallacher was imprisoned again, this time for three months. Gallacher's version of events can be read in his memoirs, 'Revolt on the Clyde', published in 1936 and available in Paisley Central Library.
In 1920, after attending the Congress of the Communist International in Moscow and meeting Lenin, Gallacher became one of the founders of the Communist Party of Great Britain. In this photograph of the delegates he is seated at the table, second from the left.
He stood unsuccessfully as a parliamentary candidate in 1922 and 1923 in Dundee, in 1930 in Shipley, and in 1929 and 1931 in West Fife, before succeeding in 1935 in West Fife. He held his seat for fifteen years.
As a communist, Gallacher was opposed to both the Cold War and the formation of NATO. This opposition contributed to his defeat in the general election of 1950. He continued to be politically active, and served as president of the Communist Party from 1956 to 1963.
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Despite his fame and the honours bestowed upon him (almost all from communist countries), Willie Gallacher lived in a modest flat in Paisley until his death on 12 August 1965. His funeral procession had more than forty thousand people lining the streets of Paisley.
Renfrewshire Library members can use this link to Willie Gallacher's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford DNB). Just enter the word 'renfrew' and then your library ticket number. Most UK libraries subscribe to the DNB. Check if yours is one of them.
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- write to: Paisley Central Library, Heritage Services, 68 High Street, Paisley, PA1 2BB
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