When I was seventeen, I did a three-week stint in London. I was working as a floor-sander in Glasgow, and me and the boss travelled down with Mr Sandman company t-shirts and a couple of thousand leaflets. For a few nights we slept in the back of the van with the tools, then in a bedsit above an Irish pub on Holloway Road where Joe’s pal Sorley worked, although he was a pylon engineer from Skye. Then we sublet a council flat near Seven Sisters Road off another Scottish guy; there was some vague story about his brother being on the run from the cops and he told us not to answer the door. Joe grew up Catholic in Arden, but later got into the Kabballah and knew people in the Kabballah centre by Bond Street. We went there one night, dressed in black suits, to see the premiere of a half-edited conspiracy documentary that Guy Ritchie introduced, in person. A few days later, we headed back up the road. We got a few enquiries, but the moment had passed.
From the London Renters’ Union Library Filmography (selected):
The Dilapidated Dwelling, dir. Patrick Keiller, 2000
One Below the Queen: Rowley Way Speaks for Itself, 2010
Utopia, London, dir. Tom Cordell, 2010
Brixton Fairies: Made Possible by Squatting, dir. Taha Hassan, 2014
Estate, a Reverie, dir. Andrea Luka Zimmerman, 2015
Uprooted, Ross Domoney, 2016
Half Way, dir. Daisy-May Hudson, 2016
Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle, dir. Paul Sng, 2017
The Street, dir. Zed Nelson, 2019
‘Glasgow is a magnificent city,’ runs a famous passage in Alasdair Gray’s Lanark. ‘Why do we hardly ever notice that? Because nobody imagines living here… think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.’
London is fucked. Everybody notices that. Nobody visiting its housing ‘crisis’ is a stranger, because he or she has already visited it in op-eds, novels, popular sociology books, exhibitions and documentaries. I’ve never lived there, but I know about the Heygate, Robin Hood Gardens, Brixton market, Hackney. I read Southwark Notes, and critiques of Anna Minton on Mute. If I have to pass through Euston, I can have a smoke in front of Nando’s and chat with a stranger about how things have changed, that it’s good the Double Six café and The Cock Tavern are somehow still hanging on. Housing associations and Labour councillors are fair game. The words gentrification and social cleansing appear on banners draped across occupied houses on the Carpenters Estate, not just academic papers. Our tenants’ union doesn’t organise many actions without a clear target, but for the past three years we’ve walked silently down Buchanan Street, or marched into Central Station, or stood in the road with banners and messages of solidarity projected onto gable ends. From Glasgow to Grenfell. The flow of friends and family members down south stopped at a certain point, and now I know more people from London here than the other way around.
Because Glasgow is a magnificent city. Everyone knows it.
The people who talk most about gentrification are the ones worried they’re doing it.
If the crisis of a city’s property regime hasn’t been the subject of a film not even the inhabitants can imagine it.
Glasgow is a magnificent city. That’s all there is to notice.
Glasgow Corporation housing films 1948 - 1974:
Progress Report No.2 (1948)
Our Homes (1949)
Our City Today and Tomorrow (1949)
Glasgow Today and Tomorrow (1949)
Mungo’s Medal (1961)
Health of a City (1965)
Glasgow’s Progress (1968 - 78)
Glasgow 1980 (1970)
If Only We Had Some Space (1974)
Let Glasgow Flourish, Dawn Cine Group (1952)
Red Skirts on Clydeside, Sheffield Women’s Film Coop (1984)
Green Flutes, dir. Nancy Schiesari (1984)
Whose Town Is It Anyway? Easterhouse: People and Power, dir. Tony Freith (1984)
Clyde Film, Cranhill Arts (1985)
Drumchapel: The Frustration Game, Declassed Elements (1989)
Ardenlea Street, Chris Leslie, (2011)
Round Ma Bit: The Gallowgate Twins, dir. Jack Archer (2013)
When I was younger, I used to go to the pictures at the ABC cinema in Muirend. It was originally built as the Toledo in 1933, designed to give the impression that you were sitting outside in a Spanish courtyard, surrounded by false buildings and painted landscapes. I saw my first 12A there: Practical Magic (1998) with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman playing two sisters who discover they’re witches. In a pivotal scene, Sally (Bullock) accidentally kills Gillian’s (Kidman) abusive partner; they then resurrect him, but he tries to kill Gillian, so Sally kills him again. I was there for the final screening as well: Cats and Dogs (2001). I sat on the sticky maroon floor because my seat was missing. The heating had been broken for months but luckily the place was packed. The cinema was closed, partially demolished, and converted into luxury flats in 2001. Some of the original fittings are reproduced in the foyer.
The other cinema I used to go to was the Odeon on the corner of West Regent Street and Renfield Street. The place was also crumbling by the end, so it was easy to skip into showings. The last film I saw there was Sin City (2005), and it closed the next year. The famous Art Deco building was flogged to some commercial property managers, who in turn spent years unsuccessfully trying to lease it as high-end office space. A part of the site is now occupied by a branch of German Donner Kebab, a healthy kebab chain owned by Anas Sarwar, the millionaire businessman fighting for leadership of the Scottish Labour party.
Those cinemas were partly killed off by the massive Cineworld that opened just up the road on Renfrew Street, on the site of the old Green’s Playhouse. A guy I knew from school got a job there for a while. Rough sleepers would sneak into the cinema during the day, hide out behind the screens and try and stay there overnight. It was his job to get them out at the end of his shift; usually he just left them to it.
Notes for a course on Glasgow tenant struggles:
Clydeside rent strikes (1915): five or six oft-produced photos, no footage
Clydebank rent strikes (1920s): no photos (?) or footage
Squatters’ movement and occupations, Glasgow and Lanarkshire (1946): one photo from The Herald, some of barracks and army camps converted into housing
Merrylee campaign against sale of council housing (1951); Dawn Cine Group’s Let Glasgow Flourish (1952); some images (?) in Sell and be Damned: The Glasgow Merrylee Housing Scandal of 1951 as told by Ned Donaldson and Les Forster
Arden all-Glasgow rent strike (1957): no photos or footage
East End Area Action Committee on Rents / White Panthers pickets, Easterhouse (1973): no photos or footage
Rent strike in the Gorbals (1975 – 81): some images in The Dampness Monster: A Report of the Gorbals Anti-Dampness Campaign, Richard Bryant, 1979. No footage.
Gizza Hoose campaign, Castlemilk (1983): around ten images, cartoons and posters, no footage
Anti-Poll Tax Unions and movement in Glasgow (1990): good collection of material in Poll Tax Rebellion, Danny Burns , 1992, plus extensive photos, news footage of main demonstrations.
Pollok Free State (1995): well-documented, extensive photos and activist video footage. Full-length film: Birdman of Pollok/Curaidh na Coille, 2019
The Focus E15 mums have become a central reference point for resistance to social cleansing and gentrification in East London and beyond. One of the organisations that has been involved in the campaign from the start is the Revolutionary Communist Group. I was part of the group for a long time, and occasionally helped out on the FE15 street stalls in Stratford and events at the Sylvia’s Corner space when I was in London. It’s still funny to see people you know in films, even if there should be nothing mysterious about it. In August 2016, comrades from the RCG and two of the Focus E15 mums headed up to Edinburgh to see Matt Woodhead’s production E15, a piece of verbatim theatre based on the campaign. The theatre looked good, decked out in in real banners and ephemera. The experience was difficult. People watched their own words being performed: evictions, suicides, political discussions and fall outs. Some of it didn’t ring true. But I’ve never been at anything like it. Later that night, we all went back to the big flat they were staying in, maybe near Broughton Street. We got smashed in the pub across the road, as everyone from London thought the drink was cheap. Then one of the mums suggested doing a Ouija board; it freaked everyone out, and then we all wandered drunk around a cemetery. Two years later, I had left the group, but invited the Focus E15 campaigners to address a Living Rent AGM at the Pearce Institute in Govan. Everyone had learned a lot in the interim.
Films screened by Living Rent in Glasgow
Four films on tenant power event, Flying Duck,
Out of the Rubble, 2015
This is Parkdale, 2015
Tin Town, 2009
Living Rent AGMs
Si Se Puede: Seven Days at PAH Barcelona, 2014
Not a Penny on the Rents, 1969
Workshop on solidarity between housing struggles
in Glasgow and London, KPC
Concrete Soldiers UK, 2019
On tenant education and anti-gentrification courses (online)
Glasgow Today and Tomorrow, 1949
Mungo’s Medal, 1961
Let Glasgow Flourish, 1952
Clyde Film, 1985
Not a Penny on the Rents, 1969
Tenants in Revolt, 1939
Behind the Rent Strike, 1974
This is Parkdale, 2015
On May 5th, 2011 I uploaded a crappy wee video to YouTube titled ‘How to deal with police harassment’. It was ten minutes of scratchy phone footage of a comrade being pulled up by police when leaving a husting with members of the Accord Centre campaign, outside the Piping Centre on the edge of Glasgow city centre. The cops claimed he was breaching a city centre banning order that had been imposed on us, then dropped. I added a wee bit of description and the names of the main cop involved (we knew them personally by then). It’s up to over 565,000 views, although banned in Germany because I added a song by The Clash over the top.
About six months beforehand, I was stood in the dock at the JP and Stipendiary Magistrates Court on St Andrews Street in the Saltmarket. The court case had been adjourned eight or nine times, and each time we had to get time off, gather the defence witnesses, and organise a protest. The main reason for adjournment was the failure of the Procurator Fiscal to produce a copy of the CCTV footage. The Sheriff finally lost patience and said that she’d throw the case out if the disc didn’t turn up within the hour. It arrived thirty minutes later, and the trial finally started.
At one point, an ancient TV and video unit was wheeled into the courtroom. Neither the PF nor my solicitor could get it working. A support division officer was sent out to buy batteries for the remote. My solicitor kept pressing ‘stop’ instead of ‘pause’, and footage of the whole day would then be fast forwarded through, showing things I didn’t want shown. Eventually she got the hang of it and each police witness came in and perjured themselves in turn: I saw him push through police lines, reach into the van, and try to liberate the prisoner. Play footage of me going up to the van, looking through the windows and leaving. Next.
The district court building is now student flats. On the other side of the street is a row of ‘temporary creative spaces’, leased by WASPs studios for a peppercorn rent. The Meanwhile Spaces initiative has apparently been successful in London and Paris, and is part of a strategy by Glasgow City Council and City Property to ‘breathe new life into the High Street and Saltmarket – the flourishing galleries and creative spaces show what can be achieved.’  Many of the old units closed when City Property, an arms-length management organisation owned by the council, raised rents to unaffordable levels. In 2010, it bought 2,000 business premises from the council for £120 million, taking out a mortgage from Barclays Bank to cover the cost. This cash was used to give massive pay offs to senior council officials.  Ten minutes down the road from St Andrews Street, Barclays’ massive new headquarters is rising up over the Clyde, still collecting payments plus interest.
Notes on Living Rent victories through the pandemic:
Establishment, consolidation or growth of local union branches in the Wyndford, Partick, Knightswood, Dennistoun, Govan, Govanhill, Pollokshields.
Victory in cleansing campaign aimed at ensuring housing associations maintain adequate block cleaning during the pandemic.
Victory in securing ban on all evictions in Scotland until at least 31 March 2021.
Halting the sale of public land for private housing developments, Collina Street, Maryhill.
Victory in securing dedicated backcourt cleansing teams in Govanhill.
Local member defence teams halting private tenant evictions, winning deposits, and securing major repairs and compensation from Glasgow Housing Association.
Tenants’ Manifesto: Five Demands.
Solidarity, militancy, health.
After a period of unemployment, I said, I’ll take the first job I get. I walked down the Dumbarton Road to Clydebank – we were living in Clydebank at the time – walked into every shop, through every doorway, and I eventually came to Turner’s Asbestos [Cement Co.]… I’ll never forget till the day I die the first impression of that place. It was like walking into Dante’s Inferno without the fire. It was just Hell!
The noise was unbelievable. The size of the machinery was awe-inspiring you know, awe-inspiring. Three big machines took up the whole width of the factory. They were a sheet machine, and a pipe machine, and then another sheet machine. Dust was flying through the air everywhere, clouds of dust. And there were wee men walking about – I ended up dain it for the first two or three days I was there – sweeping the floor. Nae masks, just overalls. Clouds of stoor everywhere it just filled the air, and it was settling just as fast as they were sweeping it. And then it was dumped. Shovelled intae wheel barras, takin’ out tae the side of the Clyde and dumped at the grounds of what’s the hospital down there now…
Tae be heard – I know it sounds crazy, but you had tae shout in a whisper. That was the strange thing, you had tae get in-between the pitch of the machines and you could be heard. But if you shouted at the top of your voice you couldnae be heard, and if you spoke at a normal tone you couldnae be heard. You had to get in there somewhere, and where you wernae as loud as the machinery you could actually be heard. Believe it or not, not above the sound but under it. 
There’s not much knowledge that leads to power, but plenty of knowledge
to which only power can lead. – Brecht 
 ‘Andy Gemmell, a well-known drinks consultant who is also a columnist on the Herald on Sunday’s Scottish Life magazine, insists that “gentrification” of the Gallowgate is absolutely the last thing on his mind.’
 ‘For curator Sarah McCrory’s second Glasgow International Festival as director, the headline theme was the question of Glasgow’s status as the post-industrial par excellence, but bubbling away beneath that are far more subtle themes of making and also of making do.’
 See comments.
 Interview with former Turner’s Asbestos Cement Co. worker, Scottish Occupational Health Oral History Project interview A19, quoted in Piers Dudgeon, Our Glasgow (Headline, 2009), pp.27-8.
 Bertolt Brecht, ‘Theatre for Pleasure or Theatre for Instruction’, in Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic (Bloomsbury, 2003), ed. John Willett.
Joey Simons is a writer and Living Rent member from Glasgow. He is the editor of Let Us Act for Ourselves: selected works of Freddy Anderson (Platform, 2020).
This commission is presented in partnership with Document. Founded in 2003, Document is an independent Glasgow-based film festival that programmes at the intersections of politics, cinema and human rights. The festival’s 18th edition is taking place 25-31 January 2021, at www.documentfilmfestival.org.
TENANCY is a MAP project in twelve parts, presenting new work considering what it means to occupy somewhere–or something–temporarily. The project is curated by Helen Charman, MAP Commissioning Editor.