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The peaceful ‘Battle of Kenmure Street’ is a day we will never forget

Eileen Reid, daughter of Glasgow's famous trade unionist Jimmy Reid, tells the story of how protesters resisted immigration enforcement in Glasgow's Kenmure Street.
Protesters block the immigration van in Glasgow's Kenmre Street. Image: Eileen Reid.

May 13, 2021 was an extraordinary day in Glasgow’s history of peaceful, formidable protest. It began early with a Home Office van marked ‘Immigration Enforcement’ parked in Kenmure Street. An ugly sight. Two men had been evicted from their home then bundled into the back of the van. Neighbours, very few at that point, surrounded it, one hero wedging himself underneath to stop it moving away. He stayed put for eight hours.

A close-knit community here in Glasgow’s Southside, word travelled quickly and by lunchtime hundreds of locals from all races, backgrounds and families turned up to join the protest. Ominously, a massive police presence grew too. The crowd was steadfast. Refusing to be moved they chanted “These are our neighbours! Let them go!”

From the vantage point of our corner flat, I began filming the scenes below.

Friends who live in the same close as the two detainees supplied snacks and water to the protestors. A small man with an Afghani cap buzzed in an around the crowd, speaking through a megaphone. His name was Mohammad Asif, director of the Afghan Human Rights Foundation.  He advised caution, how to proceed peacefully, not to be tempted to react to police intimidation. Despite this, I was sure this day would end badly with injuries and violence given the sheer numbers of police, including horses. A ring of masked policeman surrounded the van staring into the middle distance. It was unimaginable that they would ‘let them go’.

Astonishingly, after one futile charge by police into the crowd who were sitting on the ground as advised by Mr Asif, the atmosphere changed. The mounted police departed, as did several huge vans that had completely blocked Kildrostan Street. Aamer Anwar, the human rights lawyer had turned up alongside local MP Alison Thewliss. Following tense negotiations, they secured the men’s release. But not before Aamer spoke to the crowd.

The atmosphere was tense and things could go badly wrong. His words and tone reminded me of the Clydesider and my father Jimmy Reid in his legendary “no bevvying” address to workers before their take-over of the shipyards. Aamer, too, pleaded with the crowd to stay calm. They did. It was an incredible moment.

When the van doors opened, surrounded by scores of policemen, the men emerged to uproarious applause and chanting that reverberated against the huge stone tenement buildings. A spine-tingling few minutes for our community. We were tearful from the sheer joy of it.

I had captured the release of the two detainees from the van, not even looking at it before posting for my friends on Twitter and Facebook. Somehow, a 20-second video taken on a phone seemed to capture the emotions of so many. Last time I looked, over 6 million views. Glasgow’s place in the international fight against a ‘hostile environment’ was beaming around the world.

Like many others in this amazing city, the peaceful ‘Battle of Kenmure Street’ is a day we will never forget.

Eileen Reid is a writer from Glasgow and Pollokshields resident.