MONDAY, September 3, 1787, was a day of bloody violence in the East End of Glasgow. The trouble centred on Calton, only half a mile from the Cross but then at the edge of a still compact, pretty little city.

This district was the home of many weavers. They had been idle since June 30 when, at a meeting on Glasgow Green, 7000 of them voted to go on strike. Their action in the 12 weeks since had got them nowhere, and they knew they could not go on much longer. Now, as other Glaswegians returned to business after the sabbath, the weavers' anger exploded.

It was first vented on those among them who had already given up in desperation and gone back to work, accepting commissions to produce cloth at a rate of 25% below what

the rest thought right. It would bring them earnings of perhaps 5s (25p)

a week, hardly enough to exist on

but evidently better than starving

on strike.

During that Monday morning, strikers forcibly entered their homes, removed woven cloth out of their looms, then paraded these webs, as they called them, round the streets as a prelude to ritually burning them.

At midday news of the trouble arrived at the Town Hall, next to the Cross. Lord Provost John Riddell hurried out with his magistrates and other officials to restore order. But as they made their way along the Gallowgate and then tried to turn off right into Calton's mean streets, mainly rows of one-storey houses, they were met by a hail of bricks and stones from the defiant weavers.

This was unexpected. The magistrates, some now bruised and bleeding, did not know what to do. Glasgow had for more than 50 years been a peaceful city, and their reaction was perhaps extreme. They asked for a military detachment from the garrison to come out and intimidate the rioters. These duly dispersed as it marched into view. By four o'clock, the magistrates were back in their chambers, relieved that nothing worse had befallen.

They did not have long to relax. Fresh news that the dispersal of the mob had been temporary. It gathered again and seized more webs. With them the weavers were marching in procession up a lane beyond the built-up area (the present Barrack Street), apparently heading for the cathedral. The magistrates set off once more with the troops, joined by respectable citizens eager to do their bit for law and order.

The two groups met each other where Barrack Street today joins Duke Street, beneath the Necropolis. Riddell ordered his town clerk, John Orr, to read the Riot Act. He had not got far when he was interrupted by one of the weavers' leaders, James Granger, who came up to start an argument about why wages should not be cut when prices were rising.

Meanwhile weavers again attacked with stones, so fiercely that they began to drive the soldiers back towards Drygate Street and the little bridge that crossed the Molendinar Burn there, on the edge of the

cathedral's precincts.

It must have been a hot battle, to judge from the indictment drawn up against John Stewart, a weaver afterwards arrested: ''You did attack John Anderson, one of the town's officers of Glasgow, who having accompanied the magistrates in the execution of their duty, was employed along with them in endeavouring to disperse

the mob. You were lying upon him

in the very act of beating and bruising him when the said John Anderson was rescued out of your hands by

Ninian Glen, convener of the trades

of Glasgow, and George Gibson, the town bell-man.''

Riddell had had enough of this insolence, or maybe he just panicked. He asked the commander of the soldiers, Colonel Kellet, to open fire. The order was given and a volley rang out. Three weavers, John Page, Alexander Miller, and James Ainsley, fell dead on the spot. Many others were wounded, and several would

die in the next few days. The rest

ran back to Calton. The military and the magistrates then returned to the Cross. A guard was mounted there till midnight and

some of the respectable

citizens kept watch till dawn. None seemed abashed at what they had done. The magistrates issued a warning that they would ''suppress these daring combinations whatever the consequences may be to the unfortunate individuals who suffer by these exertions.''

They offered a reward of #100 for the names of those who had thrown stones at the Lord Provost. Later they would grant Kellet the freedom of the city, hold a dinner in the

Tontine Hotel for his officers and present all his soldiers with a pair

of shoes and stockings at the

city's expense.

The odd bit of trouble flared up again but, with troops on patrol in the streets, the fight had gone out of the weavers. All they could do was mourn their dead, who were laid to rest in the Calton Burying Ground, still there today in Abercromby Street. More than 6000 came to the funeral. They were too poor to buy gravestones, and not till 1836 could a memorial be erected to the first martyrs of Glasgow's working class.

Retribution followed. The authorities ordered the arrest of a dozen weavers, though most proved elusive. Five summoned to stand trial in April 1788 failed to appear. Following normal practice the court passed on them a sentence of fugitation, or banishment, ordering them to leave Scotland for a specified period. Probably they had already fled into England anyway.

One culprit caught was John Stewart. In court he convinced the jury that the town's officer had attacked him rather than the other way round. So he got off, though the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Braxfield, warned him of ''the great danger which attends mingling with a mob upon any pretence whatever''.

Another man who actually stood trial was James Grangers, and this time Braxfield had no reason to mince his words: ''The common

people have too generally imbibed the idea that the crime of which the panel has been convicted is a very venial one, whereas, I will venture to say, there cannot be any one figured so destructive to society, and so highly atrocious in its nature and tendency.'' Granger was condemned to be whipped through the streets of Edinburgh by the common hangman. After being allowed time to put his affairs in order he, too, was banished from Scotland for seven years.

These were meant to be harsh punishments, and have been seen as such both by contemporaries and by modern commentators. Still, they looked mild by the standard of other countries, including England. It is worth recalling the Scottish context. The reason why soldiers had to deal with an industrial dispute was that Glasgow had no police force, never having needed one. The reason why convicted prisoners suffered corporal punishment rather than detention was that Scotland had no prisons, never having needed them.

But economic progress was about to transform Scottish society beyond recognition, along with many of its slightly quaint institutions. The weavers were among the first to feel the change. In some respects they belonged to the economy as it had existed since the middle ages, strictly regulated by state and civic authorities on principles stemming from the theological concept of the ''just price''.

Weavers had been incorporated in Glasgow since 1605 with elaborate rules for apprenticeships, standards, discipline and so on. This was the same system as for other old trades, hammermen, baxters, cordiners, bonnetmakers, walkers, maltmen and so on. For each, the magistrates normally set prices and wages.

Unlike most of those occupations, however, weaving had a future of mass production for consumers of growing wealth and taste. As demand for its products rose, weaving spread beyond the bounds of the burgh, across the river to Gorbals, down the river to Anderston, up the river to Calton and Camlachie. Weavers inside the burgh, not wanting to be undercut, usually entered into agreements with these potential rivals: the one between Glasgow and Calton dated from 1725. By the 1780s there were 20,000 weavers in the West of Scotland.

Some were master weavers, who ran an embryonic industrial system employing others in small factories. But many more were journeymen, working for themselves on their own looms at home, in a room set aside in their cottage, or downstairs if they were lucky enough to live in a house of two storeys. Often they had help from their wives, children and extended families.

Most preferred working for themselves. The labour was finicky, repetitive, and tedious, amid the endless clack of the handloom. But people in other trades often respected and envied weavers for their independence. John MacKinnon, whose manuscript autobiography can be read in the Mitchell Library, was a son of one of them. He recalled ''the complete freedom from control which the journeyman enjoyed. He was as much his own master as the proprietor of a factory''.

Unlike in modern industry, there was no noise or smell to make the workplace unpleasant. The weavers' hands were occupied, but their minds were free and, with friends and neighbours passing in and out or gathering round, they had every incentive to talk and think.

MacKinnon remembered how

his father and his mates clubbed together to buy newspapers when stamp duty made the cost prohibitive to individual workmen. They each had a turn of it: ''My father often got his paper at 10 at night and he had it till eight in the morning. On the paper nights, three or four of the neighbours would gather in, and my father being an excellent reader, he generally read the news.'' Weavers became known for their religious dissent and progressive politics too.

Another sign of their independence, or rather a necessary consequence of it, was the formation of friendly societies, at first to take care of sick or injured members. Two such societies existed in Calton. One stipulated that every member must be ''under the age of 40 years, above 10 years, free of all known bodily diseases, a Protestant and of an honest character''. When the societies met, they could go on beyond their everyday business to discuss the economic conditions affecting them too. Here was a starting point for industrial organisation, though the

economic conditions were very different from today's. Journeymen weavers did not form a true industrial proletariat, but were what we would call rigid self-employed or small businessmen. And they took the rather rigid historic structure of their trade as a norm which they expected to bind society at large, not just themselves. They scarcely perceived the forces of the market undermining it.

Yet signs were there. Weavers at the end of the eighteenth century obtained their work in a different way from their forefathers. They got their yarn and other raw materials from local agents known as manufacturers, at an agreed price paid once the finished web was returned to them.

The production of cloth saleable to more demanding consumers required it to go through several specialised processes: not only weaving, but also bleaching, dyeing, printing, embroidering, and so on. The manufacturers, who often had close connections to Glasgow's dominant merchant class, integrated these processes. That meant they had to respond

to markets, local, national and

even international.

The crisis of 1787 in Glasgow had in fact a distant international cause. After a long stagnation the East India Company, urged on by Henry Dundas, the Scot in effective charge of it, was bucking itself up. One result was the large-scale importation to Britain of cheap muslin, the most delicate woven cotton used for ladies' dresses and curtains. The Glaswegian manufacturers then had to drop their own prices. That mean they had to reduce their payments to weavers.

The downward spiral began in November 1786, when manufacturers cut wages to an average of six or seven shillings a week. That still did not go far enough, and the following summer they proposed a further cut of 25%. This prompted the strike.

At first it had none of the bitterness it later took on. Weavers promised not to ''offer violence to any man or his work''. Granger told

at his trial how men from Calton

went on to a raid to Anderston, where they entered weavers' houses, carefully removed the webs and returned them to the manufacturers. On one occasion they had to force the door

of a warehouse to make sure of returning the webs, and Granger personally stood guard at the door to stop any looting.

The weavers were well organised. They even had a scheme for a voluntary levy on all their brothers in the district round Glasgow, who according to their means would contribute between 5s and #5 so as to keep the strikers in work.

These consciously set out to win the moral argument, as in a pamphlet they published with the biblical title, A Plague of Locusts. They thought manufacturers wrong to be cutting wages at a time of rising prices:

surely, if this was pointed out, public opinion would force the authorities

to intervene.

Throughout, it seems, the weavers expected the magistrates of Glasgow to impose a table of fair prices on both sides.

The manufacturers took no notice. After a month they hit back with a lock-out, resolving ''to give out no work of any description whatsoever'', so that even weavers willing to work would suffer along with their mates. To the manufacturers the issue was a simple one of whether the price paid should depend ''on the option of the workman'' or ''as in reason it ought, on the demand of the market''. They would not relent till the weavers went peacefully back to work and the ringleaders were arrested.

Crucial to the outcome was that the magistrates did not act as the weavers expected, by bringing in fresh regulation. Forced to choose, they took sides with the manufacturers. This ought not to have come as a surprise to the weavers (though apparently it did). The Lord Provost, himself a trader in tobacco, was related to some of Glasgow's wealthiest men. As soon as the strike began, Riddell condemned ''illegal, unwarranted, and oppressive practices'' - by which he meant a combination of workmen to bring pressure on employers. He offered a reward of 20 guineas to anyone giving information on the persons involved.

The conflict deepened. Weavers started publicly destroying webs they had seized and attacked strike-breakers. An instance cited in Granger's trial

was the treatment meted out to Robert Penman and Daniel and Adam Ferguson of Camlachie, who had not only their looms but also their household goods smashed.

Daniel Ferguson was roughly handled and ''caused to ride the stang'' - hauled up on a pole. Later he suffered a beating so severe that he could not give evidence against Granger.

Manufacturers and their families received threats, and a warehouse was burned down.

Spirited though the weavers showed themselves, the end for them came quickly after the bloodshed on September 3, and then the determined effort by the authorities to outlaw their leadership. Many solved their personal problem of unemployment by joining the army, serving with the very regiments that had shot down their mates.

Two months later, Adam Smith became rector of the Glasgow University, where he had been a professor 30 years before. He did not approve of either employers or employees combining to fix prices, but he had no doubt which side would win: ''The workmen very seldom derive any advantage from the violence of those tumultuous combinations, which, partly from the interposition of the civil magistrate, partly from the superior steadiness of the masters, partly from the necessity which the greater part of the workmen are under of submitting for the sake of present subsistence, generally end in nothing but the punishment and ruin of the ringleaders.''

This in a nutshell was the story of the weavers' strike of 1787. In effect it lost them their traditional privileges. Under the old system the masters, servants, and magistrates were bound together in closed, regulated economic structures. The industrial revolution and the invasion of markets busted them wide open.

Social attitudes then altered too. Public rituals such as burning of webs - which were meant to remind the authorities of their obligations - became symptoms of subversion. Especially the new class of self-made capitalists, who knew nothing and cared less about artisan culture, saw any uproar in the streets as disorder to be suppressed. Instead of getting together with the lower orders and making concessions till peace was restored on mutually acceptable terms, the elites from now on sought to impose their will or stop trouble ever starting. One possible answer to misbehaviour among lusty young workers was to encourage them to

go to Sunday school: the first in Glasgow opened its doors to 400 boys in November 1787. Moves were made to set up a streamlined administration with proper arrangements for security. The city was divided into 24 wards, each

operating a kind of neighbourhood watch with respectable citizens reporting to the magistrates ''against any disorderly persons therein''; a police force would be established in 1800. Some of the problems, though not the remedies, have changed little in two centuries.

n The next instalment of Michael Fry's Millennium Project will appear on Thursday, May 7.