Glasgow’s left wing spaces are under threat
This last year has seen the closure of two prominent spaces for leftist groups in Glasgow; Glasgow Autonomous Space (GAS) and Pink Peacock cafe. The loss of both these collectives proved to be a blow for leftist groups, who were reliant on these collectives to organise and meet. However, the reality is that the feature that underpins many of these organizations (non-profit, non-hierarchical, pay what you can) also appears to be the cause of their downfalls.
In the case of GAS, a space that has been running since 2016 and described by its organisers as “an autonomous social centre that provides space for groups working to fight capitalism & other forms of oppression”, was solely dependent on donation. This is not to say this structure was not effective, as GAS operated as an incredibly successful entity having had “built a library, herbal clinic dispensary, kitchen, wood workshop, print workshop, meeting space, toilets, a garden with a greenhouse and a shed.” It also grew to be a well-known name within leftist groups, where people would organise film nights (such as the Glasgow Anarchist Film Club), parties and social events. Its existence sought to bring people together, to share ideas and to belong to a safe inclusive environment where abuse of any kind was not tolerated. In the society we live in today, that thrives off of hyper-individualism and consumerism, a space such as GAS was a much needed breath of fresh air.
Unfortunately, last year in 2022 organisers of GAS posted on Facebook announcing they would be stepping down, stating that “there isn’t really a collective anymore and energy is low” and instead asking for “individuals or organisations which share GAS’s values to take overall responsibility for the not-for-profit venue.” Ultimately, nobody was able to step-up and GAS was shut down and sold to a new buyer.
What the closure of GAS highlighted for many was the dismal reality of leftist spaces in a world that places such an emphasis on making a profit. Moreover, in a post-pandemic world and in a country that is enduring a cost-of-living-crisis, it is simply not feasible enough for many people and grass-roots organisations to operate on donations when many people don’t even have enough money to heat their homes. What this has led to is a lack of energy among these volunteers, which is unsurprising given that in order to operate on a volunteering basis for many means a sacrifice of a full day of pay. As a result, failure for collectives like these seems almost inevitable and morale continues to remain low.
Only a matter of months later, the closure of Pink Peacock cafe solidified this unfortunate reality. Described as a Queer, Anarchist, Jewish space that operated off a pay-what-you-can basis, Pink Peacock was a pillar of the Govanhill community during the Covid-19 pandemic and after. The cafe offered free food to anybody who would be in need, and a warm and comforting space for people to have some respite. However, Pink Peacock also met its untimely end in June 2023, less than a year after the closure of GAS. In a statement posted by volunteers on its website, they indicated that “burnout” and the “constant battle to keep ourselves financially afloat” following Covid-19 was the reason for them shutting down. This problem of “burnout” appears prevalent within volunteers of leftist spaces, especially those who are feeling the financial burden that comes with the nature of not-for-profit organisations.
The issue of gentrification is also a factor in the closure of these spaces, especially Pink Peacock which is situated in Govanhill, a vibrant community that is characterised by its diversity. However, a piece in the Greater Govanhill Newsletter described how “south west Govanhill experiences the most significant housing problems, including […] high concentration of private landlords, high turnover of tenants and overcrowding.” This has meant that many organisations, such as Pink Peacock, are being bought out of their neighbourhoods as they are unable to keep up with the rising cost of property. Instead, companies that will make a higher turn-over are favoured by property owners, leaving a lack of space for grass-roots organisation.
The reality for spaces such as GAS and Pink Peacock is that in a market which is so fixated on profit margins, grass-roots organisations which rely on volunteers are no longer welcome. corporate greed does not look kindly onto anyone, especially not those whose structure aims to combat it, and there is no clear answer for how this issue can be solved. However, there is still hope. Faslane Peace Camp, a camp and communal space that has been operating for 40 years, remains a prominent fixture as well as shops such as Glasgow Zine Library, Category is Books and Calton Books who all organise in their own ways to provide a space for leftists. Carnival Arts Yard also continues to provide a community space, both for local families as well as groups wanting to organise. Whilst leftist groups will have to continue to fight for space in this world for as long as they exist, a future for them isn’t completely out of reach; all they have to do is keep the flame lit.