In this article Rodgers discusses the push and pull factors which made Lithuanians emigrate to Britain but mainly Scotland. He identifies the various experiences that this group had in relation to employment, politics and social life as well as the struggles they faced from dealing with opposition from locals, the press and the government. Through examining all of these factors, Rodgers successfully highlights how the Lithuanian community maintained their identity within the large community that was established until it was significantly deteriorated after the First World War.
Firstly, Rodgers discusses the push and pull factors which encouraged Lithuanians to go to Britain and contribute to the growth of the community. Predominately peasants, they were pushed to leave Lithuania due to the huge decline in their standard of living as a result of an increase in population, heavier taxation and a fall in grain prices. Such a change to their standard of living was so significant that Rodgers highlights how one in four Lithuanians made the decision to leave between 1868 and 1914. Additionally, he notes the important factor that around 15,000 Lithuanians were resident in Scotland before moving to further destinations like America and it was cheaper for them to travel through the ports of Leith and Glasgow rather than go direct. Scotland also provided financial opportunities through the expanding coal, steel and iron industries in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. Through these employment opportunities, many were also offered housing which encouraged them to stay. Rodgers also points out how the growth of the Lithuanian community was sustained through the ‘emigrant letter’, which was their continued contact with family back in Lithuania after they had emigrated.
Whilst working and living in Britain the Lithuanian community faced considerable opposition from the locals, particularly in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. Rodgers highlights that as early as 1887, the Ayrshire Miners Union led by Keir Hardie demanded their removal, as their presence was “menace to the health and morality of the place and is besides, being used to reduce the already too low wages earned by the workmen.” Similar was the situation in Lanarkshire which was the main settlement for Lithuanians. Here, the Lanarkshire County Miners Union protested again the underestimated presence of Lithuanians in the mines. Additionally, in one of the Lanarkshire newspapers in 1900 the Lithuanian community were made out to be unclean and barbarous with ingrained violence and anarchy. It is also important to note that they were referred to as ‘Poles’, suggesting that their nationality was ignored, and the main focus was on how negative their presence was. With regards to opposition, Rodgers points out that at the time the mining community already contained squalid living conditions, heavy drinking and reckless behaviour. Therefore, in terms of ‘health’ and ‘morality’ it was easier for them to direct such concerns at outsiders rather than addressing it themselves.
However, Rodgers goes onto discuss how unionisation became significant in improving relations between the Lithuanian labour force and the LCMU. After encouraging Lithuanian membership in the union through printing rules in the language and offering entitlement to include full benefits, the Lithuanian labour force began to take an active part in union affairs in the years leading up to 1914. Due to this, Rodgers points out that all previous allegations were dropped, and a new-found loyalty was established.
Rodgers also demonstrates the political activity of Lithuanians with the small but influential socialist element within the community. However, he states that it was mainly confined to a small group of class-conscious workers and the majority of immigrants were more concerned with making a living rather than politics but once it became apparent that joining a union could provide better living conditions, this is the action they took.
Despite the unionisation of workers, this created a divide in the community itself with the Lithuanian clergy opposing socialists which were viewed as ‘godless people’. The Lithuanian community was therefore divided into those who adhered to some form of socialist activity and those who were committed to the Catholic faith.
Rodgers concludes with the impact that the Anglo-Russian Military Convention of 1917 had on the Lithuanian community. All men between eighteen and forty were to join the British Army or face deportation. The clergy actively encouraged those to join the army in comparison to socialists who aimed to return home. After socialists left and fought for the Bolsheviks, they were denied entry back into Scotland and women and children were also forced back home due to lack of money and employment opportunities. Therefore, by March 1920, 600 women and children returned. Rodgers highlights how communities that had previously flourished before the war had now disappeared and were largely broken.