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The response of the Labour Movement to conscription: political objectors to military service


In the early part of the 20th century Christchurch was a hotbed of socialism, and the advent of the First World War rallied the movement around class-consciousness. The socialists espoused the belief that New Zealand workers had no quarrel with German workers; on the other side of the world, German workers were saying the same thing amidst massive street rallies.

Some were imprisoned on Ripapa Island for refusing to register for Compulsory Military Training, some spent time in Lyttelton Gaol for sedition, and others were incarcerated in Paparua Prison for conscientious objection. The conscientious objectors who were named on the military defaulters' list at the end of the War lost their rights as citizens for ten years.

Several of the seditionists and conscientious objectors became prominent local and national Labour politicians. One was Christchurch East's MP for twenty years, and another Prime Minister of New Zealand. Together they formed a government that built one of our country's finest achievements: the Welfare State. They cleared slums and built public housing, hospitals and schools. 

The Canterbury socialists refused to participate in a foreign imperial war, but one hundred years ago they were at the very epicentre of a class one.

Keith Locke marks the centenary of the first men to be jailed for sedition when they spoke out against conscription

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