The response of the Labour Movement to conscription: political objectors to military service
In the early part of the 20th Century, Christchurch was an absolute hotbed of socialism, and the advent of World War One rallied the movement around class-consciousness.
The Socialists espoused the belief that "New Zealand workers had no quarrel with German workers"—paraphrasing the pioneering British Labour politician Keir Hardie—and at the same time, on the other side of the world, German workers were saying the same thing amidst massive socialist street rallies.
Some socialists were imprisoned on Ripapa Island for refusing to register for Compulsory Military Training (CMT), some were imprisoned in Lyttelton Gaol for sedition, and others were incarcerated in Paparua Prison for conscientious objection. The conscientious objectors lost their rights as citizens for ten years following the War. Several of the seditious socialists and conscientious objectors went on to become prominent local and national Labour politicians. One became Christchurch East's MP for twenty years, and another Prime Minister of New Zealand. Together these men 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.