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Paul G. Stevens

In the World of Labor

(19 May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 34, 19 May 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

British Conscription Stirs Resentment Throughout Empire

The Chamberlain government’s decision to institute conscription has stirred up a tremendous wave of anti-war sentiment throughout the British empire.

An indication of the scope that this rank and file anger has taken on may be surmised from the fact that the government itself has been obliged to include a “conscience clause” (making provisions for the enrollment of conscientious objectors in non-military work) in its conscription bill.

No Conscription for Any Part of Ireland

At first the Chamberlain government had intended to institute conscription also in Northern Ireland, in the so-called “Six Counties.” Lord Craigavon, Ulster’s pro-British premier, to facilitate this step, even called for a formal request from his government for conscription. A storm of protests broke loose throughout the Emerald Isle – both North and South. The de Valera government of Eire (Southern Ireland) declared that any such move would be regarded as an “act of aggression.” Big demonstrations of the Irish masses took place. The Irish Press called for these demonstrations in the following terms:

“The British government has no constitutional right to conscript any man of Irish nationality.

“Craigavon has neither right, nor mandate from the people – Protestant nor Catholic – to call for conscription to be applied to the Six Counties of Northern Ireland.

“England’s Wars are her own making. Let English do her fighting.

“Ireland has no quarrel with any nation with which England may be at war.

“Come in your thousands to this National Demonstration and prove by your numbers to the British government and Craigavon that we are prepared to fight to the death to protect our God-given right of freedom.

“Conscription begets murder.”

As a result, Chamberlain has desisted from including Northern Ireland in his conscription plans. Apparently, British “democracy” is going to have its hands full before it can make any headway whatsoever in getting any Irish backing for its war preparations.

Oppressed Jamaican Labor Raises Its Voice Against War

Another sign of how the people in the British empire are reacting to the war preparations comes from the Island of Jamaica in the West Indies. Discussions on the coming war are widespread on the island, which last year went through some tremendous strike struggles, brutally crushed by the British soldiery. The Jamaica Labour Weekly, a workers’ paper appearing in Kingston, summarizes the attitude of the population in the following words:

“Thus at any moment England and France might be involved in a war against Germany and Italy. When that war started, it would be proclaimed to the beating of drums that Jamaicans must join up and fight to DEPEND DEMOCRACY.”

But, the speakers (at the discussions) pointed out, HOW COULD JAMAICANS FIGHT TO DEFEND DEMOCRACY WHEN WE HAVE NOT GOT ANY? ...

“Although we Jamaicans are bitterly opposed to fascism and are ready to defend democracy when we get it here, WE ARE NOT GOING TO FIGHT FOR IMPERIALISM AND THE PERPETUAL ENRICHMENT OF THE POCKETS OF THE BRITISH CAPITALISTS.”

It is interesting to note that the same paper, in speaking of the fight put up by colonial leaders resident in London against British imperialism, holds up as an example to his fellow Negroes the work of C.L.R. James.

Rank and File Revolt in Canadian Labor Too

Still another example of what British imperialism will have to put up with in the coming war comes from Canada, right at our border. There the Canadian Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.), the Dominion’s counterpart of the Labour party; recently held a regional convention in Ontario.

A resolution was introduced by Professor Grube, of the University of Toronto, denouncing Premier King’s war budget as “a waste of public funds in the interests of British imperialism” and demanding transference of the funds to a public works program for the unemployed. It was unanimously endorsed by the convention, which was otherwise run like a well-oiled machine by the social-patriots in command. They could not stem the tide of anti-war sentiment.

Professor Grube was subjected to a barrage of attacks from all reactionary quarters designed to get him fired from the university. National attention was drawn to the case. So strong was the wave of local labor support on his behalf, that the C.C.F. bureaucrats were forced to take up their cudgels for Grube. He still retains his post.

The original Grube resolution, by the way when first introduced in the Garland, Ontario branch, was denounced as “Trotskyite”. When it came up on the convention floor, it was cheered so enthusiastically that both ths officialdom as well as the Stalinists considered it the better part of wisdom not to oppose it then and there.

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