Wednesday, March 08, 2006



Sedition by Example XIX: Tim Armstrong

(An ongoing history of those persecuted under our archaic law of sedition)

Hubert Thomas Armstrong, speaking to a public meeting in Victoria Square, Christchurch, December 31st, 1916:

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, the chairman has announced and it also appeared in the advertisement in last evening's paper that I would speak at this meeting on behalf of the waterside workers. I want to make it clear to you that although I happen to be a watersider I have no authority from any waterside workers' union in this country to speak on their behalf. But as a citizen and a father, as a native of this country, I claim the right to criticise the government of the country. I claim the right to criticise any piece of legislation enacted by the government of this country, that, to my mind is against the interests of the people of the country, whether military service, or any other Act and I am going to do so. And when we take up that stand, because the nation happens to be at war, and because we say that we differ with the military policy of a hide-bound tory government, the reply we receive is that we are pro-German and unpatriotic. I think I love my country as well as any individual around this ring this afternoon, and I will fight just as hard in defence of the freedom of the people of this country as anyone else I know of, and before many years are gone by I am perfectly satisfied that history will repeat itself, and the men who belong to the working class organisation that are within the four walls of a gaol today for having the courage to give vent to their honest convictions, in the near future will be looked upon as the real patriots, when the Allens and the Masseys and the Wards and the rest of them who are responsible for this piece of coercive legislation will be regarded as tyrants. Semple, Cooke and the rest of them who are in gaol today because they are said to be disloyal to their country. I say their names in the near future will be honoured when the name of the Wards and the Masseys will be looked on as the greatest gang of political despots that ever darkened the pages of this country's history. And after all, why are these people in gaol today? I have had a peep inside of His Majesty's prison and let me tell you I never want to go there. Everything in connection with the institution is repulsive to me. And a man that is anxious to break into gaol wants his head read. And in thinking out what I was going to speak about this afternoon (it is my first time on a public platform for about eighteen months) it gave me a considerable amount of trouble in picking out just what it would be wise for me to say and I found considerable difficulty in arriving at a conclusion as to whether it was safe to say anything at all. However, those of us who have studied the working-class movement, not only in this country but in every other country of the world, know perfectly well that the freedom that we enjoy today is owing to the fact that there have been men courageous enough to defy any law that was contrary to the interests of the people and aimed at robbing them of their freedom.

[...]

The voluntary system has failed, Mr Allen informs us. Why has the voluntary system failed? Because the captains of industry in this country, the food monopolists, and the money burglars have, by raising the price of commodities, and through increasing the cost of living of the dependants the soldiers have left behind, have prevented the young man, and many of the married men, by economic necessity, from volunteering for the front. That is exactly the position... The voluntary system in this country has not failed and I will guarantee this, that if the Government who have enacted conscription will conscript sufficient of the war profits to pay to the men we are asking to go into the firing line, to fight in the defence of this country and freedom - if the Government will conscript sufficient of the war profits to pay the soldiers the same rate of pay that is paid to the ordinary labourer in this city, and it is a fair proposition, if they will do that, there will be no scarcity, and the voluntary system will not fail.

[...]

Now this question of conscription is not a new thing. I have been in the labour movement of this country practically all my life and there has been an element for the last 20 years in season and out of season advocating conscription before ever the war with Germany was dreamed of at all, and conscription is not wanted by those people because of the war, and to beat Germany. We know that conscription is wanted to keep you and I and the rest of the working people of the country in subjection. That is the idea of it. Those of us who have studied the history of the labour movement in conscription countries, know perfectly well that not only do they use a conscript to fight for the defence of the country but on each and every occasion when the working class rise in revolt against the damnable conditions that prevail, asking for a little more of that which their labour produces, the conscript army has been used in every instance by the money burglars of those countries against the working class. So it will be used in England; so it will be used in this country, and it is the very purpose for which the captains of industry are asking for it.

These words were held to excite disaffection against the government, and Armstrong was sentenced to a year's imprisonment. He was later elected to Parliament, and went on to serve as a Minister in the First Labour government.

(Source: Hubert Thomas Armstrong: Miner, Unionist, Politician by Bernard Kendrick. MA Thesis, University of Auckland, 1950).

4 comments:

Anti-Sedition must be a great law then ... worked for him! :)

Posted by Sam Vilain : 3/08/2006 04:33:00 PM

I really have to do that post about the 1935 labour cabinet and sedition. Rather a lot of them had convictions for it...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/08/2006 04:42:00 PM

Why are you up-in-arms over the sedition laws? Are you expecting them to be dusted-off in the near future?

Posted by M'Lud : 3/08/2006 09:20:00 PM

M'Lud: They already have been. And in this day and age, it is an outrage.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/08/2006 09:37:00 PM