Two charabanc parties in Waller Street, Luton c.1920 [Z1306/75/10/60/5]
Monday 24th January 1916: A meeting of Luton trades unionists was held at the Winter Assembly Hall in Waller Street last night to discuss the possibility of conscription and other issues related to the war. The meeting was called by the Luton Trades and Labour Council to decide how they should vote at the Trades Union Congress to be held at Bristol. A vote was taken at which it was decided by the narrowest of margins that the delegate should vote against conscription. The resolution passed was:
“That this conference of the Labour Party declares itself in opposition to any form of compulsory service for war purposes, believing that its incidence would bear unevenly upon the people; and further calls upon the Labour Praty in the House of Commons to resist to the last any and every attempt to fasten upon the nation a system of conscription which in practice has been a deadly foe to the organised workers of Europe for generations.”
The proposer of the resolution, Mr. Murray Janes, argued for the association of the voluntary system with national liberty, and also maintained that conscription was not necessary. His seconder declared that it would be used by the upper classes to forcibly restrict workers and that the incompetence of those in command meant those conscripted would simply be cannon fodder. Speaking against the resolution and in favour of conscription Mr. J. Mabley pointed out that Lord Kitchener believed it was absolutely necessary, and that it would be unfair to married men who had enlisted with a guarantee that single men would be sent first. Even if conscription proved the thin end of the wedge it was better than being ruled by Germany. His statement that “if the country was fit to live in it was worth fighting for” drew applause from the audience. Further arguments were put forward that supporting the Bill would help to bring “this detestable war” to an end, and that the Munitions Act had already led to what was effectively conscription of workers who were forced to stay in their place of employment unless they received papers releasing them. Despite these arguments against it the resolution was passed by 92 votes to 91. A further resolution calling for “the immediate repeal of the Munitions Act as being a gross interference with the rights of the workers” was passed unanimously.