Remembering The Anti Conscription Strike Of 1918
On April 23rd 1918 a one-day national strike was held in Ireland against conscription.
Conscription in Britain had already been established by the Military Service Act of January 1916, which came into effect a few weeks later in March 1916.
The Act specified that men from 18 to 41 years old were liable to be called up for service in the army unless they were married, widowed with children, serving in the Royal Navy, a minister of religion, or working in one of a number of reserved occupations.
By early 1918 Britain was low on troops for the western front, although thousands of Irishmen had joined British regiments to fight in WW1, the British Government were seriously considering introducing conscription into Ireland.
Despite opposition from the entire Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), the conscription bill for Ireland was voted through at Westminster, becoming the 'Military Service (No. 2) Act, 1918' (8 Geo. 5, c. 5).
On April 18th 1918 a meeting was held in the Mansion House in Dublin and the Irish Anti-Conscription Committee was convened to devise plans to resist conscription.
The committee represented different sections of nationalist opinion as Sinn Fein, Irish parliamentary party, All-for-Ireland Party, Labour and the trade unions were represented on the committee and united in their opposition to conscription. Unionists supported the British Government.
On the evening of the same day, the Roman Catholic bishops were holding their annual meeting and declared the conscription decree an oppressive and unjust law, calling on the Church's adherents to resist "by the most effective means at our disposal" (if "consonant with the law of God.").
The Anti-Conscription Committee and bishops proposed an anti-conscription pledge that was to be taken at the church door of every Roman Catholic parish the next Sunday, 21 April, which read
"Denying the right of the British government to enforce compulsory service in this country, we pledge ourselves solemnly to one another to resist conscription by the most effective means at our disposal."
Following their representation at the Mansion House, the labour movement made its own immediate and distinctive contribution to the anti-conscription campaign.
A one-day general strike was called in protest, and on April 23rd 1918, work was stopped in railways, docks, factories, mills, theatres, cinemas, trams, public services, shipyards, newspapers, shops, and even Government munitions factories. The strike was described as "complete and entire, an unprecedented event outside the continental countries".
Mass meetings were held all over the country and by May 1918 the British had become very nervous of the publicity Sinn Fein were receiving.
The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord French, claiming evidence of a treasonable plot between Sinn Féin and the Germans, ordered the arrest of seventy-three Sinn Féin leaders, including Griffith and de Valera, on May 17th.
By June 1918 the British gave up on their plans to bring in conscription into Ireland but the damage had already been done as Sinn Fein had made huge publicity out of the campaign which helped them win so many seats in the December general election of 1918.