Labour History

Stopping War and Stopping Conscription: Australian Labour’s Response to World War I in Comparative Perspective

Labour History (2014), 106, (1), 43–67.


In the early twentieth century, the labour movement was the most important force seeking to prevent war and restrain militarism. Comparison of the Australian labour movement’s response to World War I has been rare, but it shows the Australian experience was distinctive in two ways. Elsewhere, socialist and labour leaders engaged in a frantic round of efforts to stop the war prior to its outbreak, although most soon abandoned their opposition once the conflict had begun. In Australia, similar efforts were virtually absent. Yet during a second wave of opposition in the English-speaking countries, the Australian labour movement was uniquely successful in stopping the introduction of conscription. How can we account for these two differences? Cross-country comparison of labour’s political strength suggests that this may help to account for both.

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Author details

Archer, Robin