Freedom and censorship

This hook presents an anticonscription poster created by Tom Barker, a key member of an organisation called the Industrial Workers of the World. The IWW was vehemently opposed to the “capitalist war” and to conscription. Throughout the war, the New Zealand government tried to repress political or industrial unrest, and so IWW members were subjected to raids, arrests, and deportations.

To Arms! Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) public poster by Tom Barker.

To Arms! Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) public poster by Tom Barker, about 1914–1918. (Public domain). bit.ly/wfe-cia

Context

Tom Barker was a tram conductor, a trade unionist, and a socialist. He was also a key member of an organisation called the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The IWW supported the rights of workers everywhere; discouraged aggressive nationalist views about Germans, Austrians, and Turks; and was vehemently opposed to the “capitalist war” and to conscription.

After moving from New Zealand to Australia in 1914, Barker became the editor of an IWW newspaper called Direct Action. The poster above is Barker’s most famous anti-conscription poster, and he was arrested as a result of its publication. Although he was released on a technicality, he was later imprisoned for another anti-conscription poster. Barker was deported to Chile in 1918.

Throughout the First World War, the New Zealand government also tried to repress any form of political or industrial unrest. They paid close attention to the mail, literature, and speeches of the IWW, and IWW members were subjected to raids, arrests, and deportations. In 1916 Peter Fraser, a member of the newly-formed Labour Party, spent 12 months in jail for publicly opposing conscription. Fraser later became a New Zealand Prime Minister.

Possible discussion questions

  • What was the purpose of this poster? How and why did Barker use irony to convey his message?
  • Why were members of the IWW opposed to conscription? How did opposition to the war relate to their socialist views?
  • What role do trade unions play in New Zealand society today? To what extent is their role valued in our society?
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