Helen Crawfurd with Methil Women's Communist Party, 1925 / courtesy of Glasgow Caledonian University Special Collections and Archives, Gallacher Memorial Library

Opposition to the arms trade and the war many believed it had created was difficult for ordinary people. Civilian industries contracted so many were compelled by economic necessity into armaments factories and other war-work. The Munitions of War Act (1915) suspended trade union rights, and made strikes or quitting a job without employer permission illegal. Strikes were commonplace, but mainly concerned shop-floor issues. In Glasgow, the most concentrated munitions centre, workers protested profiteering and dilution by withholding labour. They were supported by socialists like Helen Crawfurd, James Maxton and John Maclean; all explicitly opposed to militarism. In London, Sylvia Pankhurst exposed poor conditions and sharp practices in the Workers’ Dreadnought, and was threatened with libel by a private arms firm. The Defence of the Realm Act was another piece of emergency legislation, granting the government sweeping powers to censor and punish critics like E.D. Morel.

In 1915, ‘peacettes’ braved mine-strewn seas to attend the first International Women’s Peace Congress. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, born from this Congress, lobbied for disarmament in the inter-war era (Feminists take on the World Disarmament Conference) and are still going strong today. North Wales women were especially active, rallying 2000 women on an epic peace pilgrimage. From 1921 the absolute pacifist No More War Movement (precursor to the Peace Pledge Union), pushed for Britain to lead by example and disarm completely.

Perhaps the most impressive direct action against the arms trade was spearheaded by the Hands off Russia! movement. London Dockers boycotted the SS Jolly George in 1920, which prevented weapons being shipped to anti-Bolshevik forces.

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