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From The Socialist newspaper, 10 February 2010

Trade union rights for service personnel

UK SERVICE personnel urgently need the right to join and organise in a trade union. In several other countries, including some whose soldiers are currently serving in Afghanistan, service personnel have trade union rights.

Danish soldiers have had a trade union for over 50 years and won collective bargaining rights in 1973.

Over 2,500 Spanish military personnel demonstrated in Madrid before Christmas under the slogan 'Dignidad y Derechos' - Dignity and Rights - for improvements to their career prospects, and gained support from other trade unions for their fight.

Dutch soldiers, including those serving alongside UK soldiers as part of the Nato deployment in Afghanistan, can join a trade union. AFMP, one of three unions for military personnel, is affiliated to the Dutch union confederation FNV, and defends service personnel's rights, welfare and conditions.

It takes up political questions, calling for example for the resignation of the military leadership who turned a blind eye to the massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995.

On the Afghan conflict, AFMP chairman Wim van den Burg says that troops are "citizens in uniform" who have "similar qualms" about the Afghan deployment as the rest of the population.

"The decision of course remains for the government and parliament.... but we've been in Afghanistan for four years with little progress. We're pushing for troop withdrawal. It's important the voice of the military is heard," says van den Burg.

In Ireland PDFORRA is the union for soldiers, sailors and aircrew and is affiliated to the Irish Conference of Public Service Associations. It increasingly aligns itself with the Irish working class' struggle to resist attempts to make them pay for the crisis.

Having seen service personnel used to break strikes such as those by ambulance staff and bus workers, in 2009 its general secretary Gerry Rooney demanded assurances that service personnel will never again be used in that way.

A trade union for UK service personnel which could take up issues around welfare (sub-standard accommodation in barracks, medical and psychiatric facilities etc.) and could also ask the right questions about military deployments, would be a huge step forward.

In 2008 an official survey on the ArmyNet website revealed that nearly three-quarters of serving soldiers would welcome a 'federation'; support today could well be higher.

The trade union movement has a responsibility to ensure that working-class youth in the forces, many conscripted by unemployment, do not have their lives ruined by what they experience on the frontline or by the system's negligence.

Socialists, as well as continuing to campaign against the war in Afghanistan and for the immediate withdrawal of the troops, should also support the right of these troops to organise in a union.

Paul Gerrard Manchester Socialist Party

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Trade union rights for service personnel


 

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