Marches, strikes and occupations.Trade Union and Political Action In South Tyneside and South Shields in the 60s and 70's.
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Troops Out Movement & Anti-Recruitment Campaign

click for more info.From the perspective of the year 1999 it might seem surprising that in the mid-70s, the British trade union movement should be actively engaged in a campaign involving Northern Ireland. The reasons for this involvement lie both with the confidence of the trade union movement at that time, and with its traditional international perspective.
Also for more specific reasons:-

  1. Many Irish workers immigrated to England in the 19th and early 20th century. These were often unskilled or semi-skilled workers and were naturally attracted to the largely manual worker trade unions of that time.
  2. Many trade union activists came from a political view which identified the British presence in Ireland as imperialist exploitation.
  3. The British trade union movement had close fraternal contacts with Irish trade unions at local and national level.

In 1972 the Trades Union Congress (TUC) reported that many trades unions had expressed concern about developments in Northern Ireland. The General Council of the TUC approved a policy calling for:-

An end to civil disobedience.
An end to imprisonment without trial.
A bill of human rights.

This official TUC policy was soon translated into an anti-internment campaign calling for:-

Release of internees.
Withdrawal of British troops.

Many local contacts were made between English Trades Councils and their Northern Ireland counterparts, and between English and Irish Claimants Unions.

South Shields TUC made contact with several Northern Ireland Trades Councils, and sought to intervene in what they saw as a misguided conflict involving common fraternal interests. In answer to a national TUC call they made contact with interned trade unionists-as did many individual trade union branches.

In retrospect the 'Troops Out' movement can be seen as a totally inappropriate response to the problems of that time. Nevertheless, this sort of political action, supported by different political groups, for different political reasons, can also be seen as one of the many contributing pressures placed on successive British governments which ultimately led to what became known as the 'peace process'of the late 90s.

The international dimension to trade union thinking led the South Shields TUC to be involved in other international issues. Their anti-imperialist stance led them to campaign against army recruitment which they saw as an exploitation of the unemployed youth in the region. Certainly, recruitment statistics for that time indicate that a high proportion of servicemen (and women) were recruited from areas of high unemployment such as the North East. Although it was officially denied that recruitment campaigns were directed to the NE it is certainly the case that recruitment officers regularly visited local schools and colleges. It would be naive to have expected otherwise. Then, as now, some 50% of all forces recruits were only 16 years of age.

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