Troops Out Movement & Anti-Recruitment Campaign
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:-
- 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.
- Many trade union activists came from a political
view which identified the British presence in Ireland as imperialist
- The British trade union movement had close
fraternal contacts with Irish trade unions at local and national
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.