Angry soldiers demand trade federation
The federation could not strike or change the government's strategic policy. Lord Garden said: "It could not say, 'we will not go to Iraq' but it could say, 'we would like enough body armour'." From The Guardian, 26 January 2006:
Angry soldiers demand trade federation
Courts martial and equipment failures fuel rank and file discontent
By Audrey Gillan and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, Thursday 26 January 2006
A groundswell of discontent among members of the armed forces is leading to calls for the formation of a federation to campaign for the rights of the 250,000 servicemen and women in the UK.
A battery of concerns over Iraq, including shortages of kit during the invasion, as well as misgivings about the proposed new deployment to Afghanistan, along with the issues of bullying, the fall in recruitment and retention of soldiers, have galvanised the call for an association.
But the real motor driving the campaign is the prosecution of soldiers for alleged abuses and "war crimes" in Iraq. Many service personnel feel such cases are politically-inspired and are angry that the decision to prosecute has been taken out of the hands of senior officers. They argue such cases undermine morale and the crucial relationship between commanding officers and their troops in the field.
The proposal, which would see the formation of an association along the lines of the Police Federation, has been raised in the House of Lords and has been widely discussed among the rank and file. With the provisional title of the British Armed Forces Federation, the association is the brainchild of serving soldiers and ex-servicemen who insist it would not be a union - illegal under the Queen's Regulations which every serviceman is bound by. Similar federations exist in the United States and Australia.
Last night, Lord Garden, a former RAF air marshal and veteran of the first Gulf war, said: "It's a pretty live issue. I was surprised talking to retired senior military people who are prepared to think about it, saying there might be a case for it."
Tim Collins, former colonel of 1st Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment, said: "If the chain of command is failing to support servicemen in the increasingly socio-econmic issues affecting their lives, as well as legal issues, there is no doubt that a model based on the Police Federation is appropriate. I much regret it but there is an overwhelming need for it. That need reflects the fact that there is disappointment with the chain of command who have clearly lost a button off their cuff."
The federation could not strike or change the government's strategic policy. Lord Garden said: "It could not say, 'we will not go to Iraq' but it could say, 'we would like enough body armour'."
Today, the defence secretary, John Reid, will confirm that Britain will send up to 4,000 troops to Afghanistan in the spring. The soldiers' association would represent the interests of members of the army, navy and air force in everything from welfare to legal matters. Its supporters say it could provide help for soldiers facing court martial as a result of actions in Iraq and assist those who feel they are victims of bullying.
The idea came earlier this month from members of a website for the armed forces called the Army Rumour Service. It picked up such a head of steam that Lord Garden, raised the issue in parliament.
Yesterday, an MoD spokesman said it was not considering a federation, saying: "There are a range of avenues for soldiers, sailors and airmen to express their views on matters which affect their service."
The proposed federation is being raised during the reading of the armed forces bill.
Jeff Duncan of Save the Scottish Regiments, said: "All they are asking for is some respect and be treated fairly and honestly. Many within the military have reached breaking point, either leaving en masse or attempting to protect themselves via this organisation.
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