'Armed Forces Federation': Half a century 1956-2006
The founding members of BAFF did not invent the idea of a representative staff association for armed forces personnel. Neither does BAFF claim to have originated the term 'armed forces federation', which has existed in the English language for more than half a century. The idea of some form of independent representation for British service personnel has been mooted many times since the Second World War.
Over time the debate concentrated less on a possible armed forces trade union - albeit a union which like those in allied countries could never undertake industrial action - and more on the model of a "staff federation" or "professional staff association", comparable in some respects with the various Police Federations. The first serious mention of a possible Armed Forces Federation in an official UK Defence publication was in the report of the official Bett Review, published by the MoD in 1995.
These are some of the landmarks during the fifty years from 1956 to 2006:
1956 - German Armed Forces Federation (Deutscher BundeswehrVerband - DBwV - alternatively "German Armed Forces Association") founded.
1971 - In Commons written answer, Conservative Defence Minister declines invitation to introduce a system for British Servicemen and Servicewomen to join a public service trade union; he is "already aware of the arrangements under which members of the German armed forces are allowed to join public service trade unions".
1977 - Labour Defence Minister confirms that he has no objection to the armed forces, if they were so minded, seeking trade union representation.
1978 - Probable first use of the actual phrase 'armed forces federation' in Parliament, by Labour Government spokesman in a House of Lords defence debate: "Although all of us view with horror the possibility of an Armed Forces trade union, nevertheless there is an armed forces federation in Germany. Certain intelligent officers who are serving beside German units regard this with some interest... I am just drawing your Lordships' attention to the fact that this body exists, and some young soldiers are looking at it."
1984 - Armed Forces Federation of Australia Inc (ArFFA) founded. (ArFFA is understood to have eventually ceased operations in late 2006. The Defence Force Welfare Association (DFWA) succeeded to its representative role.)
1991 - Defence Minister Archie Hamilton MP dismisses "the question of greater representation by trade union or staff federation" for armed forces personnel. In the same debate, Mr Hamilton also professes that "Only [Labour members] could seriously suggest that homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the armed forces. It is extraordinary that they believe that that would work."
Also in the same debate, Labour Defence spokesperson Dr John Reid MP says that "as a matter of principle and practice and of concrete assistance in the present circumstances, the Minister and the Government should have shown more sympathy towards the idea of a staff federation. That idea has been rejected; I hope that it will not be rejected indefinitely."
1993 - Dr Reid says "It remains Labour's view that the interests and rights of those who volunteer to join the armed forces would be better served if they were allowed formal rights of representation through some form of staff federation... Let me make it clear, lest we be accused of demanding a trade union for the Army, that we have never asked for a trade union for the Army. We have asked, however, for some form of staff federation along the lines allowed, tolerated and, indeed, welcomed for the police—the Police Federation. ...
1994 - "Growing talk of the need for an Armed Forces Federation, analogous to the Police Federation, to represent properly the views of service personnel" mentioned in House of Lords. "Most other NATO countries have something like that..."
1995 - Official 'Bett Review' report for the UK Secretary of State for Defence says 66% of personnel surveyed agreed that the forces would benefit from having a Federation.
1997 - Sunday newspaper claims to have uncovered a ‘secret trade union’ in the army called ‘The Colours’ (aka the 22 Club or The Colours Association Armed Forces Federation - no connection with BAFF) that had 2,500 members with representatives in “most infantry and many armoured corps regiments”. [Revealed: Army’s secret trade union, Sunday Times, 23.02.97. See also Echoes of a historic mutiny, Independent, 31.3.97]
1997 - Eric Joyce, army education officer and future Labour MP, argues that `service personnel require a structure of collective individual representation and professional expression discrete from the chain of command'. [Joyce E, Arms and the Man - Renewing the Armed Services, Fabian Society, Aug 97.]
1998 - Writing in the RUSI Journal, Lt Col Richard Bartle (former Inspector of Army Training and later a BAFF founding member) examines research by Cranfield University/Royal Military College of Science revealing positive rank and file attitudes to some form of independent representative body for members of the British Army.
2002 - Sunday newspaper reports that "Soldiers will be allowed to join trade unions for the first time after Ministry of Defence lawyers warned it would be illegal to continue to prevent them from doing so under European human rights law. . .Until now, the army has refused to countenance any kind of soldiers’ federation or union, which senior officers believe would seriously undermine military discipline...However, lawyers for the MoD say such opposition is no longer sustainable under Article 11 of the 2000 European Convention on Human Rights, which gives everyone the right to belong to a union." Unnamed commanding officer comments "In battle it’s no good if a man decides not to attack something until he’s checked with his shop steward. This is the army, for God’s sake, not British bloody Leyland... [BAFF comment: Such thoughts of a soldier checking with his shop steward in battle are of course sheer fantasy.] Ministry of Defence spokesman: "“We have to accept that soldiers are free to join whatever union they wish and an entire regiment could all join a single union. Currently, there is not a case pending for the formation of an army union, but the legal advice is that we think that soldiers could form a group under the law — although how closely that would resemble a traditional trade union is open to question." Sunday Times 10.03.02 - Army forced to allow unions - quoted at PPruNe.
2002 - Labour defence minister assures House of Lords that should a proposal for representation come forward from service personnel "we would consider it and assess its implications, particularly those relating to operational effectiveness."
2002 - Col Richard Bartle (see earlier note) writes paper entitled "A British Armed Forces Federation; In anticipation of the inevitable."
2003 - Former RN serviceman Mr David Robson announces proposal to form a "Combined Armed Forces Federation" (CAFFUK - no connection with BAFF) to campaign over the pre-1975 pension issue: Outrage at pension 'short-change'.
2004 - Probable first of many discussions on unofficial 'Army Rumour Service' website about the possibility of forming an armed forces federation.
2005 - General Election. Foreshadowing the BAFF concept, Service Voting Campaign to encourage service voters to register and then use their vote shows how responsible non-partisan campaigning by service personnel can also be extremely effective.
2005 (Sep) - Concluding sentence of Silence in the Ranks: "We would be happy also to contribute to a wider debate about the representation of the armed forces community..."
2006 (Jan) - Formation of British Armed Forces Federation (BAFF) Steering Group. Publication of BAFF Ten Point Plan.
2006 (Jan) - Parliamentary question by Lord Garden - To ask Her Majesty's Government whether there is any bar to serving members of the armed forces forming an association along the lines of the Police Federation. Air Marshal Lord Garden (1944-2007), retired Air Marshal RAF and Liberal Democrat Defence spokesman in the Lords, later became one of the first subscribing members of the British Armed Forces Federation. Tim Garden was a key champion of the Service Voting Campaign.
2006 (Feb) - Armed Forces Federation discussed by House of Commons Armed Forces Bill Committee. Committee take written evidence on behalf of British Armed Forces Federation Steering Group.
2006 (Apr) - Lord Garden, speaking in Deepcut Barracks debate, notes Armed Forces Bill "amendment that would have established an independent Armed Forces federation. There is a growing call for the military to enjoy some of the rights that other citizens take for granted."
2006 (Dec) - BAFF public launch in Westminster...