chapter  2
The British Armed Forces: No Trust, No Representation, No Change
Pages 18

In most European countries the concept of the ‘citizen in uniform’ is widely accepted and unionisation is seen as a right of all citizens, irrespective of their occupation. To date (April 2005) there are 21 European states with some form of military union (Euromil 2005). Indeed, of the original 15 members of the European Union only Britain, Sweden and Luxembourg have no military representative body; and yet, ironically, probably the first military trade union was formed in the British armed forces in 1919 (Englander 1987). Fuelled by delays in demobilisation and the poor treatment of conscripts at the end of World War I, the Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmen’s Union (SSAU) was formed. It grew rapidly to an estimated membership of 10,000 in April 1919 (Englander 1987: 10). But efforts to secure the right of representation for the armed forces were short-lived. The authorities reacted speedily to the perceived ‘Bolshevik’ threat by demobilising and discharging ‘men who [were] largely imbued with unionism tinged with socialism’ (Englander 1987: 11). A raid by the intelligence services on the SSAU headquarters on 5 May 1919 discredited the organisation and led to its rapid demise.