chapter  14
7 Pages

Placing Military Unionism in a Comparative Perspective


With the notable exception of one book – Left Face – Soldier Unions and Resistance Movements in Modern Armies – (Cortright and Watts 1991) little has been written about military unionism for about 30 years. Though very popular in the 1970s since then the subject seems to have dropped out of mainstream debate. However, since the end of the Cold War, almost all the military in Western countries has been subjected to continuous and, in many cases, drastic change. Armed forces have seen significant cuts in personnel and funding often accompanied by a move from mass conscript armies to smaller, volunteer professional forces. At the same time, social and cultural changes, especially among the young, from whom the military hopes to recruit, has produced what has been described as a ‘post-deferential society’ (Dandeker and Paton 1997). Widespread criticism and questioning of the hitherto accepted symbols of authority, such as the legal system, politics, the church, the armed forces and even the family, has challenged the very basis of Western society. In particular, modern attitudes towards authority seem to have changed from the Victorian values (still prevalent until the 1960s) of obedience and duty to one of persuasion and consensus. Inevitably, fundamental values of the military culture have come under attack with the resultant defence being based around a case for the military’s ‘right to be different’ – a plea for the maintenance of a culture based upon the maintenance of ‘good order and military discipline’ that has proved itself in the past and which conservatives believe to be necessary for success in the future. The conflict between these two approaches is at the heart of the debate about unionisation and representation in the armed forces. This book shows how different societies have met these new challenges to the way armed forces function by looking at forms of representation in both unionised and non-unionised militaries.