IT’S NOT very often that you’d see a trade union comment on military affairs – but then again Solidarity is no ordinary union! However, the decision (made earlier this month by British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond) to cut 20,000 regular troops to save money has provoked many comments. So what’s our take on the situation?
First of all, here’s some background information relating to the cuts:
The full-time British Army will be cut from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2020 because of budget cuts. Of the 20,000 troops going, many will leave under a voluntary redundancy scheme. However, the Ministry of Defence has acknowledged that the 20 per-cent cut cannot be reached by this way alone. Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army, has estimated that there will have to be approximately 10,000 compulsory redundancies (1).
The Guardian (2) has also noted:
“Though it is hoped many soldiers will leave under the voluntary redundancy scheme, the Ministry of Defence acknowledges the target cannot be reached without pushing some to the door.”
As we noted earlier, these redundancies are a result of the spending squeeze. Indeed, economics have forced the army to rethink its structure - as part of a review undertaken by Lieutenant General Nick Carter.
These changes will see the army effectively split into three sections - reaction forces (the army's spearhead, trained, equipped and prepared for speedy intervention operations anywhere in the world), adaptable forces (who would take over from the reaction forces, but would take 18 months to prepare for combat) and force troops (made up of logistical units required to support the front line – such as the artillery, engineers, signals, intelligence and medical corps).
As a trade union, it’s not really Solidarity’s place to comment on the military aspects of Lieutenant General Carter’s review. What we can say, however, is that we hope that the Con-Dem Government will have an infrastructure in place that will support those leaving the army against their will at a time of economic uncertainty.
They may well need a greater level of support to help them adjust to civilian life. Additionally, we’re wondering if Defence Secretary Philip Hammond – when making his decision to slash military numbers – ever took into account where are these 20,000 squaddies – and their families – going to be housed? Where are their children going to be educated? And what jobs (or training schemes) will be available to those leaving the army?
Our fear is that the Con-Dem Government will have made no such provisions. We feel that Cameron and Clegg will be happy enough to let these men and women be kicked out of the armed forces and have them fend for themselves. In their world of casino capitalism, market forces (in other words ‘dog-eat-dog’) will sort everything out!
Solidarity believes that this is all wrong.
Many of these squaddies will have seen active service – indeed, some of them may have been injured in the course of their duties. Some of their comrades may have paid the ultimate sacrifice. Just showing them the door is disrespectful in the extreme.
So what does Solidarity suggest? We feel a three way approach should be employed:
Firstly, this massive pool of labour should utilised in a positive way. Instead of letting them rot on the dole or waste their time in useless training schemes (designed to ‘massage’ the unemployment figures) and dead-end ‘jobs’, their military training and discipline should initially be put to good use by instituting an emergency programme of national works. This would include re-building our transport infrastructure, cleaning up our towns and cities, making all dwellings fit and habitable and tending to the land.
Secondly, a massive package of meaningful training schemes, apprenticeships and jobs should be put together. We also need to re-build Britain’s heavy industries and create new industries which will reduce our reliance on foreign imports. Our education system and the NHS should also be made priorities.
Thirdly, we would favour a move away from the cities towards a more rural, organic and rooted way of life. We would therefore advocate that those ex-military personnel who are willing should be trained in various farming techniques. Land (via a scheme of redistribution) and debt-free start up loans should be provided to aid this move.
Our opponents on the left and right will argue that our proposals are too idealistic or ‘pie in the sky’. However, we believe that only radical – yet entirely practical – economic solutions such as these will be able to provide employment for (potentially) 20,000 squaddies who’ll be entering the ‘jobs market’.
If the Con-Dem Government doesn’t do anything and - as we noted earlier – relies on ‘market forces’ then we fear that the only ‘alternative’ will be longer and longer dole queues. This is utter madness. And, as we noted in issue 1 of English Worker (3) whilst dealing with a similar subject: “After all, what’s the point of having skilled tradesmen and workers rotting on the dole?”
Additionally, and on a human level, Solidarity Trade Union feels that our proposals will ensure that the transition of those from the armed forces to ‘civvy street’ will be as seamless and painless as possible.
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