Towards a Soldiers Union for the Regiment

As i’ve posted elsewhere on this blog I served in the Bda Regiment from 2003 to 2006, serving my conscripted three years and two months. Following Recruit Camp I signed up for the Corporals Cadre, which involved twice the regular drill nights and an overseas training camp in Northern Ontario. In my first year we were hit by Hurricane Fabian, and I was part of the advance group of soldiers stationed at Warwick Camp during the hurricane itself, responding to events as best we could during the storm, and heading out immediately at dawn. My group cleared a path (one lane) from Warwick Camp to the Arboretum where we ‘liberated’ the Acting Governor who was functionally trapped in his official residence by fallen trees; following this we were detached to the Causeway to secure it while the searches were conducted for the victims of that disaster. Much of my remaining time during Fabian was spent assisting with the Causeway reconstruction, clearing South Road (from Spittal Pond to Botanical Gardens), clearing up the area around St. Brendans/MAWI, and clearing the grounds of West End schools.

After Fabian I joined the Medics, and served in the capacity of a Medic and Lance Corporal, and later Corporal, for the rest of my Regimental career. This involved the 2004 overseas camp in Jamaica, post-hurricane operations in Cayman after Hurricane Ivan, and the 2005 overseas camp in Grenada as part of a CARICOM post-hurricane reconstruction in Grenada; our focus was in their St. Davids Parish, mainly on rebuilding a primary school there.

I won’t say I was a great soldier, but I think alot of my problems came from my inherent rejection of alot that constitutes military authoritarianism that really drove my defences up. Plus I have a hearing disability that really didn’t help matters during drills and parade practice (its not easy executing commands when you have no idea what the commands are is all I can say). I also have a more or less permanent injury to one of my feet that I think originated from my time as a consript.

Despite all this, I won’t deny I made alot of friends, visited places I had never thought I would, learned all sorts of wonderful military tactics and strategies, and generally did what I consider to be alot of social good in the form of post-hurricane operations here and abroad. I won’t deny there are some things I wish I had done differently, but that is the benefit and curse of hindsight. Such is life.

Also, as stated earlier in this blog, I support the idea of conscription, but I would like to see it expanded to cover everyone and an end to gender discrimination. And there is alot that needs to improved in the existing structure of the Regiment.

During my Regimental time alot of my focus was on two areas:

1) Resisting the union of State and Church that was prevalent in the Regiment at the time. This included forced Church Parades (varying from marching in parade to and from Churches, complete with Regimental Band for services, or services in the field), forced saying of Prayer prior to major operations and banquets, non-mandatory (but reccommended for promotions) prayer breakfasts, appointment of an ordained Christian Minister to Regimental Chaplain, the ‘availibility’ of Gospels in military camoflage binding, and the ‘reccommendation’ of decorating ones barracks with bibles and posted Ten Commandments.

2) Organising soldiers councils to democratically represent soldiers interests, advocating better pay conditions, free public transport for soldiers, better equipment (from boots to rifles), better food, better health and safety policies, better living conditions (in barracks), better training (especially in instructing new JNCOs) as well as numerous other positions (right to grow beards, right to choice of hair style, calls for the abolition of salutes).

In regards to the first issue, I refused to attend any religious service. My defiance served as an example, and I was joined by fellow atheists at first (we do represent close to 15% of the population actually), and then Muslim conscripts. Many of our Christian comrades came and listened to us, and many, in fact the majority, supported our arguments. The movement slowly grew, even though we were often persecuted by various means, and publicly harrassed. We approached the Human Rights Commission, who quite frankly were no use. As the delegate sent forth I was informed that because we were ‘part-time’ workers as conscripts they wouldn’t help us. I tried to point out that part-time workers were still human and deserved to have our human rights protected, but quickly concluded that route was pointless for the time being. We did seek legal advice, and petitioned the High Command, outlaying our positions clearly, backing up our arguments with precedents from the UK and the US militaries. From a legal point of view the High Command had an ace up their sleeves; if you read the constitution and the relevant Bdian legislation on the Regiment, there is a provision that basically says any and all ‘rights’ can be suspended in regards to soldiers and military discipline.

Nonetheless we continued, more or less covertly, gathering increasing support from the regular troops. Partly this was due to an inherent tendency amongst rank and file conscripte to resist however they can military authoritarianism, but most supported us for our ideological position that the Church and Military should be separate.

We won some concessions. Church Parades continued to be scheduled in advance, but were always cancelled for various unspecified reasons. Soldiers were allowed to ‘fall out’ if they objected to the saying of prayer or grace; we saw this as an attempt to publicly humiliate us, but decided to use it as a weapon of our own by subsequently showing the strength of our resistance.

Soon after I left the Regiment the Lt. Col. was also changed, and as far as I am led to beleive from my comrades still in the Regiment, they haven’t had to actively mobilise as we had to since.

On the second issue we were less successful. We sent delegates to both the BIU and the Bda Police Services Association for assistance. This was, by necessity, done covertly, and I will be careful not to incriminate any comrades still serving in either the Regiment or the Police. Both organisations were supportive, and I would like to personally thank them for their positions. We, the soldiers, as well as the BIU and the BPSA realised that it would be an uphill task, especially as we constantly were threatened with charges of mutiny.

We organised by a bottom up model of the regimental infantry model, with the smallest units consisting of about ten soldiers who elected a soldiers deputy recallable at all times, and this system went up in a federated system (ten ‘section’ deputies elected amongst themselves a ‘platoon’ deputy, and then ten platoon deputies would elect a company deputy, and so on, up to an executive council of soldiers deputies).

As one can imagine, under our conditions, this wasn’t a perfect system, and we weren’t able to really make any formal organisation. The system of soldiers councils existed in an ad hoc fashion, mostly when the High Command had done something to provoke us to a sufficient degree. In our organisational infancy the system would collapse under fear of repression and failure to understand how to challenge the authority of the military hierrachy properly.

In short, we failed, but many of us realised the potential of such a system of organisation. Some of our proposals, which we acknowledge we never formally put forward due to our organisational issues and pressure from above (charges of mutiny, etc.), were more or less reflected in a report written by British military observors sent to critically review the Regiment (better equipment, better training, etc.). We wonder how much money could have been saved if our soldiers councils had been allowed to develop. One must also acknowledge that wage increases and public transportation for soldiers have occurred since our time there, and we are not sure whether we had anything to do in this regard or not.

Alot of the soldiers most active in advocating the cause of soldiers councils were also active in the other issue of resisting Church and State union in the military, and indeed, that was my own primary focus. Perhaps we could have combined the two better (they were complementary after all), or focused more on the soldiers councils. I don’t know.

Since leaving the Regiment I have had more time to reflect on the issue. I remain convinced that the conscripts need some sort of labour union, which our soldiers councils were effectively. There are actually quite a few nations that have soldiers labour unions, the most prominent one being the military of the Netherlands. Denmark is also another example. Their models, and their successes deserve to be studied, as does our failures at forming a union ourselves.

I have found some interesting articles and links that are relevant to this discussion. I would advise that any serving Regimental soldiers use a psuedonym if they wish to discuss any current grievances they have, or ideas for organising a Soldiers Union. I will, of course, support however I can any movement to developing such an organisation.

In solidarity.

http://www.uow.edu.au/arts/sts/bmartin/dissent/documents/Schweik_cbe/#section3

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,917068,00.html

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4 thoughts on “Towards a Soldiers Union for the Regiment

  1. Pingback: Fashion » Towards a Soldiers Union for the Regiment

  2. I am fully behind the creation of a soldiers union for conscripts and those who sign up alike. If I was in the regiment I would back it is necessary to resist the authoritarian nature of the military. Though while I have been called up I do not see myself serving for a few reasons. Educational deferments (I have no plans to take a break between undergrad and grad studies)mean that in all likelihood it will be a while before I get to the camp, and on top of that I have now a more or less life-long injury in my lower back which prevents me (for the most part)from lifting, walking any sort of long distance and most certainly prevents me from running or jogging, so I will always be forced to be a sideline observer.

    I think the best option would be for a soldier’s union to link up with the BIU and other worker’s unions (for that matter I think all the unions should merge) to form a broad based alliance of workers and soldiers. Regardless, like I said I fully back the notion of a soldier’s union.

    In Solidarity

  3. “From a legal point of view the High Command had an ace up their sleeves; if you read the constitution and the relevant Bdian legislation on the Regiment, there is a provision that basically says any and all ‘rights’ can be suspended in regards to soldiers and military discipline.”

    I just hope more people push the issues as you have to bring this particular legal farce into common knowledge. The Regiment loves to point to the defence act to show how many rights its soldiers have. They always forget to mention that what the law giveth in the Defence Act it quickly takes away. Once you are conscripted you have no rights. The Defence Act becomes just a guideline at that point.

    Not so sure about your unionisation idea though. Sounds nice but it seems to me that the military and the union are like oil and water. How can you have uncompromising loyalty to the chain of command AND solidarity with the Union at the same time? It seems to me that the basic foundations that both types of organisations are built on are in conflict.

    While I believe that the regiment does some truly great things in bringing young people together from all spectrums of society and in providing an excellent leadership training opportunity; I still support abandoning the current structure for a volunteer-only Regiment. You shouldn’t be able to force people into suspending their personal rights like that except in some cases in times of war. If people choose to sign on the dotted line with eyes wide open, they don’t need a union.

    Hopefully now that the religious fanatical tyrant is gone there is far more religious tolerance in the army than in our time there. Remember that angry sermon he gave in Grenada? He basically condemned the lot of us save the odd devout Christians among us. I wish someone had a tape of that one.

  4. What I’ll do is over the weekend I’ll go through my copies of the Constitution, the Defence Act and the Human Rights Act and post the relevant information, either here or in a new post. We had to go over it all as part of our mobilisation, and I still have the copies laying about somewhere.

    I understand your concerns about the soldiers union being kind of like oil to water in regards to military hierrachy. On the one hand, with the existence of soldiers unions elsewhere, its obvious that some sort of system can work out, and thats why I advise studying their models. On the other hand, yes, it certainly does have the potential to create a system of dual power and revolutionise the very concept of military organisation.

    There have been successful military groups organised along just such a revolutionary principle, the most prominent ones being Nestor Ivanovich Makhno’s Black (anarchist) army that was integral to the defeat of the White Amry during the Soviet Revolutionary War. Other examples are groups fighting in the Spanish Civil War, armed resistance movements during WWII, and revolutionary soldiers councils in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. True, all of these groups were ultimately defeated, but by all accounts they were superior fighting units only defeated by sheer force of numbers.

    I continue to support consription in its universal form (ALL citizens, male and female and no ‘lottery’ system) over a ‘volunteer’ force. To me part of living in a democracy is being active in the politics of ones society as well as the defence of ones society. Obviously I have some issues with the current status quo of the Regiment and quite honestly see it more as a tool to reinforce patriachal authoritarian character structures than anyhting else. But to me a volunteer amry is essentially a mercenary force, and is bound to be composed of those who are forced to take such jobs due to economic reasons and sociopathic individuals on powertrips; mor eor less what we see in the current US imperialist forces.

    You’ve given me an idea for a post on authoritarian and libertarian character structures; I think I’ll work on that over the weekend.

    As to the sermon in Grenada, I certainly remember hearing about it. For one of the sermons several of us dissenters were ordered away from the sermon and told to stand to attention in the sun (wonder why we percieved that as punishment?) – fortunately we ordered ourselves to do so behind a building and sat off in the shade. For the other I think I was being detained for a court-martial at the time.

    I think the Lt. Col. meant well, but as you put it, he was quite religiously fanatical and I think it came as a shock to him that such things as atheists and secularists existed and for that matter would resist forced religious ceremonies. I sometimes wonder how the prisoners are doing now; and always had a laugh that there was such irony in him taking up that position.

    Ah, Grenada. Beautiful island. But those camp showers, sheesums! And remember the stench from that sugar mill on the way to the work site?

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