Obituary: Terry Marsland – 1931-2011

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Written by Terry’s good friend Barbara Switzer and published on The Morning Star Online. Obituaries are also expected to appear in The Independent and The Telegraph.

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Terry Marsland, a leading figure in the upsurge of trade unionism in the 1970s, died earlier this month in her Merseyside home. She was aged 79.

She was a senior official in the Tobacco Workers Union, Tass and MSF and was at the forefront of the struggle for left policies and women’s rights.

She was a member of the TUC Women’s Committee from 1977 until her retirement in 1993.

Terry was born into a large family of Irish Liverpudlians, one of 10 children. She married into a Communist family and was much influenced by her mother-in-law Marion Marsland, an early stalwart of the National Assembly of Women, of which Terry became president in 1992.

Terry worked as an official for the Goldsmiths and the Bank Employees unions before becoming a national official of the Tobacco Workers’ Union in 1973 and later the deputy general secretary.

A forceful and compelling public speaker, she addressed CND rallies and spoke at Greenham Common, The Women’s Peace camp, taking her daughters with her.

She moved the first pro-abortion resolution at the TUC in 1975 and with her union’s full support became a leading activist for peace and international solidarity.

When the Tobacco Workers Union merged with Tass in 1986 she took over the leading role in the women’s structure and took forward an effective and democratic force in the new union MSF in 1988.

Terry’s commitment to fighting for women’s rightful place in the trade union movement went far beyond her own union.

She convened regular meetings of left women activists from many others in order to fight for progressive policies at the TUC.

This group of left women took a lead in organising support for progressive women to be elected to the general council.

When Fire Brigades Union general secretary Ken Cameron began a root-and-branch examination of the union’s equality policy he sought advice from Terry.

She spoke at the first FBU women-only weekend at Wortley Hall.

She was inspirational.

She showed what women, united, could achieve in their trade union, their workplace and in their personal lives and relationships.

Besides her many trade union commitments, Terry was always a champion of the Morning Star. She was a Communist Party member for most of her adult life and as such made important contributions to the work of the party, particularly in helping to develop policies and cadres among women activists in the trade union movement.

Mick Costello, the party’s national industrial organiser in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, paid tribute to her contribution.

“Terry Marsland was in the tradition of Communists who never lost sight of the importance of winning socialist advance if the gains won in the daily struggles of the working class, its unions and the democratic movement were to be secured.”

Terry served on the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Acas council, the Employment Appeal Tribunal and the Women’s National Commission. After her retirement she became involved in local politics.

She was the independent chairwoman of the Warrington Borough Council standards committee, a member of the Cheshire Fire Authority and a non-executive director of the Cheshire and Merseyside Strategic Health Authority.

Communist Party trade union co-ordinator Anita Halpin, who formerly chaired the TUC Women’s Committee, said of Terry: “She will be remembered as one of all too few senior women trade unionists.

"As a full-timer she remained a working-class champion, never becoming a bureaucrat. As all true socialists Terry was an internationalist and will remain a role model in the true sense of the words for all sisters.”

Her last public speaking engagement was in March, fittingly at the Merseyside Women’s Movement celebration of the Centenary of International Women’s Day.

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