The Independent’s obituary on Terry Marsland

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Published here, written by Peta Steel:

In the 1970s two great campaigning movements came together with consequences that are still being felt to this day.

The impact of feminism on trade unionism produced a raft of new-style trade union leaders, none more influential than Terry Marsland. She was in the frontline during campaigns for equal pay, womens’ right to choose on abortion and for better working conditions.

“One of the basic principles of equality,” she told Trades Union Congress delegates as she moved the first motion on abortion in 1975, “is that women should have the right to control their own destinies.” It was a belief that she fought for all her life.

Terry Marsland was born in 1932 into a large Liverpudlian Irish family. Early influences came from two women: her staunch Catholic grandmother, who introduced her to the theatre and street-corner politics; and her Communist future mother-in-law Marion Marsland, who took her on her first demonstrations. Terry would become a Communist and would never lose her love for her roots and for the sight of the Mersey itself.

Terry would go on to influence many young women finding their own political and trade union feet; many of the present-day leaders would remember her help and guidance. Gail Cartmail, Assistant General Secretary of Unite, remembered the impact Terry had on her: “Terry was a senior progressive union leader who proved ‘a woman’s place is in her union’. Terry led by example and gave me and many other women the confidence to develop as activists.”

She married Michael Marsland, a draughtsman and Communist, in 1953. It was the height of the Cold War, and the family moved to Barton-under-Needwood in the Midlands after Michael was blacklisted. She worked as a school dinner lady and brought up their two daughters; they would accompany their mother to many of the pro-abortion rallies, ban- the-bomb demonstrations or protests such as Greenham Common.

Michael found work in Birmingham as a trade union official with the Union of Shop Distributors and Allied Workers. Terry became assistant to the local organiser of the National Union of Goldsmiths and Silversmiths, taking over when he was sacked. They moved to London when Michael became an official with the Association of Broadcasting Staff, and Terry joined the National Union of Bank Employees as an official, resigning when the union registered under the Industrial Relations Act. In 1973, she became a national officer for the Tobacco Workers Union, becoming its deputy general secretary.

Terry found a natural home in the Tobacco Workers, which with 60 per cent of the workforce being women was one of the first unions to take on board the changes to introduce equal pay announced by Barbara Castle in 1969. The union was one of the first to negotiate new deals with managements when the Act was introduced. She recalled: “When it came to Equal Pay in 1970, our union took it straight on. We negotiated with the employers’ federation and with individual managements. We knew that employers were not going to roll over.”

Her position with the union, and following its merger with the white collared union Tass in 1986, and subsequently with Manufacturing Science Finance, gave her a platform to build up a structure to fight for better rights for women within the trade union movement and at work, and to become a leading activist for peace and international solidarity. She was always on hand to help women fighting for progressive policies.

It was Terry’s speech to the male-dominated TUC in which she persuaded them to support womens’ right to choose, as she reminded delegates of the social and economic problems women faced, helping to bring the issue centre stage. “This trade union movement,” she said, “must take up the position on this issue. We are responsible for the health and welfare of millions of women, both outside and inside our ranks.”

She was a leading member of the TUC Women’s Committee from 1977 until her retirement in 1993, and represented the TUC on the Equal Opportunities Commission. She represented her union and the TUC at European and international level, chairing committees and conferences. She served on the Acas council, and was a member of the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the Women’s National Commission. She was a TUC representative on the European Trade Union Confederation, and for her union, MSF, on the ETUC Industry Committee. She was a vice president of the National Assembly of Women, becoming president in 1992.

Terry was down to earth and direct. Faced by opposition from the EOC, at taking legal action against the British airline industry for setting a size 10 limit on its air hostesses, on the grounds of it being “trivial”, Terry jumped up, pointed to her own bottom and declared: “Madame chair, this is not trivial. This is the size of the average British woman’s backside and it is a size 16.” She won her argument.

She moved back to Merseyside following Michael’s death in 1991 and her retirement. She was a member of the Cheshire Fire Authority, and her local health authority, became independent chair of the Warrington Standards Committee and was active in her local Labour Party, which she joined after splitting with the Communist Party. She spoke frequently on equal pay issues, the last time being in March at a conference marking International Women’s Day, when she was named as one of the Liverpudlian heroes of the womens’ movement. Barbara Switzer, president of the National Association of Women, recalled: “Her major achievements were on womens’ rights at national and international level. She was a major influence on women in the trade union movements and womens’ movements.”

She was shortly to have celebrated her 80th birthday; typically she had asked for a birthday cake with the suffragette movement as its theme.

Teresa Bailey, trade union leader: born Liverpool 6 July 1931; married 1953 Michael Marsland (died 1991; two daughters); died Warrington 3 May 2011.

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.