Terry Marsland was born Theresa Bailey on 6 July 1931 into a large family of Irish Liverpudlians, one of ten children. In 1953, when she married Michael A Marsland, she married into a Communist family. She became much influenced by her mother-in-law Marion Marsland, a stalwart of the National Assembly of Women. After being blacklisted, Michael became a Regional Officer of the shop workers union, USDAW, just as fellow Communist, Sid Atkin (see separate entry) was stepping down as a full-time officer.
In consequence, the couple moved to Hall Green in Birmingham, which would become significant for Terry’s future career. She herself had previously worked in the Liverpool office of the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union.
She was said to have made trade union history in being appointed acting Birmingham district secretary of the National Union of Gold, Silver and Allied Trades at the end of 1967. Though responsible for only 560 members at the start, this would lead in time to a remarkable career in trades unionism. Then only aged 36, she had been assistant to Grahame Hands the District Secretary, who had been dismissed for misconduct by the national leadership of NUGSAT. The union executive resisted local support in the union, based in Birmingham’s jewellery quarter, to reinstate Hands and put Terry on six months probation. Long before that time was up, her ability to mobile women workers had massively increased local membership.
She became an official with the National Union of Bank Employees before becoming a national official of the Tobacco Workers’ Union in 1973. On behalf of the TWU, Terry Marsland moved the first successful motion on abortion rights at 1975 TUC, which brought her into much prominence. None of her previous unions had been especially left-wing but the Tobacco Workers Union was led by left-winger Doug Grieve and she became its Deputy General Secretary in 1976. She was a member of the TUC Women’s Committee from 1977 until her retirement from trade union employment in 1993, being much associated with the organisation of left women in TUC structures.
When, in the 1980s, she “set the TUC Women’s Conference alight”, then being held in her native Liverpool, earning a standing ovation, it was said that she had “learned her trade union fire at her grandfather’s knee”. On the run up to retirement in 1986, Grieve took the TWU into Ken Gill’s Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Staffs (TASS), with Terry Marsland becoming head of a new Tobacco Workers’ Section and then a senior official in TASS with responsibility for women in the union. Ironically, Terry’s old union, NUGSAT, merged into TASS in 1981.
TASS merged in 1988 with Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staff (ASTMS) to form Manufacturing, Science, Finance (MSF) and she was a senior official of that and a member of the TUC general council. She served on the council of ACAS, the conciliation service, the Equal Opportunities Commission, and the Employment Appeals Tribunal.
In all these roles, she was at the forefront of the struggle for left policies and women’s rights. And became President of the National Assembly of Women in 1992. Although a Communist Party member for very many years and a supporter of the Morning Star management committee’s battle with the Euro-Communist leadership of the CPGB, she refused to join the establishment of the Communist Party of Britain, publicly saying that she failed to see why she should exchange one Party’s intended dominance of the paper for another. She remained a member of the CPGB until its dissolution.
In retirement she became involved in local politics and joined the Labour Party, serving on a number of authorities and commissions.
Michael Marsland died in 1991; the couple had two children together, and Terry died on 3 May 2011 in Warrington aged 79. Her last public speaking engagement was in Liverpool on International Women’s Day.
Sources: https://www.findmypast.co.uk; Birmingham Daily Post – 29 December 1967; Daily Express, 3 September 1975, Morning Star 20 May 2011
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