TSSA: update on the basket case of British trade unionism

January 2, 2014 at 8:04 pm (Guest post, transport, unions, workers)

Guest post by Merle Stotten

TSSA is welcoming in the New Year with a ballot on strike action in opposition to plans to axe jobs, cut rates of pay, and close down workplaces.

But it’s not TSSA members who are being balloted. It’s TSSA’s own employees – the ballot has been initiated by the GMB, the union recognized by TSSA for collective bargaining on behalf of its staff.

According to a GMB newsletter issued in mid-December:

“On 13th December GMB wrote formally to TSSA management to inform them the union was in dispute over their proposals for staff re-organisation. … Your reps know the level of anger and frustration at how badly the union has been run recently.”

Three days later another GMB newsletter announced:

“GMB Gives Notice of Ballot for Strike Action! Further to our update on Monday of the declaration of a formal dispute, GMB have today written to the General Secretary giving the legally required notice of a strike ballot.”

“In line with the unanimous vote at the staff meeting of 20th November, and in the light of management’s refusal to withdraw and reconsider the proposals, we have no choice but to ballot for strike action. … Ballot papers will be dispatched on 2nd January.”

TSSA-watchers will be aware that TSSA proclaimed 2013 to be the Year of Horror: “This Halloween we launch our campaign theme for next year, our Year of Horror 2013. … Our Year of Horror 2013 will provide us with a platform to raise awareness of the crisis in the rail industry.”

2013 was indeed a Year of Horror – but first and foremost for the TSSA itself.

The year opened with the collapse of merger talks with Community. In September Unite rejected a merger with TSSA. In October the “Sunday Times” published allegations by former TSSA President Harriet Yeo about the union’s ‘internal life’.

In November TSSA management announced proposals to axe over one in three jobs, cut rates of pay for Senior Regional Organizers, and shut down three offices – tantamount to an admission of the bankruptcy of the ‘re-organisation’ carried out little more than a year earlier.

In Scotland the dismissal in July of its Scottish Regional Organiser (RO) has been condemned by the Unite Scottish Regional Committee, three Trades Councils, one of Unite’s Scottish RISCs, the Glasgow/Renfrewshire Unite Area Activists Committee, and three GMB and Unite union branches in Glasgow.

In November the TSSA Scottish Divisional Council passed a motion of no confidence in the TSSA Assistant General Secretary for Scotland, Ireland and the Helpdesk (Lorraine Ward), who had been appointed to the post little more than a year earlier.

Even TSSA’s end-of-year announcement – on Twitter – that it had formed a “groundbreaking” Alternative Business Structure (ABS) with Morrish Solicitors has done nothing to raise morale.

(The Legal Services Act 2007 allows for non-lawyers to own and invest in law firms. The mechanism for doing so is an ABS, in which at least 10% of the ABS is controlled by non-lawyers.)

All reports about the ABS quote Paul Scholey, senior partner at Morrish, as saying: “We have worked with TSSA and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority for twelve months to establish what we believe is the world’s first union-based ABS.”

But if, as seems likely, the planned ‘outsourcing’ of the TSSA Helpdesk (at a cost of four jobs) is linked to the creation of the ABS, this would suggest that throughout 2013 TSSA was simultaneously:

–  telling its staff that the Helpdesk was to be transformed into an “organizing tool”;

–  engaged in talks about the creation of an ABS in which the Helpdesk would be palmed off to Morrish.

The GMB ballot on strike action against cuts in jobs and pay, the pending Tribunal hearing of the Scottish RO’s unfair dismissal claim, and the questions raised by the announcement of the creation of an ABS would all suggest that the TSSA’s Year of Horror will continue well into 2014.

For further articles about the TSSA, see:







  1. TSSA: update on the basket case of British trade unionism | OzHouse said,

    […] Jan 02 2014 by admin […]

  2. finbar said,

    Is it not all about,i have a job,i have a mortgage debt,i have bills to pay.I don!t like what my boss is doing,at least he will give me a fairer hearing than my banker, Im only doing my best,i remember being brought up in a council house,Maggie gave me the right to buy them cheap,almost there.My boss now says that we have to rationalize,saying that he will have to lay some off if we don!t take a pay cut.Sitting in my family council house that i just might own,sitting around the table remembering all the stuff that was said by my Mum and Dad,about pay cuts and unions,remembering my bosses letter today,and brought back memories.

  3. Another1 said,

    All very sad. What are the chances of the General Secretary and the President doing the honourable thing and falling on their sword?

    • Ross Harper said,

      Oh for the days of John Stopford-Challener!

      At least he knew how to do the honourable thing.

  4. IK Brunel said,

    While it is right and appropriate to consider the role and direction of an employee of a union. in this case it is proper to praise the actions of the TSSA employees who engage in activity beyond their own interest and whom stand as champions for the TSSA membership.

    We should all support the actions of these workers and celebrate the opportunity to seize the TSSA back from the jaws of insanity. Now is the time of our making, let those who stand in our way be pushed aside.

    • Rosie Peters said,

      I think the action of the TSSA employees is particularly to be commended when one bears in mind the readiness of TSSA senior management to threaten them with the Tory anti-union laws. According to a GMB circular currently in circulation:

      “On Christmas Eve the GMB received a formal letter from Morrish solicitors on behalf of the TSSA challenging the notification of intention to ballot for strike action.

      This letter highlighted the exclusion of the Assistant General Secretaries from the ballot notification and sought the withdrawal of the ballot on this basis!

      GMB have responded today making clear that the ballot is lawful and compliant with the legislation and will continue.

      What sort of Trade Union leadership uses laws that were specifically designed to limit the strength of working people? Legislation that they would publicly say they want removed!

      What sort of management thinks they deserve a vote in a ballot on proposals that they themselves have designed!

      It is clear they would rather use bully boy tactics than listen to the voice of the staff.”

      It seems to me that the swivel-eyed loons faction now has complete control at the TSSA.

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