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: