On 14 and 17 January 2022, Manuel Cortes held online briefing sessions for our TSSA Reps over the proposed merger of our TSSA union with the Boilermakers. Below is a summary of those sessions and the questions raised, as communicated from Manuel to reps on 18 January.
The economic aftermath of the pandemic has hit the three main areas of our finances: membership, assets, and rental income. While our membership grew at the beginning of the pandemic to 18,372, it has since been in decline. It now stands at around 17,600 having lost over 90 members in the first two weeks of 2022, and that is before huge job losses are realised across the industries we organise – principally rail and Transport for London where sadly many thousands of jobs are projected to go this year. Our investments took a hit with the pandemic’s impact on the wider economy, meaning we have not made as much money from them in the past two years as we did before. And our rental income from Walkden House will be impacted by falling rental prices in London when our tenancy renewals come about.
Our last audited accounts for 2020 showed that we made a loss of £1.2 million, and we are projected to make losses in upcoming years because of the ongoing decline in our membership and the economic impact of the pandemic. In such circumstances, we would not last beyond a few years, be in a much-weakened state and with less resources to back the work you do on behalf of our members.
Cut to survive?
Some reps have asked whether we could make cuts to achieve savings and no longer need to merge. The truth of the matter is that we are already a very lean organisation following deep staffing cuts when our union was in financial trouble several years ago. We steadied the ship and were in a strong position until Covid hit. We are now carrying six staff vacancies – including five Organisers - and there is simply no way we could cut back without having a massive impact on our ability to support you and our members. One way or another, our union will have to merge.
A few people asked whether we could merge with a British or European trade union. The reality is that given our size, such an arrangement would never be a merger in the full sense, but a takeover. We have in recent years explored this option (as these were informal discussions, the details remain confidential and cannot be shared without the express consent of the other parties) and the outcome would have been one where our union was asset-stripped and/or completely lost our identity and curtailed your ability to influence what happens in your workplace and your union.
So why the Boilermakers?
Before the pandemic, we struck a Strategic Partnership with the Boilermakers, aimed at sharing education and campaign resources, along with knowledge and solidarity. One of their leaders spoke at a Network Rail reps meeting in Birmingham in February 2019, we hosted several joint events including one on mental health, and speakers from the Boilermakers have attended our BAME group, Emix, and women’s events.
We have an established positive relationship with the Boilermakers and the merger proposals have developed from that. The proposals would keep our identity as we will be known as ‘TSSA, part of the Boilermakers family’ and would provide financial backing and security for us to fill our six vacancies, and also to create a new membership growth unit recruiting 11 new organising staff for at least a ten-year period.
We also keep our democracy, our recognition agreements, our reps structure and complete autonomy on decision-making as political, policy-making and affiliation decisions will continue to be solely made by our British and Irish members. The return on our current assets including the rental income from Walkden House and the subscription income raised in Britain and Ireland will continue to be spent for the sole benefit of our members in Britain and Ireland.
What’s in it for the Boilermakers?
For the Boilermakers, a merger builds on our Strategic Partnership and gives them a presence in Britain and Ireland. It broadens and deepens their transport membership and expands the breadth of experience.
The Boilermakers are financially strong, owning a union-run community bank called the Bank of Labor. They do not need our assets, but a merger would boost their membership numbers and give them a presence in Europe.
Our workplace reps are urged to vote in the indicative ballot which closes at 12noon on 31 January. TSSA's Executive Committee is recommending that reps vote yes in favour of the merger proposals. Reps have received voting links on email.