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A last goodbye

1 November 2011

Gerry Doherty explains his decision to seek early retirement

This will be my last Journal article as General Secretary. I have taken the unusual step of including a copy of an extract from my notice letter to the President with the Journal mailing, indicating my intention to avail of early retirement. This is because I believe that members deserve to know the reasons why their General Secretary has decided to go so suddenly at such a difficult time for the Association.

To be honest my relations with the Executive Committee have not really recovered from the events of annual conference in 2009. Despite an undertaking and a resolve on everyone’s part after those events to effect necessary changes to protect the Association’s future as an independent organisation, as I say in my letter, not one thing has changed, nor do I expect anything to change under the present regime. However, again as I say in my letter, the straw that really broke the camel’s back occurred at an Executive Committee meeting on Thursday 11 August which was the first meeting presided over by the incoming President since her election.

She had had an operation and was unable to attend both the June and July meetings through illness. It was noted, however, that she was fit enough to attend a Labour Party National Executive Committee meeting during this period.

At that EC meeting on 11 August there was a discussion about whom the Association should support for election to the General Council of the Trades Union Congress. I proposed that the Association should support a list of the General Secretaries of a number of other unions who had agreed to support the Association’s own nomination in return, ie myself.

This had been the process that had been applied in all my previous years as General Secretary and had resulted in not only my election to the General Council, but in recent years actually topping the poll and being appointed to the Executive Committee of the TUC. An amendment was proposed to my recommendation that removed one of my nominees and replaced him with another. I explained in very clear terms that to support the amendment would result in the support that I had accrued for the Association’s candidate, myself, being withdrawn and that it would be very much against the Association’s interest to lose our influential position within the TUC, which would be the result of carrying the amendment.

In the event when the matter was put to the vote only three of the eleven EC members present supported the very clear recommendation that I had given to the EC to protect the interests of the Association. The President was not one of those three. In the circumstances, and knowing that the support from other unions that I had patiently built up over the years would not now be forthcoming and I would therefore not be elected, I felt I had no option but to withdraw from the contest.

The upshot was that the individual that the EC decided not to support was elected anyway and the individual that the EC decided to support, against my recommendation, was also elected – which would have been the case even without our support – so our altered position changed nothing.

Nothing, that is, except that the Association lost its seat on the General Council to be replaced by the ASLEF candidate and lost its seat on the Executive Committee of the TUC. Three years ago the Association was the only rail union represented on the General Council, now we are the only one without representation and there is no railway union representation on the Executive Committee of the TUC.

Having reflected on these events over the weekend after that EC meeting and realising how little support I could command from the EC on such an important matter in the affairs of the Association, I considered that, in the best interests of the union, the only honourable thing to do was to depart. Others, in my view, should also consider their position but I don’t expect them to do so.

As I say in my letter to the President, “the Association faces many very difficult issues in the coming weeks, months and years: our talks with the RMT, the results of the pensions evaluations in the RPS and the consequences of the McNulty Report to name but a few. It will need a united leadership of the Association working towards the common goal of protecting the interests of the members to successfully address these and other wider issues that confront us”.

Perhaps the most important of these issues is our talks with the RMT over a new future. I know that there are concerns amongst our membership over the outcome of these talks. I have made clear my very firm support for a positive outcome, but that does not mean that I discount the very difficult hurdles that will need to be cleared if our discussions are to bear fruit.

I have no doubt that the new General Secretary, whoever he or she is, will do as I would have done and recommend acceptance of whatever the outcome of our deliberations are if it is in the interests of members to do so, and recommend rejection if it is not. It only remains for me to thank you all for the great honour and privilege of serving and leading you over the years and to wish all of you and your loved ones the very best for the future.

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