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Conference 2013: big decisions for our future

25 June 2013

TSSA’s parliament debated the issues facing us at work, in wider society and within our union itself.

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This year’s Annual Delegate Conference took place in the middle of May, returning to Glasgow for the first time since 1909. 76 branches and self-organised groups were represented by 99 delegates, with the Executive Committee, staff and others in attendance.

The general secretary opened conference as the president was unable to attend due to illness. Treasurer and president-elect Mick Carney was then elected to chair the three days of debate and decision-making.

Conference was welcomed to the city by the Deputy Lord Provost, Bailie Gerald Leonard. A proud trade unionist, he offered genuinely comradely greetings beyond the normal civic pleasantries. Other guest speakers included Graham Smith, general secretary of the Scottish TUC, Mick Whelan, the general secretary of ASLEF and Johann Lamont, the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

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Johann arrived at conference fresh from launching Labour’s campaign for Scotland to remain a nation within the UK after the referendum next year. She committed to deepening the link between Scottish Labour and the unions, saying ‘the trade unions have an understanding of what it really going on in our communities and in our families. We need to talk together and work together to bring about action on these concerns and to work out what our next steps as a country should be.’

Merger
The biggest decision of Conference was undoubtedly the discussion around the union’s own future. Two separate periods were allocated to this – an informal ‘question and answer’ session, where Manuel Cortes exhausted all the queries which delegates brought forward, and a formal debate. The questions were varied, from whether our self-organised groups would be integrated into their Unite equivalents, to how the difference between our respective subscription rates would be handled. Manuel explained his approach to all of these, committing to reporting back as details were agreed between the two unions.

As reported elsewhere, delegates overwhelmingly passed a motion which ‘authorises the general secretary and Executive Committee to progress negotiations [with Unite] with the objective that these will ultimately lead to a transfer of engagements’.
 

Transport policy
Conference debated many motions seeking to shape our input into the debate about the future of travel. Ian McDonald, of South Eastern (Kent) Branch argued that whilst the already-announced investment in electrification was welcome, given the time such upgrades take, many more steps were needed to achieve the modal shift to rail needed to meet the government’s environmental targets.

Delegates welcomed the campaigning initiatives of the last year and mandated the strengthening of many of these, such as the need to spread greater awareness of the ‘Rebuilding Rail’ report as a model for bringing the railways back into public ownership.

Others, such as Steve Halliwell, representing London South Western and Middlesex Branch successfully put the case that ATOC, TOCs, bus and other transport operators who receive public funds in any form should be compelled to make their accounts available for public scrutiny.
In terms of our own openness, a motion passed calling for a summary of Executive Committee meeting minutes to be published.

The effects of the McNulty cuts on safety were condemned, as were government attempts to further restrict workers’ rights both through dismissing them as merely ‘red tape’ or through financial charges limiting access to justice.
 

Campaigning
The failure of the government’s economic policy was attacked in many motions, with conference calling for policies which will generate jobs and growth, rather than attack services relied upon by ordinary working people.

A motion moved by Tim Price of Euston Branch called for greater inter- union working to maximise campaigns against the government’s failing austerity approach and to use our Labour affiliation to push for a more strident challenge to the failures of market-driven thinking.

Motions in opposition to the dismembering of the NHS by privatisation, for the Minimum Wage to be raised to the level of the Living Wage, for investment to create a million ‘green jobs’ and to oppose environmentally hazardous gas extraction via fracking were passed. A motion on deaths in police custody sparked much debate, with a call for incidents to be more thoroughly investigated ultimately being passed.

The pernicious practice of ‘blacklisting’ was also on the agenda, with Dimitris Phanos of TfL Central branch proposing a successful motion calling for it to become a criminal offence to engage in creating or using databases of ‘banned’ union activists to deny people work. Restrictions should be placed on firms that have used blacklisting, preventing them from receiving public contracts until they make amends of their actions.

Eileen Turnbull of the ‘Shrewsbury 24’ justice campaign followed up the issue in a fringe meeting, telling delegates of the shocking collusion between police, ministers and employers in the aftermath of the 1972 builders strike, which saw Ricky Tomlinson and other pickets sentenced to years in prison.

Conference also received a report-back from the delegation to Palestine and agreed to support the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to help secure justice there. Delegates approved a motion to raise awareness on the thirtieth anniversary of the massacre of Sikhs in India and to affiliate to the International Brigade Memorial Trust, remembering those who volunteered to fight fascism in Spain. 7

Election results for delegations to represent the union at events including TUC Congress and Labour Party conference were announced, with the results online at www.tssa.org.uk/elections.

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Ghost train tour kicks off
Delegates braved wind and rain on a pre-breakfast campaigning session to launch the ‘Ghost Train tour’ at Glasgow Central station. Hundreds of commuters were handed postcards by activists, who received a warm reception from the travelling public.

The Ghost Train will be visiting stations up and down the country, highlighting the attacks on staff and services inspired by the McNulty Report. Many previous visits have drawn extensive local media coverage and support from local MPs and councillors - opening up a discussion with them which can serve members well on a range of issues.

To arrange a visit of the Ghost Train to your area, contact raen@tssa.org.uk.

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