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Letters

12 December 2011

Reaction to the the events of recent months.

This is your chance to share your views with thousands of other TSSA members. The deadline for the next issue is 3 February. Letters may be edited for length or clarity. Email journal@tssa.org.uk or write to TSSA Journal, Walkden House, 10 Melton Street, London, NW1 2EJ.

The strong views expressed in the last issue of the Journal have elicited a number of equally strong reactions. The following letters and others are published in full online, but to print all submissions in their entirety would have taken up a quarter of the Journal. Looking forward, we now have a new General Secretary and a chance to move on. Letters reflecting this, rather than repeating the points made would seem an appropriate way to move forward.


Criticism rings true

It was with some disappointment and great sadness that I learnt of Gerry's decision to take 'early retirement' a misnomer if ever there was one for someone who will no doubt continue to give of his time and efforts to the wider trade union and labour movement if not to the TSSA. Unfortunately, having just concluded a six-year term on the Executive Committee representing what I considered to be the interests of workers in the London Transport Divisional Council and more generally of TSSA members, much of what our former General Secretary had to say in the most recent edition of the Journal had a very familiar ring to it.

The generally accepted view is that the tensions between the General Secretary and the Executive Committee had their roots in Torquay and the fiasco that was Conference 2009. This is simply mistaken. Most of the problems in the TSSA stem from the disconnection between TSSA's democratic structures and TSSA representatives and members in the workplace. This allows a very small number of unelected and unaccountable members of the Association, widely referred to as 'the slate' to wield a disproportionate degree of influence and ultimately leads to individuals voting in the interests of their friends and political allies rather than the wider interests of the Association. These problems go back beyond 2009, in fact well beyond Gerry's election in 2004.  I have witnessed this for myself at various Annual Conferences and latterly discovering that a number of TSSA branches only one, two or three people, decide the way nominations for elections are determined. Gerry says in his comment that, despite the undertakings freely given by both the Executive Committee and General Secretary to effect the necessary changes to protect the Associations future, not one thing has changed. Members will find their own answers as to why nothing changed, for me the reason was that change was not in the interests of the minority who have for so long now manipulated our organisation. Attempts to empower members and workplace reps were always bound to fail when they were reliant upon the agreement of so many who are not active in a TSSA organised workplace, and that includes a number of our Executive Committee. Anyone who doubts this might ask why Executive Committee members who have been repeatedly elected unopposed would want to change a system that allows this to happen and replace it with something that could ultimately cost them their seat and influence. TSSA therefore risk the Executive Committee emanating the impression of a self-serving type of junta held in place by an unrepresentative minority, rather than a democratic depiction of the members and their workplaces TSSA proudly represent.

Earlier this year TSSA members elected Charlie Daniels as Treasurer of the TSSA against all the odds. Charlie is a much respected Network Rail rep and TSSA branch activist who, whilst not part of "the slate" knows how to organise and enjoys the trust of those who he represents and know him personally. Unfortunately after our annual conference in Norwich, Charlie felt unable to take up his position as Treasurer for reasons of ill-health. Within six months we have now lost a General Secretary to spend more time with his family. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde "to lose one national officer may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness". Surely the time has come to rid ourselves of such carelessness and start to deliver the change that our union so badly needs if it is to properly engage with members and remain independent if that is, indeed the wish of the majority. I do not envy our new General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, the challenge that he faces in making this a reality. All I would say in this respect is that like his predecessor he will find a great deal of support from the less vocal majority within our union should he care to listen hard enough.

I thought long and hard before penning this letter. Having served my time on the Executive I believe it appropriate to give my very able replacement, Jason Turvey, the time and space to make his own mark and stamp his authority. However, having read the General Secretary's comment together with the extracts from his letter I had little doubt that the usual suspects at the centre of the slate would have had their offsite meeting to agree the line of their responses and also to organise others from those on the outskirts of the slate who feel it necessary to rely on their patronage to get elected, probably because the lack the self-confidence to do so through their own efforts. If I am correct then the vast majority of your correspondence will be attacking the General Secretary and defending the Executive Committee, if I am wrong then feel free not to publish my letter.
 
Doug Blundell,
Chair, London Met 454




A soap opera?

After the passing of the emergency motion at this year's Annual Conference, it was clear that something would be needed to ensure the continuation of our union, given it's financial state. Talks were started with RMT, for which we were updated through bulletins, then on 16 August, Gerry resigns from the General Secretary's position, with the statement that "I have never envisaged being part of a new union"...."having reflected on matters I have decided to take early retirement"

Somewhat mystified at this apparent U-turn, our branch were nevertheless happy to wish Gerry all the best nearer the time of his retirement, as there is no doubt he has raised the TSSA's profile in the media and amongst opinion formers in recent years. He has said things about transport and travel trade industry figureheads that we'd never dare to utter, and made stands against injustice, in our own industry and amongst trade unionists internationally. Dublin and Columbia spring to mind, (making some of our daily troubles seem like a picnic at times), and his rousing speeches at our own, TUC, and Labour Party Conferences, are the stuff of legend.

Then the November journal and its statement plopped through the letterbox and our collective jaws dropped with astonishment at the apparent scurrilous attacks on virtually everyone in the TSSA hierarchy. If we were on the receiving end of these comments, quite frankly, we would seek redress through the union. Oh, we are already are, so let's have a look at some of these. They read like a "penny 'orrible":-


1.    A disagreement between the Gen.Sec and the Scrutineers (elected by the branches) seems to result in the Gerry wanting them "removed from office" On what grounds? Then legal costs for them are mentioned? Did Gerry get legal advice too?  The scrutineers examine nominations and witness the counting of votes. To our minds they are independent. Why did they need advice against Gerry, and what did he do to require it? I think we should be told the truth here.

2.    Gerry says "Members have lost the ability to deal with minor issues...with extra costs to the association." - Utterly outrageous - what the hell do we pay subs for??

3.    There are several accusations about several EC members who are collectively accused of being inexperienced, 'mouthpieces', political and so on. We regard the EC as those experienced activists who volunteer to be nominated from their own divisions. They volunteer, we are sure, to look after our affairs in accordance with Rule 6(f). Rule 5 a (3) also states that the "General Secretary should act generally under the orders of the EC, may speak, but note vote on any business at Conference and EC Meetings." So why are there are number of rants about why the EC are in essence, not doing what the Gerry tells them how they should behave? Although we do hope that good governance does prevail, it is still a democratic forum of the highest TSSA echelons.

4.    Worst of all, there are several barbed attacks about our newly elected President. On 11 August meeting, Gerry proposed support for a number of TUC candidates. (In precis: Gerry didn't get his own way, so I didn't get elected to the TUC, so I blamed the President for abstaining after all I've done for her, which cost me my seat on the TUC, so I resigned). So is this the real reason that Gerry resigned, instead of what he said on 16 August? That the EC abided by Rule 5 a (3) - see above? Yet we note on the opposite page in the journal, it is reported that at the TUC, held a few weeks later, Gerry was awarded the Gold Badge for his hard work. So that's alright, then.

5.    "I believe I can no longer work with a President & EC ...and how little support I could command" - Gerry, please re-read rule 5 a (3) again, and write it out 100 times.

History has proved that, although generals may lose a few battles, they hopefully will eventually win the war. History has also shown that dictators who ignore democracy and maintain power by fear, get their come-uppance in the end.

At a time when the transport and travel trade is facing renewed pressures from recession, the global financial situation, more reports from the government wanting to cut more jobs in the industry, new technology replacing staff, how can our own General Secretary actually go into print and undermine everything the union does well and actually attack the very people and structures he publicly purports to represent? In Torquay at the 2009 Annual Conference which famously closed after an impasse between Gerry and the EC, the delegates were accused by Gerry of being like cast members in Dad's Army. Our branch's delegates observed the farce unravelling and likened it to an episode of Fawlty Towers. But instead of drawing a line from this episode and moving forward, we now find our members facing a situation of possibly not having a union that will survive to protect their future job security from someone they democratically elected to be their figurehead.

Like a depressing storyline from EastEnders, we are surrounded by cries of "Woz goin' on, and "It'll all be round the (Euston?) Square now", waiting for the final dramatic drumbeats as the main character walks away from the soap opera forever.

Chairman and Officers of London Bus Operators 467 branch

 


 

Who rules who?

Having read every TSSA Journal since it was first published I think I can say, with some authority, that personal criticisms of colleagues in its columns have been rare. Certainly, the way in which the General Secretary used our paper to attack the President is unprecedented. It would seem that despite changes to the EC's membership since the troubles of 2009 nothing has changed. Could it be that the General Secretary is at fault, rather than the EC? That was certainly the view of the 2009 Conference.

I wish our new Editor well in his future career but his 'independent' decision to publish the General Secretary's attack against some of the hardest working members of the Association without printing a response was, in my view, a mistake.

As we now know "the straw that really broke the camel's back" was the General Secretary's insistence that his slate of nominees for the General Council had to be approved in its entirety. Colleagues should know that previous TSSA General Secretaries have also used a 'slate' to elect their political allies to the General Council. They are entitled to do this; the crucial difference being, to the best of my knowledge, is that former General Secretaries were always willing to accept the majority view if alternatives were offered. We should not forget that two years ago, at our Annual Conference, the General Secretary attacked the principle of 'slates' at the same time he was using them to get himself elected to the TUC's General Council. I find it hard to believe that someone who previously "topped the poll" for the General Council would not be re-elected by his colleagues just because one of the 'slate' nominees was not acceptable to the TSSA. If I am wrong then it raises many questions about democracy and the way in which the TUC's General Council operates and is elected.

Our rules say that the EC has the duty to "manage and supervise the affairs of the TSSA" and that it is the duty of the General Secretary to "act generally under the orders of the EC". The tone of his resignation suggests otherwise. There are criticisms that can be made of the EC including, in my view, that they accepted too many of the General Secretary's strategic policies. Fortunately, the membership recognised that some of these did nothing for the TSSA, and rejected them. I would like to hear from the EC exactly what policies it rejected that would have boosted membership and resolved our financial problems. That is the real debate.

Malcolm Wallace,
Anglia 1

 



Legacy

How disappointing Gerry Doherty couldn't just stick to his story that the reason for his resignation was early retirement.  He chose the last issue of the Journal to spit his dummy out and throw a tantrum by sending members an extract from his notice of early retirement instead of using it as a platform to let everyone know his achievements during his time as general secretary.

What a legacy Gerry is leaving TSSA with.  An image of a bitter man who has completely lost it, something perhaps that we could all see coming since the 2009 conference that never was at Torquay.  What a pity and what a shame!  I hope the next general secretary is not affected by the scars left by their predecessor.

Sharon Simmonds,
Tube Lines

 



Dirty linen

It is a disgrace, and a tragedy, that a General Secretary, who could perhaps at one time have been remembered for the good he did for the union, has chosen not only to abandon the union at a difficult time but also to abandon all sense of dignity. He now leaves for his legacy a fit of pique expressed as slurs on his colleagues who give their time voluntarily to serve as lay officers of the union while he basks in a massive pay rise received last year (see financial statement circulated in Journal). Members might have expected a different form of thanks.

Journal readers will have noted that his resignation and his bile is due to the EC's refusal to support the election slate on the back of which he has secured himself a seat on the TUC General Council for some years. Does anyone else remember his views on slates (and how he would never 'cheat' by using one) so vehemently expressed at a recent Annual Conference? The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Gerry Doherty has done neither himself nor the union any favours by washing his dirty linen in public. But the union, at least, will recover and move on, one way or another.

In solidarity

Jill Murdoch,
Yorkshire North Branch



Old wounds


I would like to first of all to acknowledge the good work done by Gerry over the years, he has raised the profile of our union to new heights and made important and positive changes.  It is therefore with great sadness then that I am writing this letter and the way and manor in which Gerry h as decided to take early retirement.

As a General Secretary Gerry should be more professional and above writing and publishing such matters, this will cause tremendous damage to our association and its' image and to me seems a very immature thing to do.  T o criticise individuals in such a way is unforgiveable.  As he says this was the President's first meeting, so a great shame then he didn't allow more time and give some flexibility and support.

Gerry, whilst stating that he does not wish to re-open old wounds, does in fact do so by raising the spectre of Torquay 2009, this was my first conference as a delegate and I was deeply saddened by those events, to me mistakes and errors were on both sides, and perhaps in hindsight it is a shame that Gerry didn't go then as it seems that he has not been able to move on from this sorry episode?

He talks about the recommendations for TUC, blames the EC for not supporting him, even though it clearly states in the rule book that the EC is no t there to rubber stamp the GS wishes, then states it made no difference but then infers that this cost us our seat on the General Council when in fact it probably made no difference whatsoever.

Gerry has forgotten that we live and work in a democratic structure and you don't always get what you want, he clearly wants things his way or no way!

Gerry also accuses some members of the EC of a political agenda not supported by the vast majority of the members!?  Has Gerry done a political survey of our entire membership then?  If so he certainly hasn't asked me o f my political views.  Does he have any actual proof of this?  This is a matter of opinion not a matter of fact and should not of been published.

This is such a crucial time for us so it is an even greater shame that this has happened and I can only hope that the rest of us, all of us, put all this behind us and work together to stop this in fighting and fight against the real enemies, McNulty and the greedy companies that are looking to attack our members and our railway.

Stephen Leggett,
Treasurer South East Metro 640, Staff Rep.



Moral high ground

I feel obliged to respond to Gerry's parting statement "the last goodbye" in the Journal. I appreciate that it may be abridged and may not represent his full statement, but I can only react to what has been published online. Someone is ill. There are three important events in their diary, but they know that attending all three will exhaust them to the point of possibly jeopardizing recovery. They make a judgement that they are fit enough to attend one big event out of the three and make a judgement about which is the most important meeting to attend: Labour Party National Executive Committee plays TSSA National Executive Committee? So what is Gerry's point with including the paragraph "She had an operation ...": That the TSSA Executive Committee meeting is so obviously more important than the Labour Party National Executive Committee meeting, that no-one else could have made the choice the President made; That people should attend the TSSA National Executive meeting even if it will make them ill; or That he just trying to tarnish the name and judgement of the TSSA's President because he disagrees with her choice?

In the paragraph that starts "At the EC meeting ...", my understanding of what Gerry says in regards to the TUC elections is that there was a 'slate' and he had agreed to be on it.

In paragraph that starts "This had been the process ...", he states that this process [the 'slate'] had been applied in all his previous years as Gen Sec.

In paragraph that starts "In the event ...", he states that despite the fact that he had tied the TSSA's fortunes to the 'slate', the EC voted 11 to 3 to not support the 'slate'. He also states that as a result of that vote [to not support a 'slate'] he withdrew from the contest.

In the subsequent two paragraphs he comments on the consequence of all those events. I would point out though that the consequences are a direct result of him withdrawing from the contest, not as a result of the EC's vote. No-one will know what the result would have been had he remained in the contest.

The subsequent paragraph is where he says that he resigned as Gen Sec as a result of these events at the EC meeting.

Summing up my understanding of this statement in one sentence: Gerry was on a slate at the TUC for the elections to the General Council; the EC voted against supporting the slate; and as a consequence of the EC not supporting the slate that Gerry was on, Gerry withdrew from the contest and resigned as General Secretary.

In my view the moral high ground here sits with the EC.

Kirstin Donaldson

 



Resignation issue?


I read with somewhat incredulity the resignation letter and accompanied article by the former General Secretary in the previous journal. He stated that he did not wish to reopen old wounds in the first line of his letter and then went on to do so in some depth. Why make a statement then contradict it?

He seems to repeatedly attack a President for lack of experience after only five months in the role. He then goes on to attack new EC members for not backing his decision on who to support for TUC General Council. Now I like, I suspect many other ordinary members have little or no involvement in who or what stands on the TUC General Council so why he saw this as a resignation issue I can't understand..

The timing of this resignation was appalling. We are at an important time in our long history so for the head of our association to quit at this crucial moment I find amazing.

He has not acted in the best interests of our members, has wasted valuable resources which I am led to believe we can barely afford in sending this supplement letter out and attacked the EC for daring to be of independent thought. I know my EC member and I have utmost faith in his ability.

I would not accept this sort of petulance from any of my four children when they can't get there own way and should not expect it from a man who w as no doubt paid handsomely to run a union

Folllowing his resignation I hope relations can be repaired and this whole sorry business left behind.

Rebecca Barnes,
Southeastern Metro


 

Merger

I know this will not be printed. However, I need to state my opinion. I am appalled at the thought of merging with the RMT. Andy Bain talks about the 'different style' of leadership. RMT are a left wing confrontational styled union. I want nothing to do with their style. I joined TSSA because they had a different cooperative style. Many members think the same. To say we will merge is misleading. We will be swallowed up by the RMT! I spent many years in the industry without union membership. I believe this proposed merger will drive myself and colleagues into the wilderness with no representation. Think again guys. Don't force me out!

Stevie Graham


 

Bring Back British Rail

What a splendid idea - Bring back British Rail and - presumably - to be owned by the British people and to be acountable to the British people.  Hold on though - have we not heard that somewhere before?

Did not that Labour stalwart and champion of the working class John Prescott not - in so many words - promise just that in 1997 prior to the election when he said we would have a publicly owned - publicly accountable Railway?   But what did we actually get?....you guessed it - continued privatised ownership and franchises that should have reverted to public ownership A T NO COST were re-let to the private sector. A complete betrayal of trust and a slap in the face of anyone who thought voting Labour would see the Railways back in public ownership.  Thirteen years wasted when the Railway could and should have been brought back into public ownership as franchises we re withdrawn or up for renewal.  Winners:- privatised bus and freight companies - ROSCOs and their ilk.  Losers:- the Railway Industry - Railway employees and the loss of members to Railway based Trades Unions - not to mention the public.

Those of us who have long memories about the appalling way Governments of all colours have treated the Railway industry can recall an earlier act of treachery.  A certain Doctor Beeching was charged by the Conservative Government to draw up his chopping list and his plans to revitalise the rail freight business by introducing radial freight depots.  Glory be - a General e lection and in 1963 Harold Wilson became Prime Minister.  Bye-bye Beeching we thought.  Guess what happened......that's right -  a Labour Government RUBBERSTAMPED the Beeching closure plans but also refused to give the go-ahead for the freight railheads.   Winners - Private bus companies and road hauliers and Unions involved in Road Transport.  Losers:- The Railway Indus try - Railway employees and the loss of members to Railway based Trades Un ions - again not to mention the public.

The big wheel keeps on turning!

I echo the sentiments expressed by the campaigners outside Waterloo station but in reality - hell will freeze over first.

Richard J Sharp,
London & SE Retired Members.

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