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Merger? Strategic partnership? A new transport & travel union

23 October 2011

We answer some of the frequently asked questions about the future of our union.

TSSA - RMT joint action

A vote of the Annual Delegate Conference agreed that TSSA should explore various options for working more closely with other transport unions. Options range from sharing resources such as premises and backoffice staff, through to the creation of a new union which would be stronger, both industrially and financially. Of the unions approached, the RMT responded positively to the offer of talks. Negotiation teams are now meeting regularly to explore the possibility of forming a brand new union as a partnership between TSSA and the RMT.

Unity is strength – the case for a new union


A NEW UNION, combining the organising strengths and memberships of both TSSA and the RMT would present a single unified face to government and employers. Our strength in numbers – over 110,000 – would multiply our bargaining power greatly and our new unity would prevent employers pursuing a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy.

With a new union, our campaigning impact on issues like defending our pensions, opposing the McNulty recommendations or the TfL/London Underground ‘Project Horizon’ job cuts would be greater, with no duplication of resources or competition for media coverage between unions.

To protect the rights of members – not just in the short term, but for decades to come – we need to take decisions now to ensure we have a fit, fighting union that can be relied upon to be there for members whenever they need it. 

TSSA - RMT together

Why is this happening?

The industries we organise in have seen headcount declining for many years. We all know the reasons – from profit seeking ‘efficiencies’, to technological change. The railways and the travel trade are shrinking – and with that our potential membership. We are now a union of 26,000 members compared to 70,000 thirty years ago. Despite all the success we’ve had since transitioning towards an organising culture and the new members this has brought, none of this can protect us from the financial realities of this general trend. The impact of the cuts proposed in the McNulty Report, coupled with mergers in the travel trade are only likely to worsen this trend.

Why now?

TSSA is at no immediate financial risk, with significant assets built up by past generations of members. These are not all readily convertible to cover running costs nor would it be sensible to dispose of them in the current recession, but if necessary we could realise these over a number of years to pay our way.

That said, the global financial crisis has severely cut the income we receive from property and investments – income which previously brought in the equivalent of many thousands of members’ subs each year.

Rather than burn through our reserves and be forced to take rushed decisions in several years time, negotiating now from a position of financial strength will ensure these assets can once again benefit members as the economy recovers.

On current costs, we would need to recruit an extra 13,000 members to secure our viability in the long-term. Adding one extra member for every two we currently have is clearly not an option in the current climate and therefore we need to look to other options.

Membership graph

What might this process result in?

We don’t know yet. Quite possibly nothing at all – in which case other options would have to be explored. Discussions with the RMT are still at an early stage and we remain open to talking to other similarly sized transport and travel unions.

If we were to reach an agreement with the RMT this would be for the creation of an entirely new union – not a take-over one way or the other, or a simple amalgam of our structures. We would be looking to build a modern transport and travel union with an internal arrangement that reflects the needs of the workers of today – not simply recreating the patterns established when both society and our industries were very different. Who will decide on any deal?

Ultimately, a new union will only come about if it is agreed by a majority of TSSA members voting in a one-member onevote referendum. Before any deal is put to a vote it will have had to satisfy the negotiating team, the Executive Committee and Conference.

Whilst the need for change is certain, it is far from inevitable that this will take the form of a new union with the RMT as partners. If the deal is not right for TSSA members, it will not be made.

If no deal was made with the RMT, we would then need to talk to other unions outside our industries with a view to sharing resources or merging.

TSSA - RMT joint placard

How will members have their say in the process?

As well as having the final say in any referendum, members can help guide the process as it develops. Dozens of members have already passed on their views to the Negotiating Team. Each message is taken seriously and will inform the positions taken by our team. You can feed in your thoughts via or by writing to ‘Strategic Partnerships negotiating team’ at Walkden House.

Any member is entitled to stand to become a delegate to the Annual Delegate Conference in spring, where the issue will doubtless be debated extensively.

Strengthening our voice – whatever the future holds

Whatever the outcome of negotiations, the need for us to keep organising, keep recruiting and keep building the strongest possible voice for transport and travel workers remains. It is far from certain that any deal will be reached, let alone agreed by members and even if it were, transitional arrangements may last for some time. With the Government’s response to the McNulty Report looming and firms keen to pass on the impact of the recession by attacking pay and conditions, your union will be organising in defence of members just as strongly as we ever have.

Regular updates on the progress of talks are being posted in the news section of

Quick Queries

Management Grades
The need for distinct decision-making structures for managers, supervisors and other groups of members is clear. These will be retained, and strengthened where necessary. Both negotiating teams accept that any new union must be able to effectively represent the different needs of workers wherever they are in a company hierarchy and may need specific structures to protect their interests and democratic rights in the new union.

Political affiliation
It has been the consistent view of our union that we are stronger for our links to both the British and Irish Labour Parties. For a new union to come about, these links would need to remain.

Travel Trade
RMT do not operate in the travel trade, therefore arrangements would remain much the same as at present.

The very few RMT members based in the Republic of Ireland predominantly work on ferries, therefore a new union would organise our current members in much the same way.

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