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Securing your voice – moving towards a merger

6 November 2012

A few months ago, I told you that I would be travelling around the UK and Ireland to discuss our union's future with as many members as possible. For the past eight weeks I have been doing this, and whilst I’ll be attending further meetings over the next few months, a clear vision is starting to take shape.

Like most of you, I wish that our union could remain fully independent. Unfortunately, we would need around 15,000 extra members to make this a long-term financial possibility. Frankly, it’s hard to see this happening in the current economic climate.

Our finances, like those of other unions, have been greatly stretched since the 2008 recession. Job losses have significantly dented membership income. A depressed rental market means that we no longer get as much as we once did from leasing parts of Walkden House. In addition, our investment income – and capital wealth – has suffered as stock markets across the globe collapsed and dividend payments dried up. We have been forced to sell assets to pay our way.

These additional income streams on top of members’ subs have for a long period of time allowed us to wash our face. Our membership has been steadily declining since the 1950s. In fact, it is several decades since membership income – on its own – paid for the running of our union. Some of you will doubtless think it may have been wiser to have merged some time ago – hindsight is always a wonderful thing. However, it is our responsibility to deal with this problem now.

Luckily, our forebears put something away for a rainy day. Selling investments is helping to keep our union afloat. We still have a strong financial base, even though cash flow remains a concern, due to our biggest asset being locked up in bricks and mortar. This means that it has become clear that in the medium-term, we can no longer remain as we are. It is vital that we take early action, well before our assets are exhausted. If we fail to do this, we will no longer be in control of our destiny. That is why we will be talking to other unions now from a osition of strength, rather being forced into any particular arrangement for financial reasons.

Thankfully, a very broad consensus is already emerging. There is clear recognition that whilst a merger is inevitable, we need to secure a deal which ensures that your voice – and that of future generations of transport and travel workers – is heard loudly and clearly. It has fallen on our shoulders to ensure that this happens. In all honesty, there is not a large menu of potential partners. We already approached our sister transport unions, who rather disappointingly told us that they are not interested. As you will know, fundamental disagreements over a range of issues brought our talks with RMT to a halt.

The vast majority of unions of a similar size to ours are specialised into one industry or profession – from teachers to radiographers – again, meaning they would not be a suitable partner. This just leaves a few general unions in the frame. So far, in my meetings with members, the overwhelming message is that ideally they would want to avoid merging with one of the very large unions. There is a great fear that if we ended up within a union that already had more than several hundred thousand members, the voice of 25,000 transport and travel workers would be lost forever. I have to say that I am extremely sympathetic to this view. It is clear that the emerging preferred option is seeking a deal with a union not too many times the size of our own. This will further narrow the field.

Over the next few months, I will be working hard with your Executive Committee to ensure that we have a clear route map of where our future lies. We will put this in place as soon as possible and by no later than our 2013 conference in May. Of course, you will always have the final say. If at a later stage a conference agrees to merge, all members will then get a vote to either ratify or reject this. This puts you in the driving seat as we seek to secure a strong and viable future for your voice.


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