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Proposed TSSA merger with the Boilermakers – question and answer

Hands together with purple filter with TSSA & Boilermakers logo's

A number of questions have been received over the proposed merger with the Boilermakers union. Given the similarity over many of the issues raised the following is offered in the hope that it will not only provide some reassurances to Branches and SOGs but promote further debate across the union.

Q1      Why don’t we merge with another British union?

A1       The most obvious answer is that there is no British union which would consider the level of autonomy or financial support on offer from the Boilermakers. Any attempt to merge with a larger British union will involve the almost complete loss of our TSSA identity and will result in the dispersal of our members into different groups. Such a merger would also result in significant job losses amongst our paid staff.

Q2      Do we know whether the positions of the unions, we previously had merger discussions with, might have changed since then?

A2       There is no evidence to support that they have. If anything, our informal approaches to other British unions so far have indicated a hardening in their attitudes.  Our previous discussions with sister British unions saw them fall into two distinct camps of asset stripping or a simple takeover in terms of culture and practices.

Both options led to significant numbers of our members threatening to cancel their membership, something which the current proposals have thankfully managed to avoid. To put this into context, we had over 1000 emails objecting to our proposed merger with the RMT over a decade ago. To date, we have less than 10 objecting to the proposed merger with the Boilermakers.

Q3      What would happen to the TSSA Staff Pension Scheme as a result of any merger with the Boilermakers?

A3       The pension fund would continue to operate as it is today and would remain open to all staff who are based in Britain and Ireland post-merger. If the merger goes ahead, we would have more detailed discussions with our staff through their GMB reps and also with the pension scheme trustees, prior to the merger taking effect.

Q4      What would happen if the merger proposals are rejected?

A4       If the merger proposals are rejected then we will be facing big cuts to balance our books. Our Executive Committee will need to consider how they will deal with our growing drop in membership and income. However, the window of opportunity to address our union's looming financial crisis before it fully materialises will have closed significantly and to date no one has come up with a viable Plan B that will not mean the end of our union as it currently is.

Q5      Will there be a ‘trial period’ or get-out provision post any merger if problems arise in the relationship?

A5       Statutory provisions require that once a merger happens it's a done deal. It is difficult to see how you then would legally reverse that decision further down the line.

Q6      What US legislation would the TSSA District become subject to?

A6       None, our internal affairs as part of the Boilermakers will be governed only by the legislative requirements of Britain and Ireland as appropriate. This is much the same way as TSSA matters in the Republic of Ireland are currently governed by the legislation of that state and not by British laws.

Q7      Why are you proposing to move to a Biennial District Conference, a proposition which has previously been rejected by TSSA Conference?

A7       The soon to be created Boilermakers Rail, Transport and Travel Sector (see agreed principles 1 and 5), which will be overwhelmingly dominated in terms of numbers by TSSA District members, will have an annual delegate conference and the Boilermakers have their own five yearly Convention at which the TSSA District will also be represented. Together with TSSA's District biennial conference this will mean that our activists will move from ten conferences each decade to 17 conferences.  The proposals actually increase our democracy rather than constrain it.

Q8      What levels of industrial action have the Boilermakers undertaken?

A8       A search on the word ‘strike’ on the Boilermakers website will help show that they are a union which fights for its members interests. Interestingly the first search result to appear relates to a strike lasting over 9 months in 2020. The Boilermakers have the funds to sustain such long-term struggle in direct comparison to most unions in Britain and Ireland.

Q9      What would Boilermakers position be on our support for Cuba, Palestine, Venezuela etc?

A9       It's up to the TSSA’s District to democratically agree actions of solidarity with others with no inteference whatsoever from elsewhere within the new merged union. In fact, the Boilermakers understand solidarity and have very strong views on the need for workers to organise across borders if their interests are ultimately to be advanced. They also understand that such organisation cannot only be restricted to countries and regimes with whom they agree if it is to be effective.

Q10    How can we be certain of assurances for our structures, especially for SOGs and retired members?

A10     The rights of SOGs and retired members within our structures will not be affected by the proposed merger. Their rights will be protected by the rule book governing the affairs of the TSSA District and under the merger agreement with the Boilermakers, those rules could only be changed by delegates at the TSSA District biennial conference.

Q11    What will happen to TSSA affiliations and our seat on the TUC General Council?

A11     There would be no change unless it is directly related to our own membership levels or unless TSSA’s District biennial conference chose to change those affiliations.

Q12    The Boilermakers constitution specifically prohibits membership of the Communist Party and also bans sympathies with Communism's objectives. What will this mean for individual TSSA members?

A12     The provision within the Boilermakers Constitution dates back to the 1950’s and legislation enacted due to the vociferous campaign against alleged communists in the US government and other institutions carried out under Senator Joseph McCarthy. Trade union membership in Britain and Ireland cannot be denied to individuals on the basis of political party membership. All matters relating to the TSSA District will be protected under principle 2 without interference from the US. So in a nutshell, Communists in Britain and Ireland will continue to play their full part in the activities of the merged union much as they do today.

Q13    How will the TSSA District budget be agreed between the Boilermakers and the District or will it be imposed?

A13     All monies originating in Britain and Ireland will form part of the budget of the TSSA District. Any additional funds will be subject to agreement with Boilermakers directly and no doubt such decisions will in part be informed by the use which TSSA District hopes to make of the funds alongside the expected return. More details of this arrangement will follow when the merger negotiations are concluded but the TSSA District will be a net beneficiary of Boilermakers funds for the foreseeable future.

Q14    Under the Boilermakers Constitution retired members may continue to be members and appear to be entitled to free membership but hold no representative office. What will this mean for Retired Members in the TSSA District?

A14     The rights of retired members in TSSA District will largely remain the same as at present. They will continue to pay subscription fees at the appropriate rate, they will continue to be allocated to Retired Branches and to have a Retired Members SOG and they will continue to be able to hold office in their Branch and SOG whilst also being represented at TSSA’s District Conference. Only the TSSA District Biennial Conference can change the status of retired members within the TSSA District.

Q15    Will any TSSA District income be sent abroad to the Boilermakers head office?

A15     The Certification Officer is clear that post-merger the TSSA District must have complete autonomy in the management of its affairs and that this includes our finances. This means that member subscriptions collected in Britain or Ireland have to be spent in Britain or Ireland and cannot simply be sent abroad. However, TSSA will no doubt want to share support services managed and provided by the Boilermakers for instance in areas such as Information Technology and administration amongst others and we will no doubt agree to share the costs of such services which will be a sum far less than what the actual costs are today.

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