TSSA Conference 2023
TSSA Conference, Cork, June 2023
June saw the first TSSA Conference since the union was outed on sexual harassment by Claire Laycock's Reel News video, released over a year ago during the TSSA 2022 conference. Much has moved on since then, with a significant Inquiry by Baroness Helena Kennedy, which a damning Equalities Report by Professor Hazel Conley backed up. This resulted in the dismissals of several senior figures, including the former General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, suspensions of other senior officers and resignations of the President and Treasurer, along with a recognition of the profound need for culture change.
Support for survivors.
There was support across the conference - support from male allies - and moving role calls of the names of staff, women and men, who were bullied out of the union, including Claire Laycock and Maggie Hayes, who spoke out about their treatment and the fiefdom and have been vital in the expose and Inquiry. The conference won motions and amendments despite the EC speaking against, to push for better outcomes from the Kennedy Inquiry and insisted that women survivors and the women's network, Women in Focus, must be a crucial part in planning and implementing change - not just more 'stakeholders' to be filled in.
Disgracefully, two of the dismissed staff, General Secretary Manuel Cortes and Luke Chester, former Organising Director- who was being groomed to succeed as the next General Secretary appealed their dismissals to the conference. They were not allowed to appear in person for safeguarding reasons - there was rather disturbingly a security guard at the conference entrance in case that was breached - but many delegates and staff were upset that they were allowed to appeal by video link. Participants were encouraged to leave the room if they found it upsetting - several women turned their backs in protest. Thankfully, both appeals were overwhelmingly lost.
Injunction, NDAs and dodgy mergers
Financial questions included the cost of the High Court injunctions against Claire Laycock and Reel News - which TSSA lost and was made to pay court costs. This was reported as costing the union £60k - at a time of industrial strife and hardship for many members. There was scrutiny of the cost of the former fiefdoms' proposed merger with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (who now have their own fraud and embezzlement scandal). No figure was provided bu, but it was reported that the former President, Mick Carney, along with the former General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, knew that the US union had called the merger off - before they took flights to Las Vegas -supposedly to the IBB conference -which cost £4k apiece.
Women's Fringe meeting
TSSA's Women in Focus held a very successful and moving hybrid meeting. It welcomed the participation of Claire Laycock, who broke her NDA to speak about the GMB and TSSA in May 2022 and that of Bonnie Craven, one of many staff who have been bullied under the regime. The meeting heard from sisters who testified to their bullying within the union. Called on TSSA to open the books and look at finances and demand. Answers about the role of and relationships with legal partners and employment termination agreements.. Participants also demanded that women and survivors be fully centred and part of the action plan for cultural change and monitoring that change.
Changing the rules for the General Secretary
The conference voted to widen the pool for the General Secretary by allowing non-TSSA members to stand. This was a suggestion of the Kennedy Inquiry, which uncovered the widespread bullying many staff had been exposed to for years - and recognised that they might not be union members but had the talent and experience to stand, listen, and steer the needed changes.
However, an EC amendment widened this still further to open the competition up to external candidates - who could 'apply' to TSSA and from which pool one 'EC candidate' would be chosen - advertised on an eye-watering salary of £103k (for a union of only 17,000 members) - to go up against any grassroots candidates selected by the branches. TSSA activists and women survivors are very concerned about the democracy and lack of transparency and information during the process -concerned about the potential formation of new cliques and stitch-ups. Watch this space.