Sexual harassment at the TSSA Union: The Kennedy report

In February the Kennedy report into sexual harassment at the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) Union was published. The report was damning and confirmed an endemic culture of sexual harassment, misogyny, bullying and generalised reactionary attitudes within the TSSA Union. The General Secretary, Manuel Cortes, has been dismissed and is implicated both in directly carrying out sexual harassment and of presiding over a poisonous culture at TSSA. Helena Kennedy KC was very clear in her examination of the union that “there has been sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying within the TSSA and that the leadership and culture has enabled these behaviours through wilful blindness, power hoarding and poor practices.”

TSSA is a transport union with responsibility for predominantly white collar staff and management on the rail and Underground. They have been engaged in merger talks with the GMB union. TSSA are believed to be seeking a merger as they are in financial difficulties.  

The issues of sexual harassment and bullying at TSSA first came to public attention when Reel News produced a video where an ex member of staff described her experiences of sexual harassment at TSSA. A group of women and nonbinary trade unionists came together under the #meTU banner to support Claire and other survivors of sexual harrassment at the TSSA to fight for accountability, survivor lead process, and ensure trade unions as employers abide by the same rules and principles that we fight for from the bosses. TSSA’s response was not to address the issue but, shamefully, to attempt to silence the ex staff member and Reel News with legal threats. TSSA members subs were used to try to intimidate and smear and take legal challenges to force the TSSA survivors to shut up! Thanks to the diligence and commitment of Claire, #meTU and Reel News the TSSA attempt to injunct was unsuccessful and the TUC and TSSA were forced to commision an independent inquiry into sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying within TSSA, relating to TSSA officials and others employed by the union.

The Kennedy report has evidence from 50 people, who are victims of or direct witnesses to sexual harassment and bullying at TSSA.  Members of staff raised multiple complaints and grievances, going through the correct procedures, going back as far as 2011. Other unions have banned senior TSSA officials from their events due to their behaviour, and informed TSSA formally of this. There is no way that TSSA senior staff could be ignorant of the issues, as they claim.

This problem is not confined to TSSA. Two other unions, the GMB and the RCN, have both had investigations into reactionary sexist behaviour in the last few years. This issue is something that effects the whole trade union movement and it’s something that the whole movement has to take responsibility for changing.

The Monaghon report into sexism in the GMB found that “The GMB is institutionally sexist. The General Secretaries and all regional secretaries are, and always have been, men. Women are underrepresented throughout the GMB’s ranks.” 

As women in the trade union movement we know that sexism, racism, harrassment, bullying are endemic. 

The trade union movement in Britain as it currently stands is sexist, racist, and homophobic. If we are serious about class struggle that can win, then we need to unite working-class people of all genders and ethnicities. At its best, class struggle has and can transform society well beyond simply pay and conditions, but this will never happen if women are silenced in the name of a false form of class solidarity

There are so many barriers to women’s full participation in the union and the Kennedy report makes clear that there has been an abject failure of the Trade Union movement to fully consider and challenge structural discrimination within our ranks. In these times of heightened industrial struggle, there has never been a more important to time to really consider survivor led process, gender, race, class and how we will build a truly representative and fighting working class movement.