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#MeTU movement gathers steam as more union women come forward

Last month saw the release of a shocking video in which former TSSA rail union employee Claire Laycock alleged sexual harassment by the union’s general secretary and other figures from the union’s management. The video ended with a statement TSSA press spokesperson, essentially denying the allegations made and attributing them to a ‘disgruntled’ former employee.

Senior women figures in the union movement and wider Labour movement came out in solidarity with Laycock and a number of further victims of alleged sexual assault, harassment and widespread bullying within the trade union.

Despite telling Skwawkbox that the union does not use NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) to gag whistleblowers, TSSA took Laycock the journalist who released the video to the High Court in a bid to have the video removed and to silence Laycock in line with an NDA. The Court rejected the attempt to have the video removed but granted a temporary gagging order on Laycock, leading to a bizarre situation in which her allegations remained online but she was unable to make any further comment. The injunction was to be reviewed two weeks later. Costs were awarded against the union and the injunction was subsequently lifted last week, as Laycock reported in a subsequent video update:

Soon after the initial hearing, which took place whilst the union’s annual conference was underway, the TSSA announced that it would cooperate with an investigation by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) into the allegations made – and that it would scrap the use of NDAs. Laycock’s supporters said they welcomed news of the TUC investigation but would also like to be involved in its design.

The follow-up hearing on the gagging order was then cancelled at the last minute, leaving Laycock in the stressful position of not knowing whether she was gagged or not. Meanwhile, the union’s Assistant General Secretary and the TSSA’s president the TUC’s Frances O’Grady to start the process of setting up the investigation. Despite demands for victims or their representatives to take part in this meeting, none was invited to participate, causing considerable outrage that the TUC’s female general secretary would meet only with senior male members of a union.

To date, Skwawkbox understands that every person named in Laycock’s video remains in post – there have been no suspensions or nor apparently any ramifications – in fact, one of the men allegedly involved in incidents she reported has been promoted. Women in the movement say that widespread sexual abuse and harassment has been met with inaction for far too long.

Women in the union movement, unsurprisingly, say they find it very hard as trade unionists to fight for the employment rights of members when their own colleagues are experiencing disgraceful treatment at the hands of senior figures in the same movement. In the light of the damning findings of an investigation into the GMB union regarding the treatment of women staff there, many female union staffers have approached the TUC asking for help to eradicate this problem.

Skwawkbox has been told that at least seven other people have so far come forward with allegations of abuse at the TSSA, along with more who have experienced it in other unions.

If any readers have experienced or witnessed sexual assaults, sexual harassment or bullying of trade union staff, they are invited to contact MeTUwomen@gmail.com, where revelations and experiences will be treated with confidentiality and respect. If trade unionists work together, they can bring an end to a situation that brings shame on the entire movement.

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5 comments

  1. Allegations have been made against the TSSA Gen Sec and the TUC has proposed that investigations into these are conducted by Frances O’Grady and TSSA’s Assistant Gen Sec and the TSSA president.
    While I have no problem with Frances being on the panel which looks into these matters, is undeniably wrong in my opinion for the TSSA Asst General Sec to be involved as he has a clear conflict of interest – he will be investigating his boss. This is not on.
    I am also concerned about the TSSA President’s participation. Manuel Cortes and the TSSA President are the two most senior elected officers of the union. By necessity they have a very close, frequently interdependent working relationship and again there is the likelihood of a conflict of interest.
    If TSSA and the TUC genuinely want to address what appears to be a culture of sexually inappropriate behaviour in TSSA then matters should be investigated by an independent panel which should definitely not include the alleged offender’s assistant. Further consideration should also be given to excluding the president too for the reasons previously given.
    As it is presently constituted the investigatory panel will not inspire confidence in the investigatory process and will further seriously undermine TSSA’s ability to represent members who allege sexual harassment.

  2. Why is investigating sexism in the Trade Union
    movement an attack on it? Misogyny discourages
    women from engaging in Union activities and this
    can only be a bad thing.

    Obviously such an investigation must be conducted
    independently as stated above.

  3. #MeMe ‘Movement? Another Chapter in the Guardian version of history & equality; well no, not equality but parity with their bourgeois elite colloeages.

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