Freedom News

Helena Kennedy KC Inquiry into sexism, bullying and sexual harassment in the transport trade union

The report released on 08/02/23 comes after an inquiry led by Helena Kennedy KC, which took place following the powerful film testimony made by Claire Laycock (former TSSA employee) in April 2022, who broke her NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). 

MeTU Women welcome Helena Kennedy KC’s detailed and robust report into sexism, bullying and sexual harassment in the TSSA union. 

The report is damning and brutally clear in demonstrating the behaviours and culture that has presided over TSSA for a long period of time. What we, former and current staff and activists, endured at the TSSA was real and today we are validated. 

We commend the bravery of those who pushed for an independent inquiry and we thank those who came forward. We also thank Helena for the way she conducted her interviews with delicacy in what was a robustly refreshing difference to our experience of having to share testimony as part of TSSA’s internal processes. 

The report, as we at MeTU anticipated, is damning of the Senior Management and Executive Committee and cites the breakdown of democracy and process in TSSA. It speaks of generations of senior officials in the TSSA union who have been silencing survivors and supporting perpetrators and speaks to an endemic culture of abuse, harassment, silence and complicity.  It speaks of member concerns about racism being dismissed and ignored. 

For years many women were left dealing with incredible harm and had lies told about them when they dared to speak out. For so long we have not been believed and have been actively discredited, sustaining irreparable damage to our lives, livelihoods and standing in the trade union and labour movement. The damage done to survivors is irreparable, many lives have been changed and years have been stolen. 

This report provides validation for all the times we were told we were liars, too sensitive or were bringing the union into disrepute. 

The detailed report leaves specific recommendations that must be acted upon. Questions of course remain and this is not over. As we write, perpetrators and their enablers are still in position despite Helena Kennedy KC recommendation that they resign. 

MeTU calls for the immediate resignation of the Senior Management and Executive Committee in TSSA, as well as senior officials in the organisation who have been named in the report as perpetrators and complicit in harm done. If resignations are not forthcoming we demand that those individuals are removed. 

We are concerned about the secretive and hurried merger between the TSSA and the much bigger GMB which does not involve members and reps, let alone survivors in the movement in either union, being rushed through before or without union conferences, with now discredited management. The TSSA say they are looking to the GMB union for support. The Monaghan report showed that the GMB itself is institutionally sexist. The TSSA should not be looking to an institutionally sexist counterpart for support in dealing with institutional misogyny. We believe that the GMB is still institutionally sexist and is currently still removing women organisers from their jobs. It is not appropriate for a trade union with such endemic problems and that is currently seeking to take over the TSSA to be involved in advising the TSSA how to deal with structural inequality.

In this critical period of heightened industrial struggle, when trade unions most need to be fighting fit, working class organisations are being undermined by internal power politics, misogyny, harassment, sexual violence, racism, widespread structural inequality and the silencing of victims and survivors. Just at the time when we most need equality and cohesion and our combined energies focused on the fight back against the cost of living crisis.

Sexism, Bullying and Sexual harassment is a fact of the Trade Union Movement, now the question must be asked how serious is the movement about getting its house in order? How will that be achieved and how will survivors and sisters in the movement be a part of creating the transformation needed?

Since Claire’s brave testimony, many women have joined #MeTU sisters to share their own experiences of sexism, sexual harassment and bullying, both at TSSA and elsewhere across the trade union and labour movement.  

This is not over and we will continue to work to ensure those who have perpetuated so much harm, with complete impunity, are held to account. We have always hoped there would be an acknowledgement of the deep harm done and a commitment to repair and learn. This will be our commitment and we would urge all those involved in perpetuating harm to take some significant time to deeply reflect on the devastation they have caused over several years.

Image: Guy Smallman

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