Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, spoke to IBTimes UK Getty

The Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) is probably best known in the UK at the moment for being one of the four rail unions involved in the Night Tube dispute. Manuel Cortes, the organisation's general secretary, told IBTimes UK that he supports the proposed service but wants Transport for London to run a "Rolls-Royce" operation.

"A city such as London, one of the major capitals of our world, should actually have services that enable its citizens to fully participate in its activities through the course of the day," the union chief said. "If you are going to do it, it has to be done properly -- it cannot be a Cinderella service and that means that there has to be adequate investment so that there is sufficient numbers of staff available at stations during all of its operating hours."

The Gibraltar-born general secretary also claimed that the outgoing Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced the Night Tube on a "whim" in 2013. Cortes noted that the top Tory unveiled the plan at the same time as revealing the closure of ticket offices across the network under the Fit for Future Stations scheme.

"I said at the time that it was good day to bury bad news. In effect, he was going against the wishes of Londoners and implementing a programme that sadly we have seen all of the booking offices within the Tube close," the union leader added.

The TSSA, the second-largest rail union in Britain, is still in talks with London Underground (LU) bosses over the Night Tube, which will run across major lines over the weekends. But the dispute saw a major breakthrough when the RMT's executive committee backed the latest pay offer from management.

A source close to the drivers' union Aslef also told IBTimes UK that their executive committee is also "likely" to support the deal when the ruling body meets on 8 February. Unite, however, have rejected the offer and one of the union's negotiators, Hugh Roberts, has called for more talks with management. The dispute, which has seen some strikes on the Underground, has been seized upon by the Conservatives ahead of the Mayoral elections in May.

The TSSA's man in City Hall?

Conservative attack advertisement on Khan
Conservative attack poster Conservatives

The Tories claim Labour's hopeful, Sadiq Khan, will be Jeremy Corbyn's "man" in City Hall and Londoners will become "lab rats" for the left-winger's economic experiments. Khan's critics also note that the TSSA backed him for the Mayoral candidacy and the union has given the nominee more than £15,000 in cash and non-cash donations since July 2015.

But Cortes claimed the "only problem" with the race is that the Tory candidate, Zac Goldsmith, is a son of billionaire -- the late financier Sir James Goldsmith. "He has nothing in common with over 99% of the people who live in this city. They have to resort to unfounded and unconvincing attacks to try and defame the front runner, who is clearly Sadiq Khan," the TSSA chief argued.

But if for "some miraculous reason" Goldsmith did win the election, Cortes promised he would cooperate with the Conservative MP. "We will work with whoever is the Mayor of London in the interests of our members and public transport in London," he said.

"Unfortunately, we have had a Mayor who has had a lot of rhetoric about how he would like to deal with unions. But not once has he sat with the elected leaders of those unions -- it's absolutely amazing."

The EU question

2010 crow
Bob Crow, the late RMT leader Getty

There is also expected to be another major election in the summer of 2016 - the EU referendum. Cortes, unlike the RMT and the union's late Eurosceptic leader Bob Crow, wants the UK to remain in the 28-nation-bloc.

The TSSA and Corbyn want to renationalise Britain's railways, but left-wing Eurosceptic groups such as Labour Leave have warned that such a move would be impossible under EU law. The campaign notes Brussels' commitment to "opening up national freight and passenger markets to cross-border competition".

However, the TSSA leader claimed that the UK's membership of the EU would not stop a Labour government bringing the railways back into public hands. "In fact, most EU countries -- if not all of them -- run their railways in public ownership so the idea that somehow the EU will stop a UK government from bringing the railways into public ownership is not the case," Cortes argued.

The union chief also dismissed the left-wing argument that the EU is pro-big business and anti-worker. "I suppose you could say that about the British state. We've got some of the worst anti-union laws in Western Europe," Cortes added.

"Privatisation of public transport started under [Margaret] Thatcher and was completed under [John] Major. So actually none of this has emanated from Europe."

TSSA fact file

  • Cortes was elected general secretary in 2011
  • Union has a membership of more than 20,000
  • Backed Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership race
  • Backed Sadiq Khan in the party's Mayor of London nominee election
  • Backed Angela Eagle in Labour's deputy leadership vote
  • Pro-Corbyn campaign group Momentum are based in Walkden House, the same building as the TSSA
  • Cortes received a pay and perks package of more than £104,000 in 2014

Sources: TSSA/Companies House/Cerification Officer