RMT Changes Rule - Shorter Qualifying Time for AGM Delegates

Under RMT's rule book, a member could only stand for election as a delegate to the union's Annual General Meeting (AGM) once s/he had been a member for five years. Many union branches felt that this rule was unfair and out-of-date, and submitted a proposal to last Friday's Special Meeting to reduce the qualifying period to three years.

I am pleased to report that, following a lively debate and a close vote, the proposal was passed. Printed below is the speech I made in proposing the rule change, which outlines the reasons and arguments behind the change.


At present, anyone who has been a member of the union for less than five years at the end of the year in which the AGM takes place is barred from standing to be a delegate to the Annual General Meeting.

This rule change proposes to reduce that qualifying period to three years.

In moving this rule change, I want to argue that although we should retain a qualifying period, five years is too long and three years would be more appropriate.


You may be wondering how many people have been members of the union for less than five years.

The answer is 36,326.

45.66% of our membership! So only just over half of our members are even eligible to stand to be an AGM delegate.

The number of people who have been members for less than three years is 24,352, or 30.6%.

(These figures will not apply exactly to any particular election, but they do give you the proportions.)


Here's another statistic. 702 members on the union's activists database have been members for less than five years. 702 people who are not just members but who give time, energy and commitment to the union, whether as workplace reps, branch officers, on our equality committees, working on health & safety or in another capacity.

Of these 702, just 290 have been members for less than three years.

So the people that this rule change is looking to enfranchise is the 400-plus members who have shown their loyalty to the union for over three years, and who are actively involved. You can probably think of at least one of these people in your branch or in your region. We should give them the chance to put themselves forward.


This rule needs to change because our industries have changed. Employment in our industries is not nearly as secure as it used to be; it is more casualised and fragmented. Even keeping your job for five years can be quite an achievement!

RMT recognised this shift a few years ago when it introduced 10-year long-service badges alongside the 25-year and 40-year badges that it previously awarded. It should now recognise this change in its AGM rules too, and not require you to be half way to a long-service badge before you can even stand for the AGM!


I'm sure we all feel that people should prove their commitment to the RMT to be a worthy delegate to the AGM. However, the existing five year bar does not actually ensure that. Five years' membership is no guarantee of five years' active service, experience or loyalty.

Under the current rule, you could do nothing but pay your subs for five years, then turn up to a branch meeting and get yourself elected to the AGM. In that same branch meeting room could be someone - or even several people - who have worked their socks off for the union for four and a half years, but who are barred from even standing. Your branch may much prefer one of those people to be their representative at the AGM, but the current rule bars them from even putting their name forward.


And that is another key point. By allowing people with more than three but less than five years membership to stand, we are not saying that they will all automatically become delegates! Rather, that they should not be barred from standing.

If you think that someone is not really committed to the union, don't nominate or vote for them. If you think someone does not know enough about the issues, nominate or vote for someone else instead. But do that whether they have been in the union for three years, or five years, or even thirty five years. There is no need to bar them from even standing.


You may feel that AGM delegates should be experienced in the union. And yes, experience is important. You can gain plenty of it in three years. And many people gain important experience before joining RMT, perhaps in a previous job in another industry with a different union.

But as well as experience, fresh ideas are important. We need both experience and new ideas at our AGM.


RMT is continually seeking to bring new groups of workers into our union, to spread effective industrial trade unionism to new areas and new workplaces. We have done so this year with, for example, Vestas and London taxi drivers. Under our current rule, none of those Vestas workers and none of those London taxi drivers will be allowed to attend the union's AGM as a delegate for another five years!

For five years, they will be unable to speak for themselves at the AGM but will have to rely on others to speak for them. I think that is too long for them to have to wait, and too long for us to have to wait to hear their contribution.


The benefits of this rule change are not just to the members it would enfranchise, but to the AGM itself, and hence to the RMT as a whole. The AGM would be more representative, would have a better balance of experience and fresh ideas, may see a greater variety of people attending each year, and would no longer miss out on the contributions of worthy people with between three and five years' membership.


The current rule excludes members when we should be trying to include them. It particularly excludes young and newer members.

It means that even if a person joined the industry immediately on leaving school and joined the RMT on day one, they could be eligible to stand for the parliament of the country before they were eligible to stand for the parliament of their own trade union!

In the last debate, Bob Crow mentioned the difficulty in filling delegates' places. One reason for this is that so many people are not eligible to stand, so one solution is to let them stand.


Those of us who are getting a bit long in the tooth know that recruitment is key to the future and the survival of our union. We welcome new members and try to get them active in the union.

RMT does not put such a long service qualification on members becoming, say, reps or branch officers, or representing the union to external bodies.

I don't want to say that because I had to wait five years before I could be a delegate then so should everyone else. I want to welcome people to this AGM who have earned their right to be a delegate in the three of four years of their membership.


We need to have our AGM made up of people elected here on their merit - the best people to speak up for their members and play their part in making this union's policy.

Most of those best people will have been members for longer than five years, many for a lot longer than that! But some of those best people may have been members for more than three years but less than five. The current rule excludes them and therefore may prevent our AGM being made up of the best people to do the job.

Our union's AGM should be made up of the best delegates, elected on merit without being barred by an excessive qualifying period.


Please seize this chance to refresh our union and extend its democracy. Please vote for this rule change.