Briefing on Proposed Rule Changes

As a supporter of the four rule changes to be discussed at the forthcoming RMT Special General Meeting, I have written this guide to the proposals and how they would improve the democracy of the union.

More time for branches to submit amendments


(i) Clause 5:

delete "8th April" and insert "1st April"

delete "first Thursday in May" and insert "8th May"

THE CURRENT SITUATION: The deadline for items for the preliminary agenda of RMT's AGM is the second Thursday in March. This means that branches have to submit resolutions by this date. However, head office does not have to publish this preliminary agenda until 8th April. Branches then have only until the first Thursday in May to submit amendments.

THE PROBLEM WITH THIS: As the first Thursday in May could be as early as 1st May, branches can have as short a period as three weeks to discuss and submit amendments, and many will not even meet during this time. Because of this, very few amendments are submitted, and delegates are often faced with resolutions which they partly support but believe could be improved.

OUR PROPOSED CHANGE: The preliminary agenda will be published a week earlier than at present - by 1st April - and the amendments deadline put back to 8th May. This will give branches just over five weeks to consider amendments.


- All branches that meet at least monthly will have the chance to exercise their democratic right to submit amendments.

- Branches will therefore have the chance to improve resolutions by adding ideas and issues.

- Debates at the AGM will not have to be take-it-or-leave-it vote-outs on a resolution, but can consider different views.

WHY NOT STAY THE SAME?: When this rule was first introduced, head office may have needed a month to publish a preliminary agenda, and may have needed to receive amendments nearly two months before the AGM. However, with the easier communications provided by modern technology, these long timescales should no longer be necessary, and can certainly be reduced by just one week each.

YOU MAY BE CONCERNED THAT: ... Actually, we can't think of any objections to this proposal. But if you have any, please let us know.


A larger, more representative Annual General Meeting


(ii) Clause 17: delete "District Council areas at 31st December 1996" and insert "Regional Council areas"

Clause 17: delete "1500" and insert "500"

Clause 18: delete "Election by the electoral area to which it belongs. Only one member of a Branch can attend an Annual or Special General Meeting as a delegate."

Insert "every 500 branch members or part thereof. A branch is automatically entitled to one Annual General Meeting delegate for every 500 members and its subsequent block vote in any elections to decide the remaining Area/Region's delegates will be reduced by 500 votes for every automatic delegate it previously gained."

Clause 21: delete "the member who received the largest number of votes in a recount of the balot papers in the group in which the vacancy occurs."

Insert "a member from that delegate's branch. In the event of there being no member from that branch willing to be a delegate then the delegate will come from the branch in Area/Region which received the largest number of votes in the ballot without getting a delegate."

THE CURRENT SITUATION: RMT's Annual General Meeting is made up of fewer than 70 delegates, elected in regional blocks on the basis of one delegate per 1,300 members (reduced this year from 1,500).


- The AGM is too small to reflect the diversity of the union's membership. There are many companies' workforces, branches, grades, sections of the membership and points of view which are not represented.

- AGMs often do not reflect the memberships' diversity in age, gender, ethnicity or background.

- The AGM makes decisions on industrial disputes when these arise during AGM week. It is very difficult to make the right decision if no-one involved in the dispute is an AGM delegate and therefore able to address fellow delegates about it.


- There will be one delegate for every 500 members, giving an AGM of more than 150 delegates.

- Branches with over 500 members will elect their delegate directly at the branch meeting. There will then be regional block elections in which branches which have already elected delegates will have their block vote reduced.

- If a delegate drops out, s/he will be replaced by another delegate from the same branch.


- A bigger AGM will be more representative of the diversity of the union's membership.

- Smaller branches will have a much better chance of having a delegate, without the necessity of ‘horse-trading’ between branches.

- There is a much better chance that points of view held by members will be represented amongst delegates and therefore represented during debate.

- More union members will have the chance to act as a delegate to the union's governing body.

- More branches will be able to move their own resolutions and appeals rather than relying on other branches to do it for them.

- With some delegates elected by branches and others in regional blocks, it is more clear who each delegate represents.

- There will be a wider range of delegates rather than what is often perceived as “the same faces”.

YOU MAY BE CONCERNED THAT: There may not be enough time for every delegate to have the right to speak on every proposal, as currently happens. However, for the last few years, the AGM has finished a day early, despite extensive contributions to debates, so there is time to spare! And consider this: If ten people turned up to your branch meeting, they could talk for as long as they liked on whatever subject they like; if 100 members turned up, you might have to limit their speaking time. But 100 members would surely be better!

WHY NOT STAY THE SAME? The industry is both more fragmented and more diverse than it was in the past. So RMT needs an annual General Meeting that enables the different groups and views within its membership to be represented.


Cutting the qualifying period to stand for AGM delegate

(iii) delete "five" and insert "two"

Amendment (a) delete "two" and insert "three"

[It is likely that the branches proposing the rule change will accept the amendment, so the SGM will consider a proposal as follows: deletate "five"and insert "three".]

THE CURRENT SITUATION: A member can not be nominated to be a delegate to the union's Annual General Meeting unless s/he has been a member of the union for five years at the end of the year during which the AGM takes place.


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

- Where RMT has unionised a workforce eg. this year at Vestas or London Taxis, that workforce can not represent itself directly at the AGM for five years.

- RMT does not put such a long-service qualification on members becoming, say, reps or branch officers, or representing the union at TUC congress and other events.

- Five years' membership is no guarantee of five years' active service involvement in the union. Someone who has been an inactive member for five years can stand, whereas someone who has been an active member for four years can not – this is not fair.

- We understand that many people believe that there should be a qualifying period. But five years is too long.

- This rule means that even if a person joined the industry on leaving school, they could be eligible to stand for the parliament of the country before they were eligible to stand for the parliament of their trade union!

OUR PROPOSED CHANGE: A member can be nominated to be a delegate to the AGM if they have been a member of the union for three years at the end of the year in which the AGM is held.


- It would enfranchise many of our members, and many of our reps and activists, who are currently excluded.

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

- We would hear more fresh ideas and views at the AGM, alongside the experience that we also value.

- Our newer and younger members would feel more valued by the union and more likely to get more involved.

- Some people gain more experience in union matters in their first three years in the union than others do in five years or even more!

YOU MAY BE CONCERNED THAT: Delegates who have been in the union for three or four years may not have sufficient knowledge or experience to be a good delegate. However, many of our activists who have been members for three or four years have gained a lot of experience, and should not be barred because other people might not have. If you think someone would not be a good delegate, then don't vote for him/her!

WHY NOT STAY THE SAME? Employment in our industries is not nearly as secure as it used to be, and 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!


Strike committees


(iv) Add new Clause 11 and renumber subsequent Clauses:

11. "In the event of a trade dispute, the Executive shall recongise a Strike Committee elected by and from the members involved in the dispute. The Strike Committee shall organise amongst members to maximise the effectiveness of strike action, and shall have the right to submit to the Executive (or General Grades Committee or Shipping Committee, as appropriate) resolutions concerning the conduct of the dispute, timing of strikes, etc. The Executive will seek the view of the Strike Committee on any new offer received fromt he employer before making a decision about it. The Executive retains the sole power to make all decisions regarding the dispute, as outlined in the rest of this rule."

THE CURRENT SITUATION: The Executive (or GGC or Shipping Committee) makes all decisions on trades disputes, without any rule-book obligation to consult with the members actually involved in the dispute. The rule book does not mention strike committees.


- Our rule book should ensure that members taking part in disputes should have the democratic right to have their views taken into account; at present it does not.

- One of our members’ greatest grievances about their union is a perception of decisions being taken ‘above their heads’.

- The press loves to claim that “RMT leaders have ordered members to strike”. Involvement from members in reaching decisions about disputes shows that it is those members who chose to strike.

OUR PROPOSED CHANGE: When the union goes into dispute with an employer, the Executive will recognise a strike committee, elected by and from the members involved. That committee will have an organising role, and will also have two specific consultation rights - the right to table proposals about the dispute to the Executive; and the right to give a view on any new offer from the employer.


- Strike Committees can help make a dispute much more effective. Where we have set up a strike committee, we have usually got a better outcome to the dispute. They deserve a place in our rule book.

- Strike Committees bring together workers from the various grades and locations that may be involved in the dispute, giving a balanced discussion.

- Members who take part in disputes - often sacrificing pay through strike action, and who have a direct stake in the outcome - deserve to have a democratic say in the running of their dispute.

- Elected representatives of strikers may often have a clearer view of the issues and of the feelings of the membership, than Executive members who may not be directly involved. Ask yourself: If you were on the Executive, and you had to decide on a dispute in another part of the country, wouldn't you want to know the views of the members involved before making a decision?

- A strike committee may be able to spot problems and issues with an employer's offer that Executive members may not spot. this is not slight on executive members, but sometimes the devil is in the detail of offers, and the effects of changes to working conditions may only be noticeable to those who actually work them.

- The Executive still takes all the decisions about the dispute; the Strike Committee has an organising and advisory role.

YOU MAY BE CONCERNED THAT: This rule change does not specify exactly how the Strike Committee would be elected. This is because different types of election would be appropriate for, say, a localised dispute in one workplace or a small company, compared with, say, a national dispute of all infrastructure workers. The Executive will be able to decide an appropriate method of electing the committee, or to recognise one alreaddy set up and elected by members if they accept it has been done so in a legitimate manner.

WHY NOT STAY THE SAME? At present, we win some disputes, we lose others, many settle somewhere in between. Achieving better outcomes to the many important disputes that face us is key to building a stronger union, and this proposal will help achieve that.