Young delegates to the 2023 TSSA Annual Delegate Conference have reported back on their experience, and shared their views on how we can make our union more democratic and diverse.
The young delegates were visitors to conference, but also had their own unique programme of events which allowed them to see every aspect of how conference runs. The delegation was facilitated by our self-organised group for young members, FutureTSSA, and allowed the new activists to develop skills such as writing a motion, delivering a conference speech, learning how the democratic structures of the union work, and producing content with the support of the communications team.
Young members (aged under 35) are underrepresented in our union and woefully unrepresented in our annual conference and democratic structures. Only 14.7% of the union’s membership is under 35, despite this age group making up 1/3 of the workforce of key employers such as Network Rail. Young members are also visibly unrepresented at our Annual Delegate Conference. In 2022 42% of delegates were retired members. By inviting a delegation of five young members to visit conference, FutureTSSA have started to redress this lack of representation.
The aim of the delegation was twofold, firstly to encourage young members to get more active in the union’s democratic structures and in FutureTSSA. The second aim was for the union to learn from the ideas and perspectives of young members as we implement the sweeping cultural changes outlined in the Kennedy and Conley reports and build an organising union that is representative of young members.
The young members delegation started their programme on Friday evening with a relaxed social event where they met other young activists and Executive Committee members. These opportunities to meet other delegates from across the transport and travel industries are an important part of conference. Jessica Faulks, a young member working at Network Rail, said that her conference highlight was ‘to network with people who worked in different areas of the railway and to understand what they did and to learn from their experiences’.
On Saturday morning the young delegates took a guided tour of the historic city of Cork. Delegates then attended introductory talks to the work of the Executive Committee and Standing Orders Committee. For Jessica ‘it was really interesting to understand how the union worked behind the scenes’. Emily Young, a young member and local staff rep at HS2, commented that ‘I learned about the importance and process of moving motions, and how this sets the agenda for the TSSA for the year to come, holding the EC to account’.
On Saturday afternoon the delegates learned how to write an emergency motion, in a session facilitated by Harry Gibb from FutureTSSA. Mark Evans, a young delegate working at London Underground, said that ‘it was interesting to find out how the process works, from people moving motions through to the voting on certain agenda items’.
On Saturday afternoon young delegates watched conference in the main hall where they saw the conference process first hand, before participating in an act of international solidary by marching alongside Cork firefighters who are engaged in a long running industrial dispute.
On Sunday morning young delegates met our communications team to discuss possible projects to help attract more young members to become active in our union. Some of their suggestions included having more of a presence on Instagram, more photographs on Twitter and starting a TikTok account. Then the young delegates went back into the conference hall to listen to a packed day of debates. Young delegates were warmly welcomed by branch delegates. Emily explains that ‘the long-serving members there were so welcoming and enthusiastic about new young members coming through to help drive the TSSA forward into the future’.
The highlight of Sunday’s proceedings was a debate on the union’s strategic plan, introduced by Interim Joint General Secretary, Peter Pendle. All delegates were asked to contribute with their ideas about the strategic direction of the union. As Emily explains ‘the highlight for me was delivering an ad-hoc speech on the demographics of the union, and how to maintain the future viability of the TSSA in the future, which was received surprisingly well’. Emily’s fantastic speech was the highlight of the debate and emphasised how we can learn from the hard work and dedication of our longstanding activists whilst encouraging a diversity of new members to take on branch positions and actively shape our union.
The FutureTSSA delegation did not just attend conference to learn how things have always worked, but to actively improve our union. All the young delegates wanted to see a younger and more diverse turnout at conference. Mark explained that ‘to make the conference more diverse it would be good to have more members attending and to further represent the views of the workers, as I get the agenda items raised were valid however it felt slightly detached from the everyday issues faced in workplaces’.
On Monday, after conference proceedings had finished, the FutureTSSA delegates launched their own initiative to donate the remaining conference sandwiches to a local foodbank. This initiative shows the practical solidarity and resourcefulness of our young members. Clearly, if we can get more young members involved in our democracy and active at conference then the union is in safe hands.