Below you will find the opening speech made by our General Secretary Roy Rickhuss to our conference delegation this morning ahead of the day’s events.
Check against Delivery.
“I’d like to add my own welcome to you all here in Torquay to what is an important week for Community. The democracy of our union is something that’s very important to me. It’s what makes us closer to our members, it’s what keeps us relevant to the concerns of working people, it’s the reason I’m standing before you today as your elected general secretary!
“Our conference is what shapes our union and I am very proud of Community, of our values and of you, our members, who shape what Community stands for. We know that the strength of Community is built upon a foundation of strength in workplaces across the UK, but progress for our members cannot be achieved in the workplace alone.
“That’s why, as General Secretary, I wanted us to become a campaigning union and that must continue:
“Campaigning in workplaces, campaigning in public, campaigning for better policies from governments of all political persuasions and campaigning for sustainable and secure futures for our members and their communities.
“But conference, as we all know, we face some great challenges:
“An economy that’s still struggling, a government that is far from strong and stable and the Brexit negotiations, which, no matter which way you voted, I’m sure everyone will acknowledge that the process of leaving the EU comes with its own set of challenges.
“In the face of all this uncertainty, one thing you can be sure of, trade unions are needed as much now as they ever have been, we all know there will be employers that will hide behind this uncertainty. They’ll use it as an excuse to cut terms and conditions or to cut jobs.
“But it’s our job as trade unionists to take them on, to challenge their plans and to negotiate a better deal, and if they won’t negotiate, we’ll bring the fight to them.
“In the past two years, that’s what we’ve had to do at Securitas, at OCS, at Bridge of Weir, at ROM, at G4S, at Euro Car Parts and many others. Balloting our members for industrial action, consulting our members on the action they want to take and bringing employers back to the table knowing we won’t be pushed around.
“I believe that negotiation and consultation is the best way to get dignity and respect for our members. Of course I want to work with good employers, not against them, but if they choose not to treat our members fairly, be in no doubt, I will always back our members in their struggle.
“I gave you that commitment three years ago and it will never weaken – from the picket line to the production line, the ballot box to the boardroom – that is our frontline.
“Because that’s what trade unionism is about.
“It’s about solidarity, it’s about fighting injustice and it’s about using our collective power to get a fair deal for our members. That means, that no matter what the size of your branch or your workplace, or even if you’re an independent worker, you’ve got a union of thousands standing behind you.
“A union that has the resources to invest in supporting our members.
“That’s why we’ve been able to freeze our rates and change our grades to offer more support to lower paid workers, and why we’ve conducted a review of our regions, putting in additional resources to ensure we operate in the best way to provide the best service to our branches and our members.
“It’s also why we’ve been able to invest in the future of the organisation and in the future of young people. Our group of apprentices have completed their qualifications. I’m pleased to say that two of them have progressed to full-time employment with the union. We’ve got Ash, who was our apprentice in Kidderminster, he’s now our Digital and Marketing trainee. And Michael, who was based in Earls Barton, he’s now part of our national special projects team, working under the guidance, and I use the word lightly, of Les Bayliss.
“And the apprenticeship has opened up new opportunities for the others. For example, some delegates may remember Muj Ali – he’s now working as a case worker for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Muj says he would never have expected to get a job like that, and he puts it down to his apprenticeship with Community.
“We invest in our people because we know that way we are investing in the union. Our investment and modernisation is why we continue to diversify our membership and attract new partners.
“I’d particularly like to welcome our delegates from UFS, who are attending their first conference with us, and who I have no doubt will play an important part in the future of Community as we grow our new financial and professional sector.
“I’m also pleased to welcome our guests from our partners IndyCube. At our Glasgow conference, we said that we wanted to reach out to the growing millions of self-employed workers. Working with IndyCube, that’s what we have started to do – building on our shared values to develop a modern trade union offer that’s relevant to the needs of independent workers. I’m sure you will get to hear more about this exciting development as the week progresses.
“We’re proud of these new areas of work but we will never forget where we came from and the different union traditions that have joined together to make Community. That’s why we will hear later in the week about the centenary of one of our founding unions, the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation.
“That’s why we’ve been campaigning in our existing sectors.
“In our justice and custodial sector – our Safe Operating Solutions campaign is making a difference to the daily lives of thousands of our members. It’s a campaign that demands minimum safety standards within a sector where our members find themselves in high-risk situations. This campaign will save lives. Already, our members have won improvements in PPE, they’ve got the employers on board and, working with Community’s MPs, we’ve started to get government to listen.
“I’m really proud of the justice campaign. It’s relevant to our members, it’s been developed from the grassroots through our sector committee; and it’s increased our profile within the sector. It’s the kind of campaigning activity I want to see in other areas of the union. Led by our reps, supported by our regions and central office, with help from our Community politicians. All working together to make a difference.
“I want to take a moment to pay tribute to all of our members who have been through difficult times recently. Many have lost their jobs through no fault of their own – companies going into administration or selling-out.
“I know what these hard times are like, you have to fight through the hard times. I am a worker, like you, we all know the struggle for jobs, pay, terms and conditions. It’s in my blood, like it’s in yours – we fight together for what’s right. We’re fortunate to have hundreds of reps like you, people who volunteer to help their colleagues.
“People who stand up in defence of their industry, people who care.
“It’s not just our members who notice. The work of Community’s reps is increasingly recognised outside the union too. By employers and by government – no more so than in the steel industry.
“Conference, it’s been a tough couple of years for our members in the steel industry, when we left Glasgow, the Redcar blast furnace was still burning. The industrial heart of Teesside – Sadly that heart was ripped out when SSI went into administration.Our reps stood up. Our members and their families united. The community lifted its voice to say Save our Steel.
“But the government didn’t listen. It was an act of industrial vandalism to let that site go, and an act that devastated a community built on steel for generations.
“Our other steel communities have faced significant threats too – our members in Long Products and Speciality Steels faced worries about a takeover and our members in Scotland faced the mothballing of their plants. And on 29 March last year, Tata Steel raised the threat of pulling out of the UK altogether, bringing uncertainty to thousands of our members and their families.
“I want to commend our reps for the way they responded – they weren’t going to accept these threats quietly – they were going to fight for their industry. They took our Save our Steel campaign to another level, they marched on Teesside and in Brussels, in Scunthorpe, Motherwell, Port Talbot, Newport and Westminster. They won the backing and support of their local communities and they won the hearts and minds of the public.
“This meant that we kept the politicians on board – getting them to play their part in securing a future for UK steel making. We kept the pressure on Tata to do the right thing. To sell to the right bidders and to guarantee investment for the future of what was left behind – none of that would have happened without the Save our Steel campaign led by our members.
“But it’s been tough. Really tough.
“I know it’s hard for all steelworkers, in this room, and back in the works, to finally see the closure of the British Steel Pension Scheme – it’s one of the most difficult things this union has had to do in my time. But sometimes the hardest thing to do is also the right thing to do, and with a very heavy heart, I do believe it was the right thing to do.
“The democratic decision made by our members has given us the chance to secure the industry for the future, there is still more to be done – not just in steel but right across the union, because as progressive trade unionists, we are never satisfied.
“We want better pay, we want better jobs, we want a better working world.
“This week you will decide the next steps we take as a union – you will decide our priority campaign, it’s your debates, your voices and your votes that will shape our future.
“Please join in, please enjoy yourselves and please take pride in being part of Community.
“The modern union for a changing world.”