Below you will find the opening speech made by our NEC President Jacquie Thomas to our conference delegation this morning ahead of the day’s events.
Check against Delivery.
Sisters, brothers, colleagues, delegates and guests, it’s my privilege to welcome you to this conference in this wonderful venue of Torquay.
Conference, it is my honour to be your President for 2017.
My home town is Tredegar in the South Wales valleys where Neil Kinnock and the great Nye Bevan were born and represented in parliament by Bevan and Michael Foot. Trade unionism has always been a part of my community, my family and my life, some of my earliest memories are of sitting at the back of my father’s branch meetings in the local working men’s club in the 1970s.
I remember the miner’s strike in the 70s and 80s as a young child. I remember my mother and other members of my family collecting food for families who were going without because they were on strike. I remember my brothers and sisters each giving a Christmas present to those families so that their children didn’t go without, we had communities that stood and sometimes fell together.
In my educational years I actively took part in many debates around the strikes in response to the government’s actions. I joined the AEEU at 18 and became a shop steward at 20 for 200 people.
When I became a full time employee for the steel industry in 2005 I joined Community, I was elected as a branch secretary at Llanwern and I have held that post for 12 years.
I know the problems experienced in the steel industry are the same as we are all facing, whichever sector we work in, job losses, lack of wage increases, attacks on terms and conditions, insecurity, outsourcing and the list could go on. I had hoped I could give a different kind of speech today – one that would have welcomed a change of government and finally, some hope for working people, but that was not to be.
This week we will hear about our successes over the past two years and i’m sure we’ll also hear the long and ignoble list of government failings. It’s important that we all reflect on the pressing realities of our situation and focus on what we can do in the future.
We now face 13 years of Tory government, and many of us remember what that meant for our families and our communities during the last period of sustained Tory rule.
Our trade union, along with others is at a critical point – how this government acts over the next few years is vital to our and our country’s future. Of course, we need to remember and celebrate our achievements, we also need to remember that Community was born out of struggle.
We have always faced attacks from the state and powerful vested interests, we are and have always been resilient, we have and we always will fight back.
But our aim is not just to survive but to thrive and make a difference – to be a modern union, for a changing world.
Which is why we are here this week to debate the motions put forward by branches, by members, for you the delegates to decide on the future direction of this great union. And I encourage you to take full advantage of the opportunity to get involved.
It can be nerve wracking to stand up here and share your views with so many but I promise that you are amongst friends and you will be welcomed, anyone who is not welcoming has me to face!
If you look at the conference badge it reflects my heritage, Tredegar’s town clock built over 150 years ago from iron made in the local iron works and built with the sweat and tears of the workers from those same works – the tallest free standing iron structure in the UK that was and still is a symbol of the local workers’ achievements. Then there is the dragon – the Welsh Dragon – which demonstrates the struggles of the Welsh over the years and the fire in our bellies to keep fighting.
I am so proud to be the president of Community, this union that has such a proud history, a diversity of membership from prison services to carpet makers, from steelworkers to betting shop workers, students to shoe makers, a union that fights for equality, which protects the weak against the strong, which speaks up for justice and dignity and builds successful workplaces, successful employers and a successful economy.
We make the world a better place, look no further than the work of our officers and reps across the UK. Trade unionism at its very best – speaking up and winning collectively for workers against the power of employers. It gives me enormous confidence and hope about the future, especially standing here looking out at you.
I know – as you do – that we face many challenges and problems, i know our opponents want to silence dissent; marginalise progressive values; contain and criminalise protest; and create a docile workforce.
But I also know that if we are united and determined they will not win. Standing together, we will win.
Thank you for listening and have a good conference.