CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Conference – friends, colleagues.
It is my honour to serve as your President and it is my pleasure that I get to welcome you to Community’s biennial delegate conference here in Liverpool.
Liverpool, much like my hometown of Middlesbrough, and towns and cities all across the UK, has a proud industrial past.
It was in 1875, that the first steelworks in Middlesbrough was opened, and by the turn of the century, Teesside was one of the major steelmaking towns in the world.
It is my pride in the history of my community that is reflected in the conference badge. The Teesside Beam Mill forms the background of the badge, alongside the good quality, strong and world class steel beams that we make there. At the top, you will see red and white stripes in reference to my team – Middlesbrough football club.
The Tees Transporter Bridge takes centre stage, a reflection of its importance to Middlesbrough life for the last century. While the bridge now stands as a towering monument to our steel industry, once upon a time the steelworkers would climb the steps to the high walk, walk across and descend the other side as their commute to work.
While things might have moved on, and we’re more likely to drive to work today, growing up in Middlesbrough, steelmaking was our bread and butter, it was just what you did, what we all did.
When I started work at the Teesside Beam Mill in 1979, my mum worked there with me, and at the time a job at the works was practically guaranteed.
Despite the steelworks still running and the blast furnace remaining hot, my story that starts with guaranteed work at the steelworks no longer exists.
For my children and grandchildren, there is no guaranteed job, especially not a job that means learning a trade, and being able to support your family.
This is not and should not be about nostalgia for the past – how things used to be, and how they used to work. Too much public debate in this country over the past few years has revolved around nostalgia, a wanting for the past and a belief in the illusion that things were somehow better a century ago.
Look back 100 years and you’ll see that’s not the case. We didn’t have the working week, you could legally be discriminated against at work and those at the top could pay workers as little as they liked.
Over the last century, trade unions have made the lives of working people, including my own, immeasurably better. However, that cannot and should not be where we stop.
Not only do we have to resist those that would see further erosion of workers’ rights, our collective voice dismantled and put the interests of big businesses above all else, we have to offer an alternative.
It will not be enough to hold onto the rights we already have, cross our fingers and hope they work in new and different workplaces.
We need to ready ourselves for tomorrow’s fights.
Which is part of why we have come together this week, to discuss and debate policies and different ways our union can shape the future. So please do get involved, share your ideas, and play your part in creating a better working world.
As a union we must be the ones making the case for the right priorities.
Our union is leading the way in calling for the changes in the world of work to mean more flexibility for workers, not less, for shorter working hours, more fulfilling work and for an even stronger voice in the workplace.
That’s why I’m so proud to have been a member of this union for almost forty years, and to now serve as your President – because we really are shaping the future.
In those forty years, I have constantly fought to protect our proud steel industry and as we meet here that fight is as real today as it was in 2010 or 30 years earlier. I know our union will always fight to secure not just the steel industry but the jobs of all workers in every industry.
Colleagues, over the course of the week, have a look at the banners around this room and in the exhibition area. They say things like shaping the future of work – of our country – of our sectors. When you look at them, have a think, how do you want to shape the future? For me, I want to play a part in creating:
A future in which my four grandchildren, do not just have the same opportunities as me, but more opportunities and better working lives.
A future where every workplace, traditional or new, is unionised.
And a future where towns like Middlesbrough and cities like Liverpool, and the communities that live in them, do not just have histories to be proud of but a future to be hopeful for.
Thank you for listening and I hope you have a great conference.