As delivered to Community’s Biennial Delegate Conference in Belfast on May 31st 2022
It is so great to see you all. The last time we were able to gather like this, was in 2019. As I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you, quite a few things have happened since then.
I want to start today by paying a tribute to all our essential workers present today, who worked so hard to keep this country going in the toughest of tough times. I’m talking about our colleagues in the justice sector, our teachers, our steelworkers’, our carers, our shop workers and so many more – I could go on and on. I’m sure you’ll join me in applauding their work, determination and courage.
May we, as a society, never take them for granted again. My promise to you today is that our union is going to make sure that those politicians who stood on their doorsteps and clapped now turn that into action and make real, positive change to make your lives at work better.
It’s so great to see you all here in person today. I know there was a time when I wondered if we would ever be able to gather like this again. I’d also like to pay a special tribute to some people here with me: my family. My wife is Jo, my daughter Sian and her boyfriend Tom.
One member of my family is missing today, Lauren. She is currently pregnant, and due to have a baby any day now, so is unable to travel to join us all today. We don’t have any names decided yet, but I hear Roy and John-Paul are strong contenders.
My daughter has just started at a new job. The first thing I did when she came home and told me she’d got the job was sign her up to the union. They’ll always be on your side I told her. That’s what I learnt when I started my job – it’s why I signed up. Time and again this union has been on my side.
Many young workers are entering the workplace without knowing their rights and without someone on their side. Young workers are the least likely to be in a union, despite being the most likely to be in insecure and low paid work, thus the most likely to need a trade union. That is both the biggest threat, and the biggest opportunity, for the future of our movement. A galvanised future generation of trade union members would be unstoppable in fighting for a better working world. That generation is in this room today.
Now when I first came to a conference, in Blackpool, I didn’t know anyone. The first person to greet me was Joe Mann. That greeting summed up him as a person: warm, friendly and welcoming to all.
Many of you won’t have had the pleasure of meeting Joe. Joe was a previous Deputy General Secretary of our union who tragically passed away last year.
Joe really was the best of the best – a shining light in the trade union movement and a stalwart of progressive trade unionism.
Joe built on our movement, and there is so much we can learn from him. I pledge here today to use my role to welcome new members, into the fold as Joe once welcomed me.
To our new members here today at their first conference, I want you to look at the banners around you. The theme for this conference, as you can see, is Standing Together. And that theme is more apt now than ever before.
Many times, over the last couple of years, even whilst we have not been able to be physically together, we have still stood together.
Around PPE, safe workplaces, working from home, testing, furlough, the government’s attempts to roll back workers’ rights, we stood together.
And we go forward now, standing together and stronger than ever.
We must also continue to stand together through the current cost of living crisis, and as your union we will continue to support you in any way we can, and pressure the government on your behalf to intervene.
The world of work is changing, and this change has been accelerated by the pandemic. If we are to protect jobs and working conditions, the trade union movement must adapt. We must stand together.
We must stand together to ensure workers are placed at the heart of any post-Covid economy, not as an afterthought.
Last year, thanks to the efforts of so many people in and outside of this room, we managed to defeat ‘fire and rehire’ at Clarks.
But we cannot see the wide-scale rollouts of these tactics, or anything similar, that are becoming worryingly more present. An increased prevalence of people working remotely long-term must not be accompanied by any reductions in rights or conditions for any workers. Community needs to be there joining workers together even when they may be working apart.
Over the course of the next week, attend fringe events, visit exhibitors, listen to motions, and talk to your union colleagues.
The last three years have demonstrated the power in trade unions, and the difference a trade union membership can make. For the future challenges, be they decarbonisation, industrial change, fighting for workers’ rights, we need to stand together.
Conference, thank you.