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Roy Rickhuss addresses Community’s conference

Community - 25th June 2019

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Good morning Conference, it’s great to see both old friends and new here together and I’d like to add my own warm welcome to you all here in Liverpool.

Particularly all of our guests who have travelled to be with us, I am sure you will make them all welcome.
Just like Community, Liverpool is a city with a long and proud history.

And, as we’ve heard from Peter, it’s a city that looks outward with confidence.

That’s something that Community does too.
But to be confident about the future is not to downplay or diminish the challenges that face us.
We must not forget that life is difficult for too many of our members
and uncertainty is a reality for them and their families.
But in the face of these challenges we all have a voice and we are determined to ensure our voice is heard.
Whenever our industries have needed us we have been there whether that’s engaging, campaigning or marching.
And I’ve been proud to march alongside many of you across the length and breadth of the UK. And by doing so I know we have raised awareness and made an impact.
But marching alone is not the only way, we campaign, we must use every opportunity to put forward the views of our members.
We have to win the argument at all levels:
with employers, with politicians and with government.
We have to engage with politicians of all Parties, we need to challenge the decision makers.
The success of our campaigns was not only because of the force of the argument, we set out to win the hearts and the minds of the public as well.
The only way we really make a difference is through our strength and influence. And we build our strength by building our union:
Organising new members in new and traditional sectors
Training new reps in our workplaces
And reaching out to new partners to work together to make a difference
In 2019, all these things are as important as they have ever been because of the challenges in front of us.
Every day you deal with serious issues in your workplaces on behalf of your members but there are issues outside, which are out of your control,
Such as Brexit – or perhaps more importantly, the uncertainty over Brexit.
Two years ago, when we met in Torquay we talked about the challenge posed by Brexit uncertainty.
Two years later and we’re not much further forward.
But reality is biting.
Maybe not in Downing Street but certainly in our towns, communities and workplaces.

I have recently visited a number of our members’ companies, talked to reps, members and employers who explained to me orders are now being lost, investment decisions are being delayed, customers are nervous and this has led (in some circumstances) to our members being laid off.
These employers told me that they have made countless representations to Government but unfortunately due to the disgraceful circus that surrounds Parliament on this issue these pleas are being ignored.
Too many MPs that were elected by us to serve us have been more concerned with their own interests and preservation than doing the right thing for our country.
Even now, none of us know what will happen come the 31st October and it is this uncertainty that is damaging our economy.
We cannot and we must not crash out of Europe with a disastrous no deal.
Parliament must come together and work together in the interests of the country to secure a deal that protects jobs and workers rights.
And if this wasn’t concern enough, there are other waves of change heading towards us.
There’s also automation and the developments in artificial intelligence that are having a dramatic impact on work right across the economy.
So many of our members are already feeling the effects of these changes, not least among our finance and professional sector.
But we are not powerless in the face of automation, we can engage and we can act.

That’s why we’ve set up our automation commission – to look at the evidence, look at new ideas and come up with ways that Community can shape these changes in the interests of workers, not just shareholders.
You’ll hear more about the work of the Commission this week and I thank Yvette Cooper for agreeing to Chair this important work.

So we can’t control the future, but we can shape it.
That’s the theme of our conference
Shaping the Future
Not ignoring change
Or pretending it’s not going to happen
Or longing for times gone by.
But trying to make a difference as events unfold
Take the future of our workplaces.
Change is coming – it is inevitable, but it’s not new, change in constant.
With an organised membership and strong leadership in our branches, that change can be managed.
We can shape the future of our workplaces.
The future of work, the future for young workers, the future of Community.
We know that the world of work is changing and, therefore, Community also has to change,
But as a democratic organisation, it is you and your National Executive who will help to shape the future of your union.
That’s what we will be doing this week in conference and that work has already begun.
Since we last met in Torquay, Community has grown and changed.
We’ve expanded our logistics sector.
We’ve grown membership in our Finance Sector.
We’ve created new partnerships with organisations such as Xpro and Labour Xchange.
We’ve made significant improvements to the safety of our members who work in the Justice Sector
And we’ve listened to you by modernising our benefits and introducing a new LifeChange benefit whilst continuing to support our Bursary Scheme and Benevolent Fund which can make a significant impact on our members and their families’ lives.
And we are preparing for more changes.
Community is becoming more diverse – not just in terms of sectors but also in terms of our membership.
We know we need to change to respond to our new membership.
We know there is more work to do across our equalities strands, and I am committed to ensuring the Union truly reflects its membership. I know you will join me in giving our newly appointed Head of Equalities, Lauren Crowley, your full support as she develops our strategy in this vital area.
We are determined to take the steps we need to broaden our appeal while continuing to deliver the level of benefits and support our members expect and it is vital we take our existing members with us on this journey so that nobody feels left behind.
If we are to succeed, then we need you, our lead reps and activists to be the ones shaping the future of your sectors.

We’ve already begun that approach –
Finance, Justice and Steel, which have all held their own sectoral conferences last year.
I believe this is the way forward as we expand our membership and build our sectors but I recognise that this is not enough.
So therefore it is my aim, by the time we meet again at our next Conference, all branches will belong to a relevant sector and will have the same opportunity to shape their future as well.
We recognise that different sectors will require different solutions and it will be you (via your NEC) that determines what these structures look like.
We also recognise that different members may need different things from their membership and different ways to interact with Community.
This is something we must constantly evolve
to respond to the varying and changing needs of our diverse membership:
shaping the future of our offer to workers, especially young workers.
The reason we can shape the future is because we understand our past and our knowledge of workplaces and management practices gets passed through the generations.
I’ve often said that Community’s reps are the guardians of their industries, this applies across our sectors.
Wherever our members work we are bound together through common values and beliefs.
Our members work in foundation industries,
in manufacturing which creates the wealth of this country that can then be redistributed to support and improve our public services.
Our members also work in areas protecting the public and providing vital services whether that is in the Justice Sector, the Third Sector, Charities, NLBD or NSPCC.
The list goes on.
The care and commitment of our members, the integrity and pride they display and their values – whether that be in business, industry or serving the public –
it never falters.
I have often said and make no apology for repeating that Governments may come and go, employers may come and go but what always remains is our members and their communities.
And that is the reason that I am proud to be your General Secretary.
Since Torquay most of you will know my term of office expired and I indicated that it was my intention to seek re-election,
I was proud not only to be re-elected unopposed for a second term but on a much-improved number of nominations. I’d like to thank every branch who nominated me.

So, the bad news is you’re now stuck with me.
The good news is I am determined not to let you down.
And I will always strive to uphold Community’s values in order that our members can have sustainable and fulfilling employment.
And that’s why Community will always stand up for its members’ jobs and terms and conditions.
When our members in the leather industry took a stand, Community was fully behind them all the way to winning a better deal.
When there are worrying times or concerns for our members across the steel industry we will hold employers and government to account and fight for the sustainable future we know is possible.
And when our conference in Torquay made mental health our first priority campaign, we mobilised across the union to make a difference in our workplaces.
Again, later this week you will receive feedback from the work we have done so far and let me be clear this work will continue, our campaign in this area must and will carry on.
As we look forward to the debate later this week to determine our next priority campaign this does not mean the Mental Health campaign is over, there is much more still to be done.
These objectives are reached collectively.
Through everyone playing their part.
Most importantly, you, our reps.
And it’s because you are key to everything we achieve and everything we do for our members, is why Community will continue to invest in education and training.
Because by investing in you, we are investing in the future.
Your role is crucial to us growing our membership
To us identifying new activists
And to us winning for our members.
And to be able to do all this, you need the right training, support and backing.

That’s why I am committed to making sure you get the education and training you need to organise your workplaces and to represent your members.
We will hear more about this in the next few days.

This week and beyond you will make some important decisions.
You will decide our policies
You will decide our direction
And you will decide our next priority campaign.
So Conference, please enjoy the next few days.
Please do not hesitate to contribute should you wish to, particularly to all you first time delegates.
And let’s all play our part in shaping the future.