Devonshire House Network Tim Roache

30.04.19 Speaker Event – Tim Roache – Gen Sec of the GMB Union

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30 APR 2019

Speaker Event – Tim Roache – Gen Sec of the GMB Union

by Devonshire House Network

Tim Roache is General Secretary of the GMB union.

We are delighted to welcome Tim to Devonshire House to talk with us about the GMB, its work, its role and aims in a changing UK and its challenges.

An Approach that works well

We have agreed with Tim’s  to follow a structured conversation/ discussion format that we established several years ago. We are delighted that Martin Warren has agreed to manage this part of the Event. Martin Warren is a Partner in lawyers Eversheds Sutherland and Practice Group Head since 2005 – responsible for all Eversheds work in their Labour Relations Practice covering Labour Relations, Labour Law, Trade Unions, and Labour Relations Strategy.

These are the four questions that we agreed with Tim and which will be put to him by Martin Warren.  The Q&A can feature after each question or be shuffled to the end, depending on sentiments at the time but the strong intent is for interactivity.

  1. How has the Trade Union movement adapted over the years to change?  How can the union movement generally – and the GMB in particular – best handle changing membership numbers?  (Since 2012 the GMB has been stuck at about 620,000 members).
  2. Most would agree the more vulnerable workers are those on atypical work patterns, zero hours & the gig economy – they need the union movement most – what is the GMB doing to engage with such workers? (See my Note below)
  3. Developments in AI, Machine Learning & automation will lead to what’s being called a new industrial revolution – what role can unions play in helping workers impacted by such changes and equip them for the future ? (See Note below)
  4. Is there any potential for unions working more closely together across borders, employers have globalised much more effectively than unions – how do unions catch up?

And ………. If there is time ………..there might be a conversation about money.

Cat Rutter Pooley wrote about executive pay levels in the Financial Times on 4.1.19 – Top UK CEOs earn annual wage of average worker in 2.5 days.   Mean pay of a FTSE 100 boss has risen to £5.7m a year in spite of shareholder revolts

Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB union, said the divergence was “sickening”. He added: “It’s not fair, and it makes no sense in how we value people’s contribution to society and it makes no sense for the economy.

Of whatever  political persuasion, many would agree with Tim Roache’s sentiments.


The primary task of a Trade Union is to look after its members. GMB is a founder member of the Labour Party and is its third largest affiliate and its mission was the same now as it was then – to react effectively to exploitation in the workplace and promoting better pay and conditions. It does this by close personal attention to its members’ needs and being active at all levels of the political spectrum. Since the 28th February 1900, GMB has been active at all levels of the Labour Party including ward, constituency, local authority district, regional, national and European level.

Tens of thousands of GMB members are also members of the Labour Party, and thousands of these GMB members represent GMB in the constituency bodies of the Party. There are over 2,000 GMB members who are Labour Party local councillors

No other way works better than this.

Thinking Back

Devonshire House Members of longer standing than most will recall Tim’s predecessor, Paul Kenny, talking with us in 2012 (we think) and, more recently, Len McLuskey in 2015. Len’s message was that – at that time – the trade union movement did not have a political party to represent the substantial body of trade union members. We saw the beginnings of that with the election of Jeremy Corbyn. And now…?

What is also useful to remember is that the very first Devonshire House Meeting was held in Brighton in 1976 and their Speaker was Ray Gunter, Minister of Labour at that time. Devonshire House was created by industrial relations driven HR Directors who spent most of their working lives anticipating, managing, settling industrial disputes and clearing-up-afterwards. Is it OK to say that those fire-fighting days have been replaced by creative team-work dialogue about better and more prosperous times for all? Or not?

But… times change.

Better Everything

Everyone seeks better living conditions and lifestyles – which need more money and more time to enjoy them. Rampant new technologies are disruptive – many jobs disappear. New types of jobs emerge – but not as many. But those offering personal services suffer most. These are the ones who can’t be replaced by technology; these are the ones who are pressured most to deliver more and keep the costs down. Many of these are GMB Members. Providers of capital and those they pay to get demanding returns on their invested capital always see the cost of people as controllable and variable.

This is the scenario and minefield that Tim Roache is leading his Members through. He also has to keep aware of new legislation, new uses of data, political climates and, it needs to be said, tempered with a broadening social conscience.

More about Tim Roache

Tim Roache grew up in London, where his father was a shop steward on the docks. In 1979, he began working in the post room of the GMB, over time being promoted to become a legal officer, then an organiser, and final, General Secretary

This is what, Laura Kuenssberg BBC Political Editor has said about him at that time:-

It’s rare these days that political figures are willing to say exactly what they think in public. But the union movement, in the recently elected boss of the GMB, Tim Roache, might just have found themselves someone who might. He’s worked for the union for decades, starting as a teenager in the post room. But after years of working his way up, now he’s in charge, Roache is clearly determined to change things. He thinks unions must “freshen up” – he wants to make his union, and perhaps the whole movement, more relevant to his members and politics in a wider sense.”

Generally – and like all organisations – particularly voluntary organisations – Trade Unions need to manage themselves wisely; do things that keep their Members (customers) happy and recruit new members, particularly young ones – all part of planning for the future.

The philosophy and political thinking ….

….. of Tim Roache and GMB is important and these are some indicators:-

  • GMB believes that with the right policies based on values held by GMB members, the Labour Party is the best chance for a fairer deal for GMB members. As a GMB member you get a special Labour Party membership rate of only £22.50 a year – or £1.88 a month.
  • GMB is unique in being the only British trade union, and one of a handful of pioneer unions at European level, with a permanent office in Brussels. The purpose of the GMB European Office is to influence European legislation and initiatives to the benefit of our members and their families, and provide them with greater rights, protection and opportunities in their work and lives.
  • Brexit notwithstanding, as the European Social Model comes under increasing threat with EU Governments putting labour market flexibility above workers’ rights, it is vital that European trade unions work together at European level to protect and promote our social Europe
  • There has been rapid growth of legal advice and representation of members at tribunals and a focus on equality and diversity.
  • The importance of training has also been emphasised with government funding a scheme where workplace learning representatives have been developed. Also, helping their Members to adapt to the work of the future is now becoming mainstream.
  • GMB needs more representation in the private sector, to recruit young workers- but still look after older members – and to correct regional imbalances

We meet at 6pm for refreshments, start the Discussion at 6.45pm and break for food and drink at 8pm. Formal close is at 9pm although people can leave at any time.

Date & Time

30 April 2019
6:00 pm – 9:00 pm


Eversheds Sutherland
1 Wood St
London EC2V 7WS