Socialist Worker

Remploy: New Labour betrays disabled workers

Despite government promises, disabled workers at Remploy factories face closures and cuts. Simon Basketter spoke to some of the workers who are angry and fighting back

Issue No. 2086

Remploy workers and supporters held a spirited protest outside the employer

Remploy workers and supporters held a spirited protest outside the employer's forum on disability at Bradford City football club. There was a palpable air of anger and bitterness among the 80-strong crowd of protesters (Pic: Luke St


After months of false promises from Labour, it has emerged that more disabled workers at government-owned Remploy factories will lose their jobs than under the original proposal to close 43 factories.

The government has approved the closure of 28 factories. Remploy also wants at least 650 voluntary redundancies from factories that aren’t closing plus one extra redundancy for every worker who transfers to a new site.

That means the decimation of Remploy jobs and will undoubtedly result in more factory closures.

Execution

Remploy is rushing to wind down operations in the factories earmarked for closure – even though they were supposed to have a stay of execution until the end of March.

In some factories, promotional material for Remploy products are simply being dumped in their thousands. In others, management are attempting to remove machines and leave workers sitting in empty sites until March.

Workers at the York Remploy site last Friday saw their machines packed away and ready to be removed. But the workers fought back.

The 51 workers have vowed to keep the factory open, so they stood in the way of vans which arrived to take sewing machines and other equipment away. The site’s gates were locked and the removal team was twice forced to turn back.

Caroline Johnson, who is 60 and has worked at Remploy for 11 years, joined the blockade. She told Socialist Worker, “We’re not just doing this for ourselves – we’re doing it for other disabled people who will struggle to find another job.

“We are like a family, a community, and that is being torn apart for no good reason.

“But we’ll believe there is a chance to keep the factory open right until the last minute.”

John Wilson, the GMB union’s assistant shop steward at the factory, said, “Preventing these machines being removed shows we are prepared to fight on a moral issue. It’s another example of what we see as bully-boy tactics from Remploy.

Disgrace

“We are doing this because we think what has happened to Remploy is a disgrace, not just for those working there now, but for disabled people in the future.

“As far as we’re concerned, new jobs for these people are not there and, even if they are, they will be at the lowest end of the service sector. We have called off industrial action once before as a peace gesture and been kicked in the teeth as a result.

“Now we are determined to do whatever we can to keep it open. Where there’s life, there’s hope.”

The workers at the York factory are voting on strike action, as are workers at factories in Hartlepool, St Helens, Treforest, Ystradgynlais near Swansea and Brynammon in South Wales.

Workers in Unite and GMB at two Merseyside factories have already voted to strike.

Some 73 percent at Aintree voted in favour of strike action, while 100 percent at the Central Cutting Unit in Wallasey, Birkenhead, voted in favour.

There was a national protest of Remploy workers at the employers’ forum on disability at Bradford Football Club on Tuesday.

GMB senior steward Paul Bragg told Socialist Worker, “We want a reversal of the policy. If the Labour government can get Northern Rock out of a £55 billion hole using taxpayers’ money, it can help us.”

There is a lesson here for all trade unionists. Last year the unions made a deal not to embarrass the government at the Labour Party conference over the Remploy job cuts. That was a costly mistake.

So was the GMB’s decision to hand over £15,000 of the union’s money to former work and pensions secretary Peter Hain, who pushed through the closures.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, points out, “Remploy workers have been betrayed by the Labour government. This whole exercise has been a sham and a disgrace which will taint the relationship between the GMB and the government.”

Labour should not be allowed to get away with their betrayal of the Remploy workers.

That means supporting the workers’ fight and recognising that funding the Labour Party is simply paying for the government to attack us.


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Tue 29 Jan 2008, 19:22 GMT
Issue No. 2086
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