All 54 Remploy factories are set to strike on 19 and 26 July in a fight to stop the closure of 36 sites. The workers in the GMB and Unite unions plan to begin an overtime ban on 12 July.
The closures would see 1,332 people lose their jobs from a total workforce of 2,166, according to the GMB union. And 1,247 of the people facing the axe are disabled.
Mark Holloway, a worker at the Barking factory in east London, spoke to Socialist Worker. He said, “There’s a lot of anxiety and stress inside the factory.
“It’s like we’re being chucked onto the scrap heap. We’ll have even fewer opportunities—it will be an absolute disaster for disabled people in this country.
“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. And, when you look at what’s going on with the bankers, and Bob Diamond, you just can’t believe it. It’s an absolute disgrace.
“In a situation like this there’s nothing left but to take action. If we hadn’t voted for strikes, we may as well have packed up and gone.”
Bosses have been consulting with workers over the planned closures, but many workers see it as simply paying lip service.
“We’re angry”, Mark continued, “We know the government’s running the show anyway—the consultation is an absolute farce.
“They say it costs £25,000 per disabled person to keep the jobs, but over 400 senior managers are on salaries of £40,000 to £60,000. This could easily be divided to sustain our jobs.”
Some disability charities, such as Radar, support the closures on the basis of opposing segregated employment. But this has angered many disabled people who believe the charities are helping the Tories’ attempt to divide and rule.
The Remploy closures are being imposed at the same time as the government attacks disability benefits.
Ellen Clifford, of Disabled People Against the Cuts said, “The government is using a report by the head of Radar to justify the Remploy closures. They use our language to justify their sinister assault on disabled people.”
Mark added, “The government does not acknowledge what we contribute to the economy.” He took on the argument within the disabled community about the Remploy factories.
“For those with learning and mental health difficulties, working at Remploy gives families, carers and social workers some respite.
“They come and do a job that pays their bills and gives them a sense of purpose and belonging. So to those who think we live in ghettos–you should come to the factory and look.”
Tony Collins is a middle distance runner in the Great Britain Learning Disabled Athletics Squad, who carried the Olympic torch through Rayleigh in Essex. He works at Remploy in Barking and will be joining his workmates on strike.