Disabled workers took to picket lines to fight for their jobs on Thursday of last week. It was the first of two 24-hour strikes by Remploy workers in the Unite and GMB unions.
The strike took place at the Remploy’s 54 sites across the country. The second was set for Thursday of this week.
Clara was on the picket line in Barking, east London. “The way the closure has been dealt with is shoddy to say the least,” she said.
“We don’t see why it has to close. Remploy isn’t just for the people who are here now—it’s for the future. What else can we do but strike?”
Last week the government announced that 27 factories will close by the end of the year. Around 1,700 disabled workers face being thrown out of work. Some have just a few weeks left.
A further nine factories will probably be sold off to private firms with no guarantees of job security. The remaining 18 sites are due to close next year.
Workers from other unions brought solidarity to Remploy strikers. In Barking the post wasn’t delivered, while bus and lorry drivers tooted their horns in support. Council workers and teachers sent delegations to join the picket lines.
Gareth is a GMB steward in Birkenhead on Merseyside. He told Socialist Worker, “There are people who have worked here for 35 years.
“They want to keep working but they know nothing else. A lot of people will be thrown on the scrapheap—you have to resist.”
Bridgend is one the factories that has been put up for sale. Workers have been told that bids have been made, but they do not know who from or on what terms.
Management are refusing to say anything until the end of August. “It’s very stressful,” said Mike, one of the workers.
“Some people might transfer, while others might be made redundant. The government claims we need a huge subsidy, but that’s because of the inverted structure of Remploy management,” Mike explained.
“It’s like an upside-down pyramid. They’ve deliberately run down the factories but kept on a huge number of managers.”
Remploy workers need the backing of the entire labour movement. Factory occupations and a massive show of solidarity can keep the factories open.
Mark, a GMB rep at the Barking plant, said, “There’s nothing left but to take action. We’re angry. It’s better to live one day as a lion than a lifetime as a sheep.”
Years of stress for workers
Remploy workers have faced years of uncertainty. Factories started to close under the previous Labour government. Now the Tories are trying to abolish Remploy altogether.
The government claims people can use “access to work” payments to replace the Remploy jobs. But as Paul, a Remploy worker from Burnley, pointed out, “The Tories talk about ‘access to work’ as a replacement—but people need jobs to join the programme, and they are sacking us.”
Alan on the Barking picket line told Socialist Worker, “I’ve worked here for 13 years. I’m bitter and angry at the way we’ve constantly been failed and let down by both Remploy and the government.”
And many workers are angry that the compulsory redundancy pay will be less than in previous rounds of voluntary redundancies.
Thanks to Diana Swingler, Phil Turner, Ian Thomas, Jeff Hurford and Mark Krantz for sending in reports