About half of Remploy Bridgend’s 46 strong workforce was on the picket line today. This factory is one the government is trying to privatise.
Unite rep Mike Ahearn said, “We’ve put in a bid to run the factory as a workers’ cooperative, but that has been rejected.
“We heard that a bid by workers at the Wrexham factory was also rejected, but they have been allowed to resubmit the bid—so we might try again.”
One reason why the workers’ bid may have been rejected is a rumoured offer involving notorious security firm G4S.
A “social enterprise” called Green Office would take over the Remploy factory and use prisoners from the nearby Parc prison, run by G4S, to refill printer ink cartridges.
It is thought that they would also keep on Remploy Bridgend’s current contract with Ford, and therefore some of the existing workforce, but not contract for mattress recycling. This means redundancies.
Taking over the Bridgend factory and using cheap prison labour would fit well with Tory plans for outsourcing and privatising throughout the public sector.
Remploy workers discussed further strikes and how best to take their case to the public. They plan to set up stalls and petitions in Bridged town centre.
They were encouraged to hear that street petitioning by Cardiff’s SWP branch had raised £35 in donations for the Remploy fighting fund.
The Remploy picket at Springburn in Glasgow was loud and angry. Some 40 of the factory’s 47 workers cheered and waved to every car horn that sounded in solidarity with their strike.
Phil Brennan, the GMB union’s convenor for Remploy in Scotland, promised that the next strike on 6 August will be as solid throughout Scotland as today’s was.
“We are fed up with the bosses ignoring us,” he said. “At our last meeting they refused to even discuss saving jobs. We say no to privatisation and demand that the present labour force is maintained.
“Last year there was £14 million less in government grants while the senior management took £1.8 million in bonuses.
“In 1995 there were 96 Remploy factories and 280 senior managers. Today there are 54 factories and 400 of them. We’ve had enough—now is the time to fight back.”
Simon has worked at the factory for 13 years and supports his parents and grandmother on his wage.
He said that without Remploy he wouldn’t know what to do, since his chances of finding employment as a disabled worker were slim.
George has worked at Springburn for 40 years said that he was told he would receive £32,000 redundancy. “That’s £800 for every year worked,” he said. “I’m 57 and now my pension is under threat as well.”
Over 30 turned out in blistering heat at Remploy’s Acton factory picket line in west London. Strikers were in good spirits—but they were also angry.
“This picket line is really strong—it’s bigger than the last strike,” Monica Thomas, a worker at the factory, told Socialist Worker. “We have to strike—what else are we going to do if the factories close?”
Harish Yadev, another worker, added, “The government makes all these promises, but we know what happened last time. Almost all of those laid off before are still out of work now.”
“The voluntary redundancy deal offered last year involved a year’s salary plus £5,000 in bonuses. But this year they’ll only pay half that bonus—while managers’ bonuses are £12,000.”
Those there in solidarity were eager to stress they wanted to play a role of active supporting in any way they could.
Local trade unionists and Labour councillors visited the picket line to show their support. Raj Gill from Ealing trades council the Unite union’s hotel workers branch was one of them.
He told Socialist Worker, “Disabled workers need employment and Remploy provided this. If the government wants to portray itself as having an equality agenda, it can’t close Remploy.
“The whole trade union movement needs to step up the solidarity campaign and action—this is an attack on the entire working class movement.”
Matt Saywell, GMB convenor for staff working at British Medical Association, delivered a collection to striking Remploy workers in North London.
The collection was from BMA staff who had themselves struck over pay last week.
Matt told Socialist Worker, “Solidarity was shown to us by other workers on our picket line last week. It is only right we show our solidarity with Remploy workers.
“Our struggle is no different—people have the right to work and the right to expect to be fairly paid. If that is denied then we must make our stand.”
Remploy workers struck at Spennymoor, Gateshead, Ashington and Newcastle today. Comrades from Newcastle’s SWP branch went to offer solidarity.
Pickets were large and the mood upbeat, despite the spiteful attack on this group of low paid workers by the coalition government.
We discussed many issues with the pickets including the working class struggle in Greece and the Spanish miners.
One worker at Newcastle told me, “Better to have fought and lost than not to fight at all. But I hope we beat these bastards.”
Another worker at Ashington said, “I fractured my spine at Ellington Colliery 24 years ago and was retired due to ill health. Remploy gave me a job and my dignity back—but the government is now taking this away.”
Remploy Preston workers were all out on strike today. The solid and lively picket line was well supported by workers from as far away as Lancaster, Blackpool and Cumbria.
Public support from passing traffic was high. The factory which recycles and refurbishes computers to a high standard is due to close on 14 August.
Remploy workers had previously been told that their jobs were safe until at least 2013. They feel they have been lied to by the government. Some have worked at the Preston plant for 40 years.
Supporters on the picket line included local Labour MP Mark Hendrick and a host of trade unions from Preston, Lancaster, Blackpool and the surrounding area.