Disabled workers at Remploy in Chesterfield have announced a five-day strike starting on Monday of next week. Those at Springburn, Glasgow, were set to begin a four-day strike on the same day.
These are two of nine Remploy factories the government plans to sell off. Already 27 Remploy factories closed last week. The fate of the remaining 18 factories has yet to be announced.
The workers’ GMB and Unite unions had called off a third national strike day—despite two strongly-supported national walkouts last month.
Now the action in Chesterfield and Glasgow can be a beacon to all Remploy workers and the wider trade union movement. Workers are fighting to defend their conditions under new private sector bosses.
Kevin, a GMB steward at the Chesterfield site, told Socialist Worker, “Billions were spent on the Olympics. But this government can’t cough up enough to support 1,500 disabled people who want to work. We’ll never get work again if we don’t fight.”
Phil Brennan, a GMB Remploy convenor in Scotland, added, “We’ve been treated with utter contempt. We’re up for a fight here.”
The announcement of the strikes coincided with a four hour occupation of Remploy’s head office in Leicester last Thursday.
It ended once workers had secured a promise of talks from disabilities minister Maria Miller. GMB national officer Phil Davies said that the occupation was “part of a fresh initiative to save jobs”.
Phil Brennan was also part of the occupation. “While occupying head offices we managed to get Remploy’s executive director of finance Nigel Hopkins on the phone,” he said.
“He told us that Tupe transfer regulations will not apply for workers at the Chesterfield and Springburn factories because they’re being sold off, not transferred.”
Trade unionists in Glasgow have already collected almost £1,000 for the Springburn workers’ fighting fund since the last national strike day was called off. The donations come from union branches as well as street collections.
No Remploy factories should be left to close or to be privatised without a fight. There are echoes of 2008, when union leaders called off strikes and a swathe of Remploy factories were closed.
Only 6 percent of the 2,500 disabled workers who lost their jobs then have found work since. But union leaders seem determined to repeat those mistakes.
Remploy workers have shown their potential to fight and win widespread solidarity from across the trade union movement. The strikes in Springburn and Chesterfield are serious.
They can win—and show the way to fight against the winding down of Remploy. It is not too late to fight for those Remploy factories that remain.
Phil said, “We want assurances that our terms and conditions will be protected if the factories are privatised, as is planned. But we want to preserve all the factories. That is still the aim of the campaign.”