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Remploy workers fight privatisation
The first strike in Chesterfield Remploy's 60-year history was rock solid after a 93% vote in favour. Many workers joined the picket line for the one-day strike on 26 January.
The 50 workers, all with a disability, make hand-fitted shoes for people with foot problems like arthritis and diabetes. Remploy is government-owned. Most shoes are supplied through the NHS. Any profit is ploughed back into the business.
But instead of supplying the NHS directly as Remploy used to, shoes are now sold to Webster Shoes very cheaply - which then sells them to the NHS with a huge mark-up. Now Simon Webster, chief executive of Webster Shoes, is trying to take over the factory. Workers suspect he wants to take over the order book, make a quick profit and then move on.
"This is privatisation through the backdoor", said Michael Hall, Remploy GMB Yorkshire President.
Already non-disabled workers are being taken on with worse pay and conditions - no final salary pension, less holidays and sick pay.
Many trainees have been through Remploy over the years, getting a proper training with trade union terms and conditions. A private owner is likely to use trainees as cheap labour.
The future of Remploy is in the balance. "This government is more or less continuing what the last Labour government started," said a GMB rep. Labour closed 30 factories and the remaining 54 factories are under threat of closure in 2013 when public funding runs out.
A lot of public money was used to set up Enterprise Businesses, but then Remploy didn't get the contracts from public organisations. How can it make sense for public bodies, like schools and hospitals, to buy from private companies and put disabled workers in the public sector out of work? Many will have difficulty finding another job in this dire economic situation.
Building action throughout Remploy and linking up with other workers fighting to defend jobs and pensions can knock the government back.
In The Socialist 1 February 2012:
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