The Socialist 21 September 2011
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Remploy workers rallying against closure threat in Sept 2007, photo Chris Moore
Remploy workers "will not go gently" - or at all!
By Les Woodward, GMB convenor for Remploy
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
This poem by Dylan Thomas, written after the death of his father, is very apt for Remploy workers and the struggle we face.
We will not go gently into that good night of being thrown on the dole, losing our jobs and losing our self respect.
We will not go gently into that good night of being bullied by the millionaires' club in the government into giving up the fight to save supported employment in the UK.
We will not go gently into that good night by standing back and watching this government and their lackeys in the leadership of charities such as Radar, Mencap, Mind, RNID, Scope and the Leonard Cheshire foundation wreck the lives of thousands of disabled people by closing down Remploy factories and thereby taking away choices for the type of employment open to disabled workers.
Remploy is a good old age and we want it to get older, for coming generations of disabled people who can develop and have their lives changed positively by working in Remploy as we have done.
Yes we have a rage deep in our souls at the outrage that anyone can think of closing Remploy factories without having the battle of their lives in front of them.
The next phase of the battle to save Remploy factories is about to unfold. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has organised so called 'roadshows' as part of its 'consultation' process on the Sayce report.
The trade union consortium was promised that there would be full consultation with the workers and their representatives; this is proving to be yet another empty gesture, yet another lie.
In an open democratic political system, such as the one we are always being lectured to that we have in the UK, you would think that the times and the venues for such events would be published, but you would be wrong.
You would think that Remploy workers would have priority in attending the meetings, as it is their future, their livelihoods and their jobs being debated, again you would be wrong.
You would also think that as Remploy is around 95% trade union organised then union officials, be they full time or lay officials would be invited to take part in the debates in their regions or areas, again you would be wrong.
Of course if you believe that we only live in an 'open democratic system' when it suits the establishment, then of course you would be right.
It obviously doesn't suit the establishment in this case to be too open or too honest. But did we expect any different? I think not.
In fact Remploy invited all employees to attend but then added: "If there are too many applicants, names will be drawn out of a hat". This would be worthy of a Brian Rix farce, if it wasn't so serious.
Remploy Porth in the Rhondda valley is one of the biggest Remploy factories in the UK with around 90 employees employed in recycling and data cleansing end-of-life computers.
Ironically one of its biggest customers is the government DWP. Only one of the employees had an invite to the roadshow in Cardiff on 20 March at the Village Hotel in Coryton.
This situation is patently unacceptable, as the outcome of the consultation process, including the roadshows, will have a devastating, life changing effect on thousands of disabled workers, not only in Remploy, but in other supported employment sites in the UK.
It is a logical progression that if Remploy folds, as the biggest single employer of disabled people in the UK, others will follow, very rapidly.
Up and down the country Remploy workers are planning demonstrations outside the roadshows if they are not let in to have their say.
Remploy workers rallying against closure threat, photo Chris Moore
Remploy workers, contrary to the suggestions of Radar's chief executive Liz Sayce in her report, do not work in ghettoes, neither are we institutionalised.
We have lives outside of Remploy, many of us are active in our communities, some of us are active politically, and socially as well.
Just as important, we are economically active, paying our taxes and national insurance. We spend our money and contribute to our local economy and when we travel we contribute to other local economies.
The fact that we choose to work with other disabled people is our choice. We were not forced into Remploy and we will not be forced out.
We are proud of our skills, proud of our products and believe it or not we are proud of our company. A company that could be a lot better, granted, but a great company that since 1946 has transformed the lives of many thousands of disabled people, who, without the opportunity of employment with Remploy would have struggled to find employment.
Closing the factories would see 2,800 people added to the benefit claimant list, which the government, through the auspices of ATOS Original, is desperately trying to shorten. In 2008, 2,500 people lost their jobs in Remploy.
In 2009 the GMB surveyed those members who had left and the results were not surprising:
735 questionnaires were returned, a response rate of 46%
The results vindicate the Remploy trade union position that keeping Remploy factories open and supporting them by providing meaningful work through public procurement is a better solution for disabled people than closing them down and putting people onto benefit.
It also shows that the brave new world extolled by the company and the government, in which disabled people find good quality and sustainable work, is about as mythical and realistic as Peter Pan's Never Neverland.
Disabled people have long been placed by governments at the bottom of the pile in society. During the 19th and early 20th centuries if a person could not work because of an impairment or injury, they starved, went into a workhouse or were supported by their family.
The founding of the welfare state in 1945 insured that there would be a safety net for those people who found themselves in the position of not being able to work through sickness or infirmity.
At the same time, it was also recognised that having an infirmity or impairment may not necessarily mean that a person is incapable of work and that if the state provided the means to be employed, to learn new skills, then people with all forms of disability would be economically active instead of relying on state benefits.
It was also recognised that war creates people with disabilities, a lesson that has resonance today.
Remploy, we believe, is as relevant and as important as it was when the first factory opened in Bridgend in 1946.
Since 1948, Remploy Swansea, where I work, has helped and supported many hundreds, if not thousands of disabled people in Swansea.
My good wife and I have brought up three lads and have managed to avoid poverty and deprivation because of my employment with Remploy. We want that support to be there for other disabled people in the future.
We are having amazing support from anti-cuts groups and trades councils but there is still a lot that comrades can do to help us.
For further information on how you can help disabled workers in Remploy, please contact Les Woodward, trade union national convenor, on 07977 436 251 or email@example.com
Disability can affect anyone at anytime. In a blink of an eye a person can go from being a totally fit independent individual, into having a life changing condition that may need support for the rest of his or her life, either through illness, accident or genetic make-up.
Remploy needs to be there for all of us, it's as big a safety net as any we'll find in the welfare state and must not be abandoned.
If you are in Swansea on Saturday 17 September, then you are more than welcome to join the Swansea Remploy workers, the Swansea Socialist Party branch and the Swansea Trades Council for a day of action in support of Remploy workers.
Remploy is not For Sale - at any price!
Remploy day of action:
Saturday 17 September 2011
Oxford Street, Swansea
kicks off at 11:30am
Remploy Support Group:
Wednesday 21st September 2011
Railmens Club, Wind St, Swansea
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 16 September 2011 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.
In this issue
Building for 30 November strike
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party workplace news