Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/14912
Reports from the Remploy strike
Newcastle and Gateshead
At both the Newcastle and Gateshead Remploy factories all available workers turned up for the picket line. Both the picket lines were lively, and they were clearly being well supported by other workers who were tooting support as they passed.
At Gateshead Colin Hoggett (factory team leader and senior Unite Rep) told us: "We have workers here who are disabled who haven't had a day's sick leave in years.
"One is deaf and without speech, he hasn't had any sick leave in 18 years. But even with these records, because of their disabilities, who are going to employ them?"
Colin went on to say that as their team leader, "I have never seen a harder working workforce in my career."
He ended by saying, "I don't know if you'll print this, but on a personal note I can't wait until the people of this country get the opportunity to get this mad man (Cameron) and his ConDem government out."
Jim Dobson (factory leading hand and GMB Rep) said, "The workers that were left from the last round of redundancies have all pulled together.
"Where are all these people going to go?" Jim pointed out that of those made redundant by Remploy in 2008, 80% are still unemployed.
At the Newcastle picket line, Brian Guthrie said: "The government owns Remploy - so why aren't the board accountable to ordinary workers?" At the factory in Newcastle they produce high quality beds. Brian explained, "We used to go around all the big exhibitions, such as Ideal Homes." However, these visits were stopped.
Brian continued, "If you don't get to these exhibitions - how do you get your name about? We used to get orders from Slumberland, Silent Night etc.
"But because we no longer put ourselves out, we get forgotten about." He ended saying that, "We always got the mattresses out on time and to the quality requirements."
David O'Malley (who described himself as a Unite official picket) explained that he has worked in Remploy's woodmill for 27 years: "When I first came here there was 17 men working here, but over the last 12 years the factory has been run down - now there are only 7."
He went on to describe: "When people have retired they haven't been replaced." This has clearly been a decision made by the board over a number of years.
Like other Remploy workers David set out the high quality of workmanship, telling us: "We used to manufacture fire surrounds for Katell, which is a renowned firm, known for its high quality.
"People have the impression that Remploy workers are disabled so the quality is second rate, but this is definitely not the case."
Ian Emmerson (Remploy Unite Rep), alongside many other Remploy workers had been annoyed at the remarks made by Works and Pension secretary, Ian Duncan Smith. "IDS says we all sit around drinking tea and coffee." However, when the Newcastle Remploy factory was hit by the recent floods, "all the workers turned up and helped clear up the mess." Another worker said, "We are extremely loyal, but we're getting nothing for that loyalty."
Just before leaving the picket line we spoke to John Harris (GMB). He said: "It's hard to put into words how we feel.
"The main thing is the fear about how we are going to find jobs in the current market. For instance one lad on the shop floor has already applied for five jobs - but no response.
"We were told there are jobs and opportunities for us. But in reality - there is nothing."
John went on to say: "I could go on all day about how the government has run things down. We haven't been allowed to advertise locally that we make beds...
"One company, when they heard of the threatened closures, pulled the plug. This particular company has taken on some Remploy workers, but they hand-picked five of the fittest workers.
"The more severely disabled - didn't stand a chance. Yet everyone in the factory was doing the same work."
Many of the Remploy workers pointed out that whilst the number of workers has been run down over the years, there has been an increase in the number of senior managers and directors. "Twenty years ago there were 150 of them, now there are 400." There was a lot of anger towards senior management who are well paid, get big bonuses and ride around in flash cars hired by Remploy.
Elaine Brunskill, South Tyne & Wear Socialist Party
Video from Leeds Remploy picket line, with interview with Remploy steward
Interview starts at 15 second in.
See also report on:
5-30am, Remploy factory in Sheffield, we arrive to support GMB picket. No pickets here yet, but cars already queuing - "somebody's put a lock on the gates, we can't get in!"
'Somebody' should put a stronger lock on next time because the strike-breakers were only held up for ten minutes.
GMB arrive with banners, placards, flags, umbrellas (not enough!), even a brazier and already chopped firewood!
Around 30 pickets are joined by ex-Remploy workers from York who after being made redundant last time round have set up a workers co-op.
Sheffield has escaped the axe this time. Unfortunately about 20 workers go in to work, a lot - but not as many as feared.
Management have split the workforce by a combination of intimidation and false promises about contracts and potential buy-outs.
Don't they realise that over 90% of the Remploy workers who lost their jobs last time are still on the dole?
Aneirin has been on the dole four years. He moved up from The Valleys but unemployment is as bad here. He's been at Remploy two weeks, on a Workfare scheme. "No way I'm crossing a picket line" he says.
"It's been a good day" says one of the pickets, expressing the solidarity of the strikers.
Tomorrow the Remploy workers are taking their message to Nick Clegg, at a 'secret location' in Sheffield. Two years after queues to vote Lib-Dem and Nick Clegg can't appear openly in his own constituency city!
Stoke: Fighting to Save Remploy Jobs!
by stokesocialists •anti-cuts
Repost from Stoke Socialist Party www.stokesocialistparty.org.uk/?p=2009
Between 60 to 70 Remploy workers and supporters turned up this morning in Stoke to support strike action against the closure of the Remploy factory.
Over 90% of delivery lorries refused to cross the loud and defiant picket line. Banners from PCS, CWU, North Staffs TUC etc joined the many Unite flags to create a colourful backdrop to enthusiastic applause and cheering given to every lorry that turned round.
Stoke-on-Trent has a high level of unemployment and Remploy workers are only too aware that closure of their factory will mean a lifetime on the dole for many.
Dave told us, "There used to be three Remploy factories in North Staffs employing a few thousand workers. If this last one goes there's no hope of finding another decent job".
Local New Labour MPs Joan Whalley and Rob Flello spoke at the rally and rightly berated the Con-Dem government for their callous treatment of "thousands of Remploy workers" and pledged support to their struggle.
What they neglected to mention however was that the other two local Remploy factories were closed by their own New Labour government - one as part of 2000 Remploy workers nationally who lost their jobs in 2008.
If New Labour MPs are serious about their new found support for Remploy workers then they should commit an incoming New Labour government to reopening any closed Remploy factories and restoring all sacked workers who still want to work there.
Barking picket line in East London, 8am
Thirty Remploy workers formed a confident picket line across two entrances of the biggest Remploy factory in London.
GMB and Unite flags were joined by banners from other local union branches and campaigns. Unite reps on a training course called by to offer support.
None of the Con-Dem cuts are necessary but this cut is particularly vicious. For a paltry saving, the government is prepared to throw hundreds of disabled people onto the scrap heap.
Any claims that this is to stop segregation make your blood boil - where are the jobs, where is the support, for these workers to make a transition to a "normal" workplace?
One GMB member explained: "I worked in a different factory for seven and a half years before coming here.
I hated it - I was constantly bullied. Coming here has been great for me. I've worked here for 21 years. I'm much more comfortable here, I've made friends."
A lot of the people working at Barking have family members who are also disabled or in need of support. What was worrying them was that if Remploy factories close, it's not only themselves who suffer, but what future will there be for their families?
One said: "Just because we have a learning disability we're treated like second class citizens - we can be kicked out and shouldn't be seen and shouldn't be heard".
Paul said: "I've been on eight or ten protests to fight for our jobs here. We marched to parliament. But this is the first time I've had to go on strike. We've got no choice."
At lunchtime today the press are meant to be coming and workers from some of the other Remploy factories also under threat in London are coming over for a rally.
Barking GMB steward condemns Remploy closure plans
Barking Remploy GMB shop steward Mark Holloway spoke to The Socialist:
"This dispute is about the closure of the Remploy factories. The government has made a decision that Remploy will close.
"There are 54 Remploy factories nationwide. They produce a good standard of goods. It will cost thousands of disabled people the opportunity to work and condemn them to a life on social security.
"Remploy provides an opportunity for disabled people to work in an environment that is safe and which understands their special needs, and gives them an opportunity to contribute to the local and national economy.
"It is far better than a life on benefits. Remploy factories are like small communities. A lot of people have leaning difficulties and are challenged but they feel safe and they make friends and do a day's work.
"Remploy work also gives respite to the parents, carers and social workers that have to look after them."
Portsmouth Remploy pickets speak out
On Thursday 19 July Remploy Unite members in Portsmouth joined the picket lines to show their opposition to the threat to jobs.
Rosemary has worked at Remploy for 35 years: "This is my life. If this place closes, would we get other work? This was a job for life. It it closes it will effect everything, including our pensions."
Gary added: "Can't remember the last person they took on. People want dignity, a wage, people have a right to work.
Cameron says we sit around drinking tea. That's not true. If we haven't got work here we do maintenance and cleaning duties. What Remploy needs is investment in new machinery and new contracts."
The Unite steward in Portsmouth Remploy said: "Our members want security and to know their future. We need to get people back into work.
"We have young people here on eight week work experience, they should be offered jobs here. I've worked here 34 years.
"Whoever takes over here wants to reduce disabled people to 51% of the workforce. I've been amazed at the support here today."
For reports from South Wales, go to:
Scotland: Remploy workers strike to save jobs
Reposted from Socialist Party Scotland www.socialistpartyscotland.org.uk/trade-union/workplace-news/408-remploy-workers-strike-to-save-jobs
By Socialist Party Scotland reporters. 19th July 2012
Remploy workers were out in impressive numbers at picket lines across Scotland today as part of UK-wide action against plans by the Con-Dem's to shut 27 factories by the end of the year and make 1700 workers redundant.
Socialist Party Scotland members were out giving support in Dundee, Glasgow and Lanarkshire this morning.
All 25 of the GMB members at the Dundee factory were on strike. Equally significant was the fact that. 15 of them came to the picket line.
GMB flags and placards covered the factory entrances and strikers wore their defend Remploy T-shirts. "Maria Miller Factory Killer" showed the anger of the workers towards the so-called Tory disability minister responsible for the announcements."
The Dundee Remploy produces nuclear and chemical and biological protection suits for the MoD and the Home Office.
Derek Milligan the GMB shop steward explained the anger among the Remploy workers. "We've had a great picket today and tremendous support for our fight.
"The closures planned are a disgrace. Remploy has been a lifeline for disabled workers for decades and plays a vital role in providing employment.
"At one time we had over 200 workers here, now it's down to 40. With millions unemployed what are the prospects of finding employment if these factories close?"
The possibility of a private company taking over the factory will be a green light to attack the terms and working conditions of the staff.
Derek and fellow GMB activist Linda Rose recently stood as candidates for the Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition in May during the Scottish council elections helping to highlight the battle to defend jobs at Remploy as part of the campaign against public sector cuts.
There was a good turn-out on the picket line in Springburn. Workers were keen to give a comprehensive breakdown of the problem caused by Government Minister, Maria Miller, "factory killer" and told of two possible private buy-outs which will both involve redundancies and severe cuts in staff.
Springburn took action last week as well, as they were informed they were one of nine factories that the Con-Dems were looking to sell to a private company.
In response workers last Tuesday held a union meeting and then occupied the canteen for several hours.
Phil Brannan, GMB union convener for Remploy, said "Remploy has refused to reveal the name of the company interested in taking us over.
"This means we can't carry out any investigations into the potential bidder or represent our members effectively because we don't know the background.
"It also means we've now got yet more weeks of worry until we find out what's going to happen. I've been a union rep at the site for 32 years and we've never taken any sort of unofficial action before."
There was a good picket line in place at Wishaw. The factory here used to assemble cookers, freezers & fridges but lost this work as products were sold onto outlets cheaply and then resold on for big profits. 22 workers now package gift book-sets for Harper Collins, but this work is under threat and may soon be brought back in-house. 21 GMB members and 1 Unite member were involved at Wishaw.
Linda Hills has worked for nearly 30 years. "Everyone's really upset. It's going to be hard for us all.
"We'll need to look for other jobs but there are 2.7 million people unemployed so what chance have we got? We'll probably have to go on to benefits and we don't want to do that."
The tremendous response to today's action shows that the workers at Remploy will defend their jobs against the Tory onslaught. This attack on disabled workers will be fought all the way, and it's a fight that needs to be won.
Pouring rain did not dampen the determination of the large picket at Chesterfield. There was some amusement too when managers had to climb over the gate to get in, the padlocks apparently having been glued during the night.
The factory makes hand-fitted shoes for people with foot problems like arthritis and diabetes. Most shoes are supplied through the NHS.
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 and asset-strip, with production probably then moved abroad.
Several pickets felt that after the next strike, there would need to be a longer strike to put more pressure on the company and the government.
The strike in the Bristol Remploy factory today was rock solid. The only person working was the manager and even they had wanted to support the strike.
The workers' determination to fight the factory closures reflected what Remploy means to them. Some of them had worked there 40 years and none expected to be able to find work elsewhere: "There are people queuing up for every job right now, disabled people go to the bottom of the list, we don't stand a chance."
As well as giving job opportunities to the disabled the Bristol factory also provides training for unemployed youth.
It has been given a possible 'reprieve' as a private company could be looking to take over. But the workers haven't been told anything and don't see this as a solution: "They won't want to keep us on, they're only after the contracts we have on our books." In any case the strike is about defending every factory under threat.
The pickets I spoke to all linked the attacks on Remploy to those on the rest of the public sector. They talked about the need to link up the fightback against all the cuts and learn from the militant tradition of workers in countries like France: "When they're under threat they stop the whole country."
They agreed that general strike action was the next step needed in the fight against austerity here too.
Support the Remploy fight
By Rob Williams, National Shop Stewards Network
For months the Con-Dem government have stated their intention to close 36 out of 54 Remploy factories across the UK.
Remploy workers had already voted overwhelmingly to take strike action on 19 and 26 July to save these plants and the related jobs.
Now this has added urgency because on 10 July the government announced the closure of the first 27 plants, possibly by Christmas.
This is a further attack on disabled people who want to have a choice of what form their working lives take, whether it's supported employment or mainstream employment.
Remploy factories play a vital role in helping disabled people have a sustainable, independent working life as opposed to being left to rot on the unemployment scrapheap, reliant on ever diminishing benefits.
The plants were originally developed to ensure wounded returning soldiers from World War Two had a job.
It stands alongside the NHS as an historical legacy won through the Labour government elected in 1945.
This was as a result of the pressure of working people to avoid the miserable fate that faced those who survived World War One, who were promised 'a land fit for heroes'.
Now these disabled workers, along with the rest of the working-class are targeted to pay for a crisis caused by the greedy and corrupt bankers and the tax-avoiding rich - all represented by this cabinet of millionaires.
It's a scandal that 2,000 disabled people were made redundant in 2008 when the New Labour government closed 29 Remploy factories.
The majority of these are now living a life in poverty on benefits. This is the future facing Remploy workers today if the Con-Dem government close these factories.
Contrary to the view of the Sayce report for the Department for Work and Pensions and Tory minister Iain Duncan Smith, Remploy factories are not ghettoes of out-dated employment.
They are manufacturing facilities that employ skilled workers who produce high quality products. Unfortunately the skill and loyalty of these workers has not been matched by senior managers who have displayed a dismal record of mismanagement in recent years.
Remploy senior management received £2 million in fat cat bonuses while at the same time failing to bring work into the factories!
The Socialist Party and the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) fully support the Remploy workers in their fight to keep their factories open through these strikes and whatever action these workers deem necessary, up to and including factory occupations. We urge all trade unionists and the general public to join us in the campaign to defend Remploy workers now!