July For months the Con-Dem government have stated
their intention to close 36 out of 54 Remploy factories across
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
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
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
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 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!
By Rob Williams, National
Shop Stewards Network
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
"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
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.
"Were 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
David O'Malley, Unite
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
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
"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.
Video from Leeds Remploy
picket line, with interview with Remploy steward (interview
starts about 15 seconds in)
Between 60 and 70 Remploy
workers and supporters turned up this morning in Stoke to
support strike action against the closure the Remploy factory
Over 90% of delivery lorries
refused to cross the loud and defiant picket line. Banners from
PCS, CWU, North Staffs TUC and more 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
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 MP's 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 MP's 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, East London
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
“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
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."
Barking Remploy GMB shop
steward Mark Holloway said
"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
"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."
Pete Mason & Paula Mitchell
Significant picket line
at Huddersfield Remploy by Paul Wheelhouse, former TUSC
election candidate. Two Asian women workers went into work and
then came back out before clocking on, to join the strike
greeted by cheers
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. If it closes
it will affect everything, including our pensions."
Gary added: "I 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: “Whoever takes over here wants to
reduce disabled people to 51% of the workforce. Our members want
security and to know their future. We need to get people back
"We have young people here
on eight week work experience; they should be offered jobs here.
I've worked here 34 years.
"I've been amazed at the
support here today."
Pickets were out at all nine
Remploy plants in Wales as workers struck against the immediate
closure of 27 plants (five in Wales) plus threats of closure to
the rest. The Con Dem government is trying to destroy Remploy as
a public sector industry that provides meaningful and useful
employment to disabled workers.
There was a fantastic
turnout on the Remploy picket line in Swansea. Nearly all of the
shop floor were there and they've been joined by trade
unionists, anti-cuts campaigners and NSSN supporters.
Pickets are bitter towards
the Con-Dem government - Spencer showed me his T-shirt with
'Maria Miller Factory Killer' on the front and an attack on Ian
Duncan Smith (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) on the
back. Duncan Smith, remember, showed how out of touch the Con-Dems
are with his comments about Remploy workers – ‘should get proper
jobs instead of making tea all day’. The Swansea plant makes
office furniture not tea. Steve's comments about the Con-Dems
There was a more mixed
reaction to the proposals of the Welsh Government to subsidise
employers to take on redundant Remploy workers. While some
pickets thought the proposals might provide a way for local
authorities to co-operate in continuing to run the Welsh
factories but there was concern that there is not enough detail
and that the amounts made available might not be enough.
Other pickets pointed out
that in order for the Welsh Government to subsidise a private
employer to take them on they would need to find a job in the
first place - no easy task with unemployment rising in Wales and
even harder for disabled people - and that there is no guarantee
that it would be of similar skills, terms and wages to their
Jean Curtis, recipient of an
award for 30 years' long service, doesn't want to leave Remploy
and there is no logic to the decision to close Remploy. Neil and
other workers feel their organisation has been deliberately run
down for years, softening it up for closure and privatisation of
the most profitable parts. They told me that the Swansea plant
could be profitable in its second year if operational changes
the workers themselves have highlighted were carried out; in the
alternative strategy developed by the Remploy trade unions, they
estimate that the whole organisation could balance the books by
2017/2018, while providing work for 2,000 disabled people.
Jean told the South Wales
Evening Post what she thought of being thanked for 30 years
service before being sacked "I'm disgusted. I don't care what
Iain Duncan Smith says, there is nothing out there, especially
for disabled people. I know lots of people who finished at
Remploy in 2008. They would be glad to come back if the place
was open because there are no jobs out there."
About 20 workers at
Bridgend, site of the first Remploy factory in UK, both GMB and
Unite, were on one of the most friendly and jovial picket lines
I've ever been on.
The factory employs 46 so
this represents half the workforce, and the only people that
have gone into the factory are one manager and a HR
Mike Ahearn, Unite Workshop
Rep, said "Most of the workers here are skilled and have
specialised talents, the government want to waste that and have
them stacking shelves in Tescos... The workers came up with a
business plan and put in a bid to take over the factory and run
it themselves - that was rejected outright in favour of a rival
bidder... We have to keep fighting, we have had support on the
picket from PCS members, the local MP, and a message of support
from Carwyn Jones. Every bit of support we receive gives us a
boost. All workers are under attack from this government at the
moment so we all have to stick together."
Close to forty people - over
half the factory's workforce, crowded outside the Porth plant on
the first day of strike action. Porth is one of two factories in
Wales in "Phase Two" of the government's plan to destroy
Remploy. Porth, which is an e-cycle data-erasure facility, will
be sold off to a private company to pick apart.
Geoff Hollinshead, GMB rep
at Porth said "They keep on saying in the press that our factory
in Porth is safe. It's not safe. We're under threat of being
TUPEd over, asset stripped and left without even a redundancy
"The strike has been very
well supported here - and nationally. Nobody's crossed in Porth
- they wouldn't dare, with how strongly we feel about it. We
should have taken strike action sooner.
"We haven't even begun to
fight yet, not tidy. If they think they can take my job and
leave me without even a decent redundancy package - they'd
better watch this space."
Picketing union members
remarked on how strike action will help to cut across government
propaganda that closing Remploy would be good for disabled
"Hopefully the public will
say 'If disabled people will benefit from the closure, then why
are we going on strike?'" said one worker, who has worked at the
plant for over thirty years.
Others pointed out how
easily the organisation could be made more effective and
efficient. "It's not like the work isn't there - we've got too
much work for the current workforce. We need a few more key
operators to run the production lines," said Robert, another
"They're setting us up to
fail," said another. "If all the government wanted was for us to
break even, why don't they let us sell the reconditioned
machines? Why aren't we allowed to sell the scrap? There's
nickel, gold and other metals in the hard-drives we scrub."
Cardiff Trades Council and
Youth Fight for Jobs were well-received. There are jobseekers on
workfare placements in the factory.
Labour's Shadow Welsh
Secretary, Owen Smith, visited the picket-line briefly with
Labour Assembly Member Leighton Andrews, but the workforce was
dubious of how genuine the pledge of support was. Porth Remploy
began their campaign against closures when Labour were in power,
and closed the nearby Treforest factory.
Leighton Andrews explained
that the Welsh Government will give grants to private companies
to try and encourage them to employ disabled workers. They had
asked for the Remploy budget to be delegated to Wales but the
ConDems refused. The Socialist Party thinks that the Remploy
factories can be saved by a campaign of strike action including
solidarity from the rest of the trade union movement, but the
Welsh Assembly should pledge to fund the factories if the
government pulls the plug and campaign publicly for more
A brilliant mood on the
picket line. As Mandy Webb GMB rep explained, the whole
workforce came out and is doing picket duty. Staff members came
out as well - only the HR manager sneaked in early before the
Good mood in Aberdare. 16
pickets, all the workers not on sick leave are picketing.
Despite not being included
in this round of proposed closures nearly 40 pickets were
present at the Baglan Remploy factory this morning. Unite trade
union banners and flags decorated the factory entrance and the
mood of the strikers was one of anger that the ConDems are
blatantly attacking the jobs of disabled workers.
Our support and leaflets
were much appreciated by the strikers.
Pickets were out in force at
Croespenmaen near Blackwood in Gwent (left). Both GMB and UNITE
had a strong presence. The factory makes boxes and has been very
busy. One of five Remploy factories around the country making
boxes, it is the only one currently earmarked for closure
despite having local customers which Remploy will lose if the
The whole workforce is
picketing in two shifts. Staunch support for the strike and from
the local community.
NSSN supporters were out
giving support in Dundee, Glasgow and Lanarkshire.
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
"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-Dem's were looking to sell to a private
In response workers last
Tuesday held a union meeting and then occupied the canteen for
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 show's that the workers at Remploy will defend
their jobs against the Tory onslaught.