Support the Remploy strikers!
A sustained Remploy strike could put the Tories into crisis
Remploy workers are preparing to strike against government plans to shut half the company’s 54 factories by December. Remploy provides disabled workers with productive work in a supportive environment that they would never receive in a profit-driven business. The Tories’ plan to close 27 loss-making factories is just plain sick. Besides attacking some of the most vulnerable in society, it is aimed at dismantling another plank in the post-war welfare state.
Under pressure of the workers’ campaign against the closures, the government has agreed further token consultations on nine of the 36 factories that were originally announced to close, in a 7 March statement by the UK Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller. But 27 are slated to close from August to December with compulsory redundancies over 1.200 disabled workers. The statement made it clear that the remaining Remploy factories were slated for closure or being sold off, which would mean 2,800 disabled workers’ jobs lost.
That explains the high vote for a strike across all 54 factories, with 79.5% of GMB members and 59.7% of Unite members in favour of strike action. An overtime ban began 12 July, with two 24-hour strikes to follow on 19 and 26 July starting 6 am. Get down to their picket lines and support them. See below for the list of factories facing closure.
Work and Pensions Minister Ian Duncan Smith insulted Remploy workers, claiming they are “not doing any work at all, just making cups of coffee” and they “don’t produce very much at all”. But Remploy factories manufacture furniture, packaging and car parts, recycle IT and electrical appliances, and provide supplies to the public sector and NHS. Most factories are subsidised because the workers they employ simply would not be hired by private sector companies based on profits.
The nine companies where the threat of closure was lifted for now are being put up for privatisation, with negotiations with bidders to finish by the end of September. According to one Manchester GMB Remploy rep, Remploy has said it will only uphold workers’ conditions and wages for six months after sale, and the buyer will select which workers to keep on and which to let go.
Helping Remploy workers escape a disability ghetto?
Even before the recession, mainstream employment was impossible for many of the disabled workers or vulnerable youth that Remploy employs. In the middle of an historic crisis, with 2.7 million unemployed, the prospect of thousands of Remploy workers getting jobs is a sick Tory joke. The results of the Labour governments 2008 Remploy closures, where 29 sites were closed, proves this: with over 2000 disabled workers sacked, more than 90 percent have yet to find work.
Angry Remploy workers in online forums and comments pages have slammed Miller’s promises of support and to help disabled workers escape their employment “ghetto”:
“I only went to Remploy as nobody else would employ me after damaging my back in an accident so I also know about prejudice and ignorance in mainstream employment.”
“I would like you to meet first hand the individuals who you say will receive a full 18 months of individual support into mainstream employment, and then what? What you are doing is cruel. If at all you are in touch with the real world, you will know that this employment does not exist, and if it did would not be on offer to the majority of workers you are about to sacrifice.”
“To sell our factories off is not changing us being in ghettos we are still going to be in the same ghettos but will not have the support that we have now”
As one Leeds-based Remploy rep told a Workers Power meeting: “a lot of these kids at Remploy are from special needs schools and no one will take them on, it doesn’t mean their not intelligent, but it’s true it takes more to look after them.
Remploy workers unaffordable?
The government says it can’t afford to subsidise Remploy’s £68 million annual losses, but this is a drop in the bucket of state spending. George Osborne admitted that his tax cut for the richest people in Britain, put forward days after the Remploy closure announcement in the 2012 budget, would “only” lose £100 million in revenue! The government of the millionaires, for the millionaires can afford cutting taxes for its chums, but not Remploy workers – shame on these hypocrites.
And there’s plenty of scope to save millions by reducing the top-heavy, non-disabled management structure and cutting the six-figure salaries and bonuses of senior managers and directors – as much as £8 million the GMB claims. Mark Holloway a worker at the Barking Remploy factory in east London, is quoted by the disabled anti-cuts group DPAC: “They say it costs £25,000 per disabled person to keep the jobs, but over 400 senior managers are on salaries of £40,000 to £60,000”. This is the same bloated, well-paid management who have run down Remploy factories to make way for their closure. Doing a good job downsizing the company means the scrap heap for Remploy workers but a good CV and cushy corporate job for Remploy bosses.
It is true that Remploy factories are a way of letting the private sector off the hook in terms of having to put resources into training, integrating and supporting disabled workers into the workforce as a whole, as a Socialist society would do. Rather than a ghetto Remploy is an inadequate haven. It was developed as part of the welfare state, with the first factory opening in 1946, because capitalists wouldn’t employ such workers due to the overhead costs, preferring to exploit able workers to get the maximum profit. At best most disabled people could get by at the margins of the formal economy with insecure work and rotten pay. The strength of working class militancy and organisation after World War II, along with the determination to make sure those disabled and injured in capitalism’s wars would not suffer further, forced the government to set up Remploy.
The Remploy strike is political
A socialist government would seek to go beyond a disabled-specific sector like Remploy, with a range of different types of work, underpinned by different levels of support. The aim would be to integrate disabled people without discrimination into the wider world of work and society as a whole, normalising what is often a stigmatised, isolated section of the working class under capitalism. However the way to achieve this is not to get rid of Remploy and condemn its workers to an isolated, individual struggle to find work, but to defend it and extend Remploy as part of the struggle to defeat austerity, bring down the ConDem government, and open the revolutionary struggle for socialism.
The demand for funding and jobs is not an economic struggle; it opens a direct fight with Tory austerity and privatisation. If Remploy workers open a determined fight to defend their factories, holding rallies and demonstrations to get the public onside and mobilise the union movement behind them, they can spark the tremendous anger that exists against the Tory-led government, with its popularity plummeting since the March budget due to their corruption and cuts, as the latest polls shows. The best way to seize the moment before any factories close is to quickly escalate the strike, with two days, three days, four and then all-out. The scandal of Remploy closures would hit the headlines and the struggle would open the floodgates of public sympathy and union solidarity, allowing the fundraising to support such a militant strike. If the government moves to close a factory, Remploy workers should not feel like the struggle is over – they can go to the anti-cuts movement, the radical students, other workers who have been in struggle, and the unemployed, and occupy the factory to stop its closure and its machinery being sold off, just like Vestas and Visteon worker s did a couple of years back.
Remploy workers can demand that the books are opened so that the unions can see how the factories have been run down, and struggle to replace the layers of redundant deadwood managers with workers control. The dynamic, articulate union reps that have developed from the Remploy shop floor show that there is a wealth of such energy and experience within the sector.
If the Remploy workers take a stand and mount a sustained struggle, then they will find themselves at the head of a tidal wave of public support, and the government will be left completely isolated and in disarray. It could help revive the anti-cuts movement and launch a hot autumn of struggle to bring down the Tories. Disabled? Maybe, but the way we see it, Remploy workers are workers full-stop, and now that they are strikers and class fighters, they could be the ones that enable the anti-cuts movement to revive and launch a hot autumn of struggle against Tory austerity.
So do a collection in your union and workplace, college or school for the Remploy strikers, and send a delegation down to the nearest picket lines to support their strike – Victory to the Remploy workers!
The 27 Remploy factories scheduled to close by December are: Aberdare, Abertillery, Acton, Ashington, Barking, Birkenhead, Bolton, Cleator Moor, Gateshead, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Merthyr Tydfil, Motherwell, Newcastle, North London, North Staffs, Oldham, Penzance, Pontefract, Preston, Southampton, Spennymoor, Swansea, Wigan, Worksop and Wrexham.
The nine factories subject to further consultation are Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Springburn, Barrow, Bristol, Chesterfield, Poole, Bridgend and Croespenmaen.
Click here for GMB’s full list of Remploy sites and numbers of employees