The fight to save jobs at Remploy has suffered a setback—but disabled workers’ battle against the Tories and Remploy management continues.
The government wants to throw 1,700 disabled workers on the dole by the end of the year. Some have just days of work left.
Yet leaders of the Unite and GMB unions called off a national strike set for Monday of this week. They argued they needed to “change tack” in the run-up to the Paralympics.
One union official said, “We want to use the games to highlight the fact that hundreds of disabled workers are being made redundant by this government.”
The Remploy workers’ strikes on 19 and 26 July were a success. Not only did they show the bosses and the government that workers were prepared to resist, they also gave the workers confidence.
Workers and supporters were set to protest at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in London on Wednesday of this week. The DWP is where disabilities minister Maria Miller, dubbed “factory killer” by Remploy workers, is based.
High profile protests are important. But with just days to go until some factories close, more militant action is going to be needed.
A number of workers have contacted Socialist Worker to say that they were angry that the strike was pulled. Many say they have been left isolated.
One GMB rep told Socialist Worker, “There is now confusion over what’s happening. In a number of factories work has stopped and people are simply being left and told nothing.”
Remploy bosses have spent years trying to run the factories into the ground. It is the hard work of the staff that has kept the factories going.
Labour tried to shut 43 factories but resistance kept some open. Now the Tories are gunning for the remaining 54 plants and 27 will close by the end of the year.
A further nine factories are expected be sold off to private firms with no guarantees of job security. The remaining 18 sites are due to close next year.
In Lancaster work capability assessments are already are being carried out on workers inside the factory. This is how the DWP decides what benefits people get.
And if this isn’t bad enough, workers in the factories that are being sold off will get lower pensions than they expected.
Unite regional officer Kevin Hepworth said, “This is a cruel blow, hacking away at the retirement incomes of workers with disabilities. This is the hard reality of this government’s actions.”
In contrast managers at Remploy receive a bonus if they close a factory on schedule. Workers know from experience that they have to fight for themselves. Labour’s Peter Hain promised to save Remploy—instead he cut jobs.
Nick Clegg spoke on platforms denouncing closure plans. But now he is in a government that wants to shut all the factories.
The strikes have been solid and won enormous support. Now union leaders should mobilise the full forces of the labour movement to back the Remploy workers.
Workers’ occupations of the factories are key to the battle to keep them open.
Iain Duncan Smith was met by placards and chanting as he visited staff at the Department for Work and Pensions offices in Longbenton in Newcastle.
Disabled people, including those set to lose their jobs at the threatened Remploy factories in Ashington and Newcastle, staged the protest during the cabinet minister’s visit.