A meeting called by DPAC on 20th March brought together Remploy workers with campaigns offering support to resist the planned closures of 36 out of 54 Remploy factories by August this year. DPAC members were joined by representatives from the Right to Work campaign, UKUncut, and Winvisible, as well as from a number of unions and local anti-cuts groups.
Remploy convenor Les Woodward who attended the meeting in London on his birthday said it had filled him with an immense amount of confidence. He said that unlike in 2007 when workers opposed the closure of Remploy factories by New Labour, this time they are not alone. Following those closures less than 6% of workers went on to find alternative employment and of those only 5% found employment at an equal or better level. Former Brixton Remploy worker Ray Ludford described how Remploy factories had been purposefully run into the ground since Michael Portillo took away their preferred supplier status.
Ellen Clifford spoke on behalf of DPAC and gave her thanks to Les for opening DPAC’s eyes to the reality of the struggle. She described it as highly irresponsible to be taking employment away from disabled people when there are no jobs for anyone and when an ever tightening benefits system is leaving disabled people destitute. She said that the government’s education policies show they have no interest in building inclusive societies and if they really cared about disabled people’s access to mainstream employment they would be removing rather than promoting segregated education and investing in Access to Work.
The meeting questioned government figures which suggest the factories are unsustainable and the likelihood of any money saved from the closures being invested in Access to Work. There was also anger at the profit charities are set to make by delivering workfare programmes supporting disabled people into non-existent jobs. Support for the closure rather than the reform of factories into user led enterprises was linked to class attitudes and the devaluation of working class industry.
The meeting called for swift action given the timescale for closures which has just been announced and which has left Remploy workers feeling shell-shocked. A national demonstration is organised for Sheffield on 20th April outside the Department for Work and Pensions office. In addition to this the meeting called for a London meeting to provide an opportunity for MPs and trade unions to come out in official support for the Remploy workers.
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