From Barking to to Bridgend and from Derbyshire to Dundee, up and down the country Remploy workers walked-out on strike together in defiance of Tory plans throw them on the scrapheap.
Last week, the Minister for Disabled People, Maria “Factory Killer” Miller announced the closure of 27 of the 54 Remploy factories meaning the sacking of more than 1,200 mainly disabled workers.
The outrage at this callous Tory decision was not only reflected in the solid strikes, the first of two 24-hour stoppages (the next being next Thursday 26th July), but also in the solidarity from other workers on display at each picket line.
Teachers, council staff , IT workers, construction workers, students and more brought banners and collections to the picket-lines. Postal workers and lorry-drivers refused to cross picket lines.
The stand taken by Unite and GMB members at Remploy is an example to the whole trade union movement about how to fight job losses.
Work and Pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith says that he says that he wants to get disabled workers into mainstream employment or “proper jobs”.
But millions can see through the Tories – they know that with more than 2.5 million unemployed and disability benefits being slashed, the standard of living for many Remploy workers will be immeasurably damaged, should their factories close.
Since the last wave of Remploy factory closures in 2008, 85% of those made redundant have not worked since, and 95% of those that found employment were on less pay.
Today’s marvellous show of solidarity was a step towards winning the battle for jobs. Next week the picket-lines need to be bigger and a strategy implemented for forcing another Tory U-turn and saving the factories.
At the Barking factory in East London more than seventy workers, their families and supporters came to support the picket throughout the day. Just one day earlier the factory workers had learned that the date they have been given for closure is 30th September. Although shocked and upset the strike day was a chance to rally round and rebuild confidence and spirits.
Every hoot from passing buses, lorries and cars was met with a cheer while deliveries and post were turned away. Paul, who has worked at the factory for the past 21 years and who prior to that had turned to street drinking as a consequence of a period of unemployment, led the chants of “Maria Miller Factory Killer”.
George Barratt, independent councillor for Barking and Dagenham, spoke to workers and expressed his support in the fight to keep the factories open. Solidarity also came from further away with a group of Unite workers hailing from as far afield as Rochester on a nearby course joining the picket in their lunch hour. One of the union reps commented that when he worked for the Ministry of Defence all the best quality manufacturing came from Remploy factories.
Messages of solidarity and support were read out from disabled people and union members across the country. Mark Holloway, GMB rep for the Barking factory expressed thanks to everyone who took part, He said he had only expected “three men and a dog” to turn up and was completely blown away by the level of support.
A DOZEN striking workers gathered outside Remploy Acton on Thursday. They were joined by local trade unionists from Ealing council, as well as by John McDonnell MP.
The workers argued that their factory is profit-making, and produces vital equipment, such as fire-safe clothing for the fire brigades. They made the point that they are skilled workers, and that the closure of their factory would mean the loss of their skills, as well as the destruction of the community they have built in their workplace.
The pickets turned away four delivery lorries, and used the picket line as a base to coordinate an even bigger presence for the next strike on Thursday 26th July. Local trade unionists pledged their solidarity and support for the next walk out. One striker remarked, “this is just the beginning. This campaign will get bigger and bigger.”
To find out where your nearest factory is and to find out how you can get involved in supporting the workers please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Richard Donnelly for his report from the Acton strike