Just another picket line?

Following the government’s shameful announcement that 27 Remploy factories are to close imminently – with a big question mark hanging over the fate of the rest of the sites, Remploy workers took part in their second day of strike action across the UK.

I have been to many picket lines and demonstrations over the years, particularly in relation to my employment with Unite, but today was very different when I joined workers this morning on their picket line outside Remploy Garretts Green.

All 54 Remploy factories are earmarked for closure over the next year to 18 months. A total of 2,800 people, of which around 2,400 are disabled, will be losing their jobs. Finding work in a time of cuts and austerity is difficult enough for most and the strikers I spoke to are all extremely anxious about their futures.

Tyrone has worked at the Garretts Green factory since he was 18 and he has recently jointly bought a bungalow, with his parents. He tells me that in another two months he will have been working there for 30 years but he is unsure if the factory will still be open. Without it, he says, life will be “very difficult”… “who else is going to employ me?” he asks… “With the current unemployment figures rocketing and over a million young people out of work, “who is going to give me, a disabled 50 year old man a job?” Visibly upset, he shakes his head and walks away to wave at the passing cars, many hooting horns in solidarity and support. That puts a smile back on his face.

Valerie, Kerry and Tyrone on the picket line #saveremploy

Irene has worked in this factory for 37years since 1976, starting there at the age of 18. She tells me that without Remploy, she would not have a job, and “she would have no quality of life.”

Valerie has worked at Remploy for 40 years. She is compiling a campaign video and interviewed me the second I arrived. She is hoping to upload it to ‘YouTube’ when it is completed. She shook her head and tells me that she thinks Mr Duncan Smith, Mr Cameron and Ms Miller are very wrong and uneducated. “They need to come and see what work we do, it’s proper work”. She tells me that what they are doing is unfair and is a direct attack against disabled workers. She says “they should hang their heads in shame.”

There lies the real crux of the matter…the work done in Remploy factories across the UK is ‘proper work’. Remploy workers contribute massively to the economy – they pay their national insurance and tax just like any other worker. Remploy workers contribute massively to industry with workers at Garretts Green involved in automotive component assembly for Jaguar Land Rover. It really is real work for real wages. This really is an example of false economy…putting 2,400 disabled workers back onto benefits.

Thousands upon thousands of messages of support and petition signatures have been received but the government does not appear to be listening. It all appears to be part of the ‘game’ being played out in every facet of our society. When you look at the stated rationale behind the closure programme it is typical of this ‘game’ and it embodies the current government’s divide and conquer technique, already deployed widely in the pensions fight with union v union, in the cuts of public services with public v private sectors and now here putting one group of disabled workers against another. The government proposals suggest that the money currently used to subsidise jobs at Remploy should be directed towards supporting other disabled workers seeking jobs and providing funds for employers to recruit them.

We must all stand up and fight hand in hand with Remploy workers. If we allow the government to get away with this sort of attack we must also hang our heads in shame.

Sign the petition for Remploy here.

Irene and Kerry on the picket line #saveremploy