Last Thursday striking Remploy members closed production down for a second day of industrial action at factories threatened with closure across the country.
In Barking the sun shone, music played and passing cars, lorries and buses hooted. The workers were joined in solidarity by their families, union members, and disability activists. Paul was in fine voice as he led the chants of Maria Miller Factor Killer and “What do we want? Jobs! When do we want them? Now!” A waste collector asked “Are you striking every Thursday now?” before adding “No worries, I’ll come back tomorrow”.
For all the positive, supportive mood on the Barking picket line, workers and their families are deeply upset by the proposed date of closure of 18th August. They feel especially aggrieved at the way their voices have been ignored, by disability organisations supporting the closures, by government ministers and MPS who have failed to respond to the numerous letters written by the workers and their families and by the shambolic nature of the flawed and inaccessible 90 day consultation.
Paul, was keen to share his experiences of working for Remploy, first at the Woolwich factory which closed in 2008 and then at Barking. Instead of going on terms and conditions as other Woolwich workers chose, Paul wanted to keep working and was transferred to the Barking factory, enduring a two and a half hour journey through rush hour each way each day until he was eventually able to relocate housing nearer his workplace. Paul still carries a photo of the Woolwich factory on his mobile phone. He feels that having lost Woolwich, losing Barking as well with no other job to go to will be unbearable.
Cathy Collins, mother of one of the workers, spoke about rising levels of disability hate crime in the area. Her other son works for a local leisure centre and is frequently the victim of abuse and harassment from members of the public accessing his workplace. During a recent incident a man known to Cathy’s family who happened to be in the leisure centre intervened as two young men verbally taunted the son with the outcome that the man trying to protect her son ended up being arrested. Cathy’s letters to Iain Duncan Smith about the value of the Remploy factories have been ignored.
Unfortunately for all the concerns voiced by the Remploy workers and their families and for all the public support these have elicited, the Government are still determined to pursue their decision to close 27 of the 54 factories before December making thousands of disabled workers jobless.
There are talks of a third day of strikes to take place on 6th August. Watch this space for more information…
Every girl and every boy,
Turned up to save Remploy,
‘Cause no-where else,
They could be employed.
Some say ‘Remploy is a soft choice’,
But they won’t listen to our voice,
It ain’t our first choice,
It’s just a place,
Where people understand us,
Let us go at our own pace.
Some say Remploy costs too much money,
That’s a thing that I find funny,
‘Cause ain’t they going to be paying anyway,
For unemployment benefit pay?
When we all go to the JCP,
We’ll all feel so destroyed,
As we all look back to the job we now lack,
We’ll remember Remploy.
All of us we’ll remember Remploy,
As it filled all our hearts with such joy,
How it kept so many disabled employed,
We’ll remember Remploy.
Lyrics by Peter Hawes, Remploy worker, and Konstantja, DPAC