One Year Since Remploy Factories Closed

GMB, the union for ex Remploy staff, commented on the first anniversary of the closure of the last of the 51 of 54 Remploy factories that shut down.

Remploy had 54 factories at Aberdare, Aberdeen, Abertillery, Acton, Ashington, Barking, Barrow, Birkenhead, Birmingham, Blackburn, Bolton, Bridgend, Bristol, Burnley, Chesterfield, Cleator Moor, Clydebank, Coventry, Cowdenbeath, Croespenmaen, Derby, Dundee, Edinburgh, Gateshead, Heywood, Huddersfield, Leeds, Leicester, Leven, Manchester, Merthyr Tydfil, Motherwell, Neath Port Talbot, Newcastle, North London, North Staffordshire, Norwich, Oldham, Penzance, Pontefract, Poole, Porth, Portsmouth, Preston, Sheffield, Southampton, Spennymoor, Springburn, Stirling, Sunderland, Swansea, Wigan,Worksop and Wrexham. All but 3 closed. Rempower Ltd took over the Remploy Automotive factories in Birmingham, Coventry and Derby.

GMB conducted a survey of ex Remploy workers earlier this year that showed only one in four was employed and most were working shorter hours and on less pay. Jerry Nelson, GMB National Officer said, “It is now one year since the final day of the Remploy factory closures, over 2700 disabled workers had their lives destroyed by this Government’s callous and thoughtless attack on the disabled workers, workers who relied on their employment to maintain their sense of independence working in an environment of protected equality. The factories were a sheltered environment and for many of these workers it was their only connection with life outside of their own homes.

What people need to remember is that not one single disabled worker within the factories were asked how they would feel about the closures. We should know better than to expect that the thoughts or feelings of any worker could ever be considered by a right wing coalition government whose only aim is to feed the rich and greedy by bending the rules and taxation policies to benefit their kind. Disabled workers had their lives destroyed for what, so the top rate of tax could be cut from 50% to 45% giving the all the Conservatives and their friends another £50,000 a year in their pockets on every million pounds they earn.

Is this everyone sharing the burden of austerity? We have a huge percentage of those members made redundant sat at home depressed and isolated from any forms of social interaction or inclusion. These are not there by choice. Unfortunately in many areas the economic climate is still depressed so there are not the jobs out there for able bodied workers so what chance a worker with severe learning or physical disabilities. We will never forget or forgive this atrocious attack on the most vulnerable members of this union by this government. They used the Sayce Report and RADAR, Mind, Mencap, Scope, RNID and Leonard Cheshire as “Trojan horses” to close the Remploy factories.

Radar characterised Remploy as some out of date solution stigmatising it as a form of ghettoisation. These organisations started with an aspiration we all share where all disabled people are treated in an equal way in employment and that ideal state may lead to a completely different view of what support is required. This is the outcome when disabled charities made “the best” the enemy of the “good”. They started with resolutions that will not be achieved in the short run. They were then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and they went through the years sticking to that ignoring real needs, and they end in the grotesque chaos of disabled charities – disabled charities – used as Trojan horses to sack disabled workers in 51 locations across the UK.

The Tories knew what they were doing using these “useful idiots” who were party to this attack on disabled workers. GMB will never forget the role of and RADAR, Mind, Mencap, Scope, RNID and Leonard Cheshire.”

There will be a social for ex Remploy workers at the GMB Sheffield office on Friday, 31st October 2014 starting at 4pm with organiser Bob McNeill the host. For further details please contact Bob on 0114 276 8017.

Former consortium member, convenor at Remploy Sheffield, GMB Regional and Central Executive Member James Stribley said, “A year ago today the last Remploy factory officially shut its doors. That was a sad day for me and thousands of other working people across the country. Since I left school at 16, I’d worked at Remploy Sheffield, starting out as a welder and in recent years representing fellow workers as a GMB trade union convenor. For a lot of us at Remploy, the factories offered secure employment, the dignity of work and a workplace that understood our circumstances.

I stood on the picket lines as factories started to close with people who were terrified about life after Remploy – people who knew that, especially in a time of high unemployment, they just weren’t going to get another job. They were leaving a job they loved for a life of ATOS, ESA (and any manner of other acronyms you might want to name) and being told by this government that they’re scroungers. Some of them were even hit by the Bedroom Tax as the government effectively sacked them. And unfortunately, the fears of many Remploy workers were realised.

When I spoke to the people I used to represent earlier this year, half of them were still out of work and a good chunk chose to retire instead of struggling on. A GMB survey showed that only a quarter of the workers I represented had managed to find a job but of those, quite a few were on part-time, agency and zero hours contracts that offered little security. Personally, as some people will have read in a blog I wrote post Lord Freud’s comments, I’ve gone from doing skilled work to holding down a couple of jobs on zero hours contracts, one of which is to steward football games on a Saturday including at the brilliant New York stadium in Rotherham. But, as a Sheffield United fan, it’s punishment enough to have to steward Leeds United games, but at the same time I know that every game is one week closer to potentially ending up back on the dole.

My story isn’t unique. This is what real life is like for people like me now because whether we like it or not, employers are less likely to employ a disabled worker than someone without a disability. 
So for all the government guff about people needing to get a job (and that’s polite language for Labour List, it might be slightly saltier on the shop floor…), what this government did with Remploy was to throw thousands of people who had jobs, who were skilled and who were ready, willing and able to work at the worst onto the scrap heap and at best into a very long dole queue. I’m glad Labour have said they’ll look at supported work schemes again but I hope they’ll work with us too to make work, rights and pay for disabled people fit for the 21st century.

With a little help, and like has been done at places like Enabled Works in Leeds, we can give real hope to people who are feeling the brunt of this government’s cuts agenda at every turn. If Labour stands with us, we’ll stand with you. We’re not looking for a hand-out, we’re looking for a hand up.”

Contact; Jerry Nelson on 07958 156846

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