Remploy strike - solid defiance of Con Dem closure plans
"Save Remploy! Sack the Con-Dems!"
Pickets were out at all nine Remploy plants in Wales as workers struck against the immediate closure of 27 plants (five in Wales) plus threats of closure to the rest. The Con Dems government is trying to destroy Remploy as a public sector industry that provides meaningful and useful employment to disabled workers.
"There is a fantastic turnout on the Remploy picket line in Swansea this morning (right). Nearly all of the shop floor is here and they've been joined by trade unionists, anti-cuts campaigners and Socialist Party members.
"Pickets are bitter towards the Con-Dem government - Spencer showed me his T-shirt with 'Maria Miller Factory Killer' on the front and an attack on Ian Duncan Smith (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) on the back (below). Duncan Smith remember showed how out of touch the Con-Dems are with his comments about Remploy workers should get proper jobs instead of making tea all day. The Swansea plant makes office furniture not tea. Steve's comments about the Con-Dems are unprintable!"
There was a more mixed reaction to the proposals of the Welsh Government to subsidise employers to take on redundant Remploy workers. While some pickets thought the proposals might provide a way for local authorities to co-operate in continuing to run the Welsh factories but there was concern that there is not enough detail and that the amounts made available might not be enough.
Other pickets pointed out that in order for the Welsh Government to subsidise a private employer to take them on they would need to find a job in the first place - no easy task with unemployment rising in Wales and even harder for disabled people - and that there is no guarantee that it would be of similar skills, terms and wages to their current positions.
Jean Curtis, recipient of an award for 30 years' long service, doesn't want to leave Remploy and there is no logic to the decision to close Remploy. Neil and other workers feel their organisation has been deliberately run down for years, softening it up for closure and privatisation of the most profitable parts. They told me that the Swansea plant could be profitable in its second year if operational changes the workers themselves have highlighted were carried out; in the alternative strategy developed by the Remploy trade unions, they estimate that the whole organisation could balance the books by 2017/2018, while providing work for 2,000 disabled people.
Jean told the South Wales Evening Post what she thought of being thanked for 30 years service before being sacked "I'm disgusted. I don't care what Iain Duncan Smith says, there is nothing out there, especially for disabled people. I know lots of people who finished at Remploy in 2008. They would be glad to come back if the place was open because there are no jobs out there."
"About 20 workers at Bridgend, site of the first Remploy factory in UK, both GMB and Unite, on one of the most friendly and jovial picket lines I've ever been on."
The factory employs 46 so this represents half the workforce, and the only people that have gone into the factory are one manager and a HR representative.
Mike Ahearn, Unite Workshop Rep, said "Most of the workers here are skilled and have specialised talents, the government want to waste that and have them stacking shelves in Tescos... The workers came up with a business plan and put in a bid to take over the factory and run it themselves - that was rejected outright in favour of a rival bidder... We have to keep fighting, we have had support on the picket from PCS members, the local MP, and a message of support from Carwyn Jones. Every bit of support we receive gives us a boost. All workers are under attack from this government at the moment so we all have to stick together."
Close to forty people - over half the factory's workforce, crowded outside the Porth plant this morning on the first day of strike action. Porth is one of two factories in Wales in "Phase Two" of the government's plan to destroy Remploy. Porth, which is an e-cycle data-erasure facility, will be sold off to a private company to pick apart.
Geoff Hollinshead, GMB rep at Porth said "They keep on saying in the press that our factory in Porth is safe. It's not safe. We're under threat of being TUPEd over, asset stripped and left without even a redundancy payment.
"The strike has been very well supported here - and nationally. Nobody's crossed in Porth - they wouldn't dare, with how strongly we feel about it. We should have taken strike action sooner.
"We haven't even begun to fight yet, not tidy. If they think they can take my job and leave me without even a decent redundancy package - they'd better watch this space."
Picketing union members remarked on how strike action will help to cut across government propaganda that closing Remploy would be good for disabled people.
"Hopefully the public will say 'If disabled people will benefit from the closure, then why are we going on strike?'" said one worker, who has worked at the plant for over thirty years.
Others pointed out how easily the organisation could be made more effective and efficient. "It's not like the work isn't there - we've got too much work for the current workforce. We need a few more key operators to run the production lines," said Robert, another veteran.
"They're setting us up to fail," said another. "If all the government wanted was for us to break even, why don't they let us sell the reconditioned machines? Why aren't we allowed to sell the scrap? There's nickel, gold and other metals in the hard-drives we scrub."
Cardiff Trades Council and Youth Fight for Jobs were well-received. There are jobseekers on workfare placements in the factory.
Labour's Shadow Welsh Secretary, Owen Smith, visited the picket-line briefly with Labour Assembly Member Leighton Andrews, but the workforce was dubious of how genuine the pledge of support was. Porth Remploy began their campaign against closures when Labour were in power, and closed the nearby Treforest factory.
Leighton Andrews explained that the Welsh Government will give grants to private companies to try and encourage them to employ disabled workers. They had asked for the Remploy budget to be delegated to Wales but the ConDems refused. The Socialist Party thinks that the Remploy factories can be saved by a campaign of strike action including solidarity from the rest of the trade union movement, but the Welsh Assembly should pledge to fund the factories if the government pulls the plug and campaign publicly for more funding.
A brilliant mood on the picket line (right). As Mandy Webb GMB rep explained, the whole workforce came out and is doing picket duty. Staff members came out as well - only the HR manager sneaked in early before the pickets arrived.
The Socialist Party leaflet was well received and pickets gave them out to cars and passers by.
Good mood in Aberdare too. 16 pickets, all the workers not on sick leave are picketing.
Despite not being included in this round of proposed closures nearly 40 pickets were present at the Baglan Remploy factory this morning. Unite trade union banners and flags decorated the factory entrance and the mood of the strikers was one of anger that the ConDems are blatantly attacking the jobs of disabled workers.
Our support and leaflets were much appreciated by the strikers.
Pickets were out in force at Croespenmaen near Blackwood in Gwent (left). Both GMB and UNITE had a strong presence. The factory makes boxes and has been very busy. One of five Remploy factories around the country making boxes, it is the only one currently earmarked for closure despite having local customers which Remploy will lose if if the factory closes.
The picketline started early in Merthyr. A number of the workforce couldn't wait to be doing something. People passing by to go to other workplaces on the estate hooted their horns in support. One shouted, "I'm going hungry for you," because he would normally come to use the Remploy canteen at dinnertime. The mood on the picketline was high, with the entire shop floor workforce planning to picket throughout the day in shifts. But there was also a sense that this was the last ditch. Something had to change or it would all be over.
Merthyr Remploy workers make double glazed windows. As at all the other Remploy factories, the quality of the work is high. Workers at the plant know that there could be plenty of work for the factory from public sector procurement. The government - and through them Remploy management - would just have to be forced to take work back into Remploy factories. The plan to close the factories isn't about the economics - it's an ideological attack on the public sector.
Remploy workers are striking to save their plants. The rest of the trade union movement has to provide the solidarity to ramp up the pressure on government before it's too late.
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