Val Graham, Chesterfield CLP, on the Remploy workers’ struggle
With only eighteen factories left open, Remploy workers and their unions, GMB and Unite, are continuing the fight for a future for supported employment and jobs for disabled people. To date 2,000 workers have lost their jobs because of factory closures. Despite the pouring rain, delegates to Labour Conference couldn’t miss the Remploy lobby. Some delegates stopped to help give out leaflets and collect money. A number of MPs, including Katy Clark and Dennis Skinner, showed their support. Remploy supporters also travelled to Birmingham to lobby on the last day of Tory Party Conference.
In Scotland unions are pressing for the Scottish Government to step in and keep Remploy factories open. First Minister Alex Salmond did this previously in 2010 by agreeing a funding package to save the Glencraft workshop in Aberdeen and the jobs of blind and disabled people – this is now a thriving enterprise.
Chesterfield workers were in the middle of their second week of strike action when they were informed that their factory, along with the Springburn factory had been sold to RLINK. The businessman who now owns this company held a contract with Chesterfield to supply orthopaedic shoes that he sold to the NHS at a profit. The Springburn factory also manufactures medical equipment. Unions have been kept out of decision-making on the terms of sale. Simon Webster’s business plan has not been shared with them. Unions are alarmed by reports of a recent visit to China. They continue to fear job losses and changes to pay, conditions and pensions.
After the announcement, Mr Webster went to visit Springburn and was greeted by a walkout of workers. The Chesterfield strikers held a mass meeting and agreed a further eight days of strikes which were due to start on October 10th. The threat of further action seems to have prompted management to open discussions with unions so the strike has been postponed for at least a week.
The LRC fringe meeting at Labour Party conference raised £62 for the Remploy workers’ hardship fund