For the past sixty years, Remploy has offered skilled work to disabled workers who otherwise would, frankly, have been dumped in a corner and forgotten about by capitalist employers.
Now the government plans to close half the 83 factories that offer their unique contribution from Aberdare to York. Remploy currently employs about 5,000 in its factories.
Phil Davies, GMB National Secretary, has summed up the situation well in a sharp satire of Kinnock’s ‘anti-Militant’ speech in 1986. "We have the grotesque chaos of a Labour government, yes a Labour government, scuttling around delivering redundancy notices to disabled workers in 43 Remploy factories."
Remploy was set up after the Second World War to teach disabled workers a skill and give them a purpose and sense of dignity to their working lives. The rundown of the service began under Thatcher, when the Ministry of Defence was instructed to outsource work formerly offered to Remploy. This was ironic, since many of the Remploy workers were ex-service people who had been injured fighting for their country. As ever New Labour is anxious to finish what Thatcher began.
At the same time the government is trying to cull the numbers on incapacity benefit because they are sick or disabled. They believe 800,000 to a million are employable if they are helped. So now they’re kicking the ladder from under these people. Not really joined up government!
If the workers are sacked, where are they supposed to go? Prejudice and discrimination is going to count against them in the labour market. In many cases their skills will be lost forever.
The workers have launched an imaginative crusade against the sackings. If you see their Mr. Blobby, show him your support!
The crusade demonstrated outside charity shops MIND and Scope in Bournemouth in the week of Labour Party Conference. The charities argue that all Remploy workers should be sacked and the factories closed down to integrate them into the wider work force! Under capitalism there are no guarantees of a job, particularly for the disabled. The unions believe disabled workers should be offered the choice of mainstream or ‘segregated’ employment.
At the Party Conference the government appeared to climb down and pronmised to consult. Now they’re saying they ‘only’ want to close or merge 28 factories. But Remploy have carried out no assessment as to whether the workers can be put into mainstream employment.
Whether it is better for disabled people to be integrated into the workforce generally is a decision each and every disabled person must take. But we should not let them kill off an opportunity for learning a skill that has served so many so well in the past. Closing factories down is not ‘choice’.
When Remploy was set up, Britain was a desperately poor country, bankrupted by the War. We could afford it then. We can certainly afford it now.