Closing many of the remaining Remploy factories is set to lead to direct action, national protests and even the occupation of the factories by disabled workers, a meeting of campaigners and union activists has heard.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) this week pledged its full support for a campaign against the closures, at a meeting it called to discuss how it could help disabled Remploy workers threatened with losing their jobs.
Les Woodward, Remploy convenor for the GMB union, described the speed of the closures as “absolutely obscene”, with the first of the 36 factories set to close on 4 July, and the rest in the middle of August.
He argued that there was “no economic argument” for closing the factories, as costs had fallen and revenue risen sharply in the last year, with sales revenue set to increase from £104 million in 2010-11 to £116 million in 2011-12, and the cost of running the factory sites due to fall from £68 million to £50 million.
Woodward told the meeting that he believed the remaining 18 Remploy factories would close within a year, even though the government had said it would consult Remploy bosses on whether they could be sold or could survive as social enterprises run by employees.
He said Remploy unions had vowed this week to fight the closures “tooth and nail and with every breath of our body”, and added: “There is going to be a campaign that will involve civil disobedience. We are not going to go out of this quietly.”
Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s steering group, said DPAC was strongly opposed to segregation of disabled people.
But she called for the Remploy factories not to be closed but to be reformed as user-led enterprises because “now is not the time to be making up to 2,000 people unemployed”, while it was non-disabled managers who had failed the Remploy workers.
She said the government had “no interest in an inclusive society whatsoever” and that the way to build an inclusive society was “to build an inclusive education system”, which would ensure disabled people had access to mainstream employment.
She also claimed that “some of the distaste” for the Remploy factories among parts of the disability movement was due to “snobbery” about factory work, and said: “Now is the time to stand behind the Remploy workers. It is not the time to argue amongst ourselves.”
There has been anger among Remploy workers, their unions and some disabled activists over support in large parts of the disability movement for the closure of what they see as “segregated”, “sheltered” factories.
Woodward told the meeting: “We believe that until we reach Utopia and get to a position where employers are willing to take on disabled employees without prejudice… then I am afraid that for some disabled people Remploy will be the preferred option.”
He called for Remploy to be run by disabled people, and said that members of the public were “queuing up” to support their campaign against the closures.
Clifford said she did not believe that the money saved by closing the factories would be spent instead on the Access to Work scheme, as the government had promised.
She added: “We don’t believe money from this is going to go anywhere near Access to Work.”
The DPAC members and union activists at the meeting agreed to hold a high-profile public meeting to oppose the closures on Thursday 19 April in central London, with the possibility of a national day of action, factory occupations and other direct action to follow.
Remploy has been unable to confirm Woodward’s estimates for increased factory revenue but said the fall in costs was due to the impact of the voluntary redundancy programme announced in January 2011.
A Remploy spokesman said the dates for the factory closures mentioned by Woodward were “not fixed”, although he admitted they were “contained in documents which the company is legally bound to provide to the government and which have been given to the unions and management forums”.
He added: “Much will depend on the outcome of the consultation and what steps may be agreed to reduce the number of proposed redundancies and what other strategies might emerge to mitigate redundancies.”
22 March 2012