In a shocking example of its free-market savagery, the Government is closing 28 of the 83 Remploy factories, which employ disabled workers to make work-wear products in a unionised workplace with union-agreed terms and conditions and rates of pay. Meanwhile, it is outsourcing more and more work, putting up “for sale” signs at factories not yet closed and using “modernisation” funds to push for voluntary redundancies at the factories that are remaining open.
On 6 and 7 February, workers at the Remploy factories in Birkenhead and Aintree went on strike against the redundancies; on 13 and 14 February they were joined by workers in York. There are further strikes planned for the 21st and 22nd, and the action will continue after that, with five further official strike ballots in the pipeline and more likely. Ballot results are expected shortly from Remploy factories in Hartlepool, St Helens, Treforest, Ystradgynlais near Swansea and Bryanamman in South Wales.
New Labour had promised a change in policy on the closures, but quickly reneged on this. New Labour’s tactics managed to prevent a majority voting for action across the whole company, but workers at the factories in Merseyside (Liverpool and Birkenhead) took the initiative and delivered huge majorities for strikes.
The Merseyside Association of Trades Union Councils has played an important role in preventing other groups of workers from crossing the picket lines at Remploy. The question now is whether whether the Remploy workers can develop the confidence to push the action further - for instance by occupying factories due for closure. This is not a strategy likely to find favour with the leaderships of the T&G and GMB; but it is hard to see what else can stop the closures. Solidarity is an urgent necessity.
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