On Monday night over 40 people attended the Barking Remploy support meeting organised by Remploy workers, Disabled People Against Cuts, and the Right to Work campaign.
The meeting brought together Remploy workers and their families with other trade unionists students and anti-cuts campaigners from across East London and beyond. They heard just what the vicious attacks will mean for those who face being thrown on the scrapheap by the Tory plans to close or dispose of all 54 Remploy workplaces.
Mark Holloway the GMB rep for the Barking site said: “If these closures go through it will be an absolute disaster. They say jobs at Remploy cost £25k per disabled person but we have over 400 middle management on £40-60k a year.”
“5 minutes before I was due to clock off today I was told most of the Barking workforce will be leaving the factory on 18 August. It’s all been planned to go on while the Olympics is on. Tony Collins one of Julie’s (Barking Unite rep and chair of Monday’s meeting) members was a torch bearer. How are they going to pay him back? Throw him out of work.”
Mark was followed by local anti-cuts councillor George Barratt who explained, “I was a Labour councillor, I couldn’t agree with the cuts so I resigned from the Labour Party.”
George went on to describe the response he got after writing to local Labour MP Margaret Hodge asking for her support in the fight to save Remploy. Far from offering her backing for the campaign Hodge simply accepted the closure as fact and extended her offer to, “assist with any effort to help them find new employment.”
Next came Linda Bartle from Visteon who explained about the occupation in 2009.
“We marched into the plant and we barricaded ourselves in…I was quite prepared to be arrested…to stay to the end for the young ones.”
“A week after the occupation the convenor was taken to the high court. We marched out peacefully and barricaded the gates for 48 days and nights.”
“We were awarded our redundancy…if you don’t fight you don’t win”
Paul, also from Visteon added, “The sit in’s at Belfast, Basildon and Enfield were crucial. By the seventh week it was hitting Ford production.”
Rob Williams from the NSSN argued, “It’s essential that we open the books about how these directors have mis-run this company.”
The final speaker, Ian Bradley, rank and file electrician and Right to Work campaign, retold the story of how the electricians’ militancy and organisation forced Balfour Beatty and another 7 big construction companies to back down from an attempt to cut pay by 35% and re-write terms and conditions.
He explained how the sparks pushed the fight forward, turning protests into picket lines and calling their own protests and meetings when the union was slow to respond to the bosses’ attacks.
Contributions from the floor reflected the anger of Remploy workers and their families but also the huge level of support for their fight to save the factory. Solidarity messages from a number of trade union branches were delivered and campaigners pledged to join the picket lines for Thursday’s strike action. Neil, the brother of Remploy worker Tony Collins, summed up the mood of the meeting when he said, “Cameron needs a kick up the arse”.