As the Remploy factory in Glasgow shut its doors for the last time, Drew McEwan spoke to disabled workers about their futures
With Christmas around the corner, there’s no let up in the grim future the government has set for disabled workers. Hundreds more workers at Remploy factories are at risk of losing their jobs under fresh closure plans announced last week.
As the factory in Springburn, Glasgow shut down, workers shared their experiences and concerns for the future with Socialist Worker.
“It’s a shame,” said John. “I’m only 50. I’ve got a heart condition. I’ve had two heart attacks and three heart operations. 'Nobody’s going to take me on. I’ll not get anywhere. Not at my age. Not with my conditions.
“The redundancy pay is crap—three weeks. I feel sorry for some of the guys in here. They’ve been here 40 years or more.”
Some 34 factories have already closed since the summer. The last 18 sites will be gone by next April. Alec said, “I’m 51. I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ve got arthritis in my left ankle so I can’t do a lot of standing or walking.
“Doctors have told me I’m 15 percent disabled for life. I was getting my pension every week for industrial injuries. But I ended up here because they kept sending me for medicals, saying I was fit for work.”
But like most Remploy workers Alec’s concern is for the other workers. “A lot of people in here are vulnerable,” he adds. “One man has been in here since he was 16, he’s 59 now. People want to work until they retire but it’s not an option.”
Thomas points out that Remploy was set up for veterans after the Second World War. He says, “I’m 58. I’m an ex-serviceman. I was pensioned out of the army in 1984 after I was injured in a parachute jump.
“Then my arthritis kicked in. Now I just want part time work, just to save me going to the dole.”
The preparation to be out of work is stressful for the workers. John describes the process: “I’ve got all my educational stuff together. I’ve got a psychological report and a psychological education report. They say the problems I’ve got, like dyslexia.”
Pointing to another report he adds, “This one talks about my anti-social disorder where, if I take a turn, I get violent and aggressive. I throw stuff. They’re supposed to give you help to find work but I think as soon as they read these they’ll be like, just sign on, y’know.”
Just like the factories now waiting to be closed, Springburn Remploy was put out to tender, but no buyer could be found. The factories were run down.
According to Alec, “We used to make 150 wheelchairs a week, now we make 20. But this factory makes money. There’s panic buying because people know we’re shutting.”
Alan said, “Why couldn’t we make this work? We could have still kept going, kept some people here. The money they made off the wheelchairs would have paid for it. Any money that was made could be put back in. There was no need for this.”
Instead of guaranteeing a future, the factory’s assets have been sold off. “The process was left open for any entrepreneur to come in and take advantage,” said Alan. “They can say, I want this bit and this bit but not this bit. And that’s what they’ve done.”
The employer’s support for Remploy workers is minimal and Alan is angry. “You have the audacity of Remploy sending out a leaflet saying if you’ve any problem with debt call this number,” he said. “If you have any problem with the way you’re feeling or stress, call this number.
“So you’re going to talk to somebody on the other end of a phone who you don’t actually know rather than talking to somebody in your work.
“Some people with health conditions and mental health issues don’t understand what’s happening. What have they got after they leave here? This is a way of life for some of them.”
The fight to save the factories has been hard. According to Alec, “The union’s between a rock and a hard place. It had this thing at the start to fight for jobs. We thought some people would stay here.”
Workers protested and struck against the factory closures. But the action was called off for a promise of talks. The unions then promised a big campaign during the Paralympics—but it never came.
Remploy workers were let down by the Labour government, which started the first wave of factory closures. They’ve been let down by the coalition, which is finishing the job.
They’ve been let down by Remploy itself as they prepare for life on the dole. But they’ve also been let down by the people who should have been fighting to defend them—their trade union leaders.