Whilst making a YouTube video of an interview with the Sunday Express; an interview that centred on the closures of Remploy factories, Steve Collins did what I've witnessed other Remploy workers and their families do over the years. He shed tears. These tears are a reflection of the very real fears he expresses when talking about his future employment opportunities if Remploy folds.
Some months before the first round of Remploy closures, almost 5-years ago, I witnessed one of the most moving testimonies of just how frightening and stark it is for a disabled person to be told that their factory is closing; and they'd be without of a job.
A severely disabled worker from the, then, Brixton factory stood up, with great effort and dignity, at a meeting in one of the House of Commons committee rooms and shared with the congregation of Remploy workers, union officials and MPs her story.
Shelia (not her real name) told us that she felt more a part of society by going into work and contributing her share. For years she was unemployed, and in those years felt as though she wasn't participating fully to the community in which she lived.
She went on to express the sense of comradeship and family the workplace offered. Work, she said, also gave her independence, affording her social integration. Work not only gave shape and routine to Sheila's life, it also gave her a decent standard of life; whereas, living on benefits would in effect make her a prisoner in her flat, where she lived alone.
She finished by looking at the MPs and saying that if she lost her job at Remploy it would create a big hole in her life. Sheila knew, as most of the other Remploy workers in those grand settings of Westminster, that when the doors of their factories closed they would never again have that feeling of worth that working gives so many; that they would remain unemployed; and slide further and deeper into poverty.
To this day I still believe this was the most passionate and heartfelt speech I've ever heard (and I'm a veteran of dozens of conferences). A speech that not only reached out to people's hearts, but one which, if stripped back, appealed to their sense of what was just plain right. There was not a dry eye in that room on that day, including myself.
Finally, the fact that traditionally the Express and sister paper the Sunday Express have espoused right, and sometimes, far right attitudes politically and socially really brings home just how far the nasty party has lurched to the right.
Thank you Steve Collins for saying what thousands of Remploy workers, past and present, feel. You displayed more dignity in the short YouTube video that Cameron or his ilk could summon up in a lifetime. I, along people like Steve, my Remploy Branch, and other trade union and disability activists will do our best to make sure the factories remain open and jobs secured.