Christ, am I pissed off! A little while back this evening I received a call from a friend; and we fell into discussing things that I'd let slip due to a recent illness. On 19th March I was invited to a meeting, which due to a prior engagement I was unable to attend, held by a number of Left Movement groups to discuss the situation at Remploy. These groups included DPAC and Right to Work.
From Tuesday until yesterday, Sunday, I was ill; so had no opportunity to talk to people, although from time to time I did check my emails. There were a few things coming up which I made a note of, especially the stuff occurring in the evenings, as they'd not interfere with work.
So, a little way into our chat my friend tells me that a meeting to discuss the Remploy factory closures had been agreed and would take place on 20th April at ULU. Agreed by whom? I asked, curious since I am the Secretary of Unite's L&E 1971 Remploy Branch, the largest existing Branch in London. My friend couldn't answer exactly. Was it RL or LW, I queried.
He did tell me that John McDonnell and Mark Sirwotka were to be present; but was not sure who exactly the organisers were.
As a Branch Secretary of long standing, 15-years, I've been involved in hundreds of meetings, actions, demos, pickets and rallies involving Remploy. Back in February 2000 I took part in a 24-hour vigil outside Parliament, at which I nearly froze to death while escaping arrest by inches.
In 2006 we marched on the mighty Emirates Stadium in defence of the Holloway factory; and we got decent football loving Gooners behind our cause. The company capitulated and gave us a new factory a couple of miles away in Green Lanes near to Finsbury Park.
Through 2007 and into 2008 along with other disabled Remploy Comrades I criss-crossed the UK attending demos, rallies and picket lines in Wales, Scotland and England. Despite the tears and looks of despair on the faces of those losing their jobs, we fought on; because we knew our cause was right.
Sadly, and along ideological lines, a Labour government betrayed thousands of disabled workers and cruelly closed their factories. It is hard to fully capture in words the sense of hopelessness I saw on the faces of decent workers who knew once they clocked out that last time in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Cardiff, or any of the other twenty-odd sites around the country; that this would be their last experience of waged employment.
Standing in front of forty-some people at the Brixton site was one of the hardest things I've ever experienced. The stewards in the factory had asked me to come to a meeting as they were getting a lot of grief from the membership, and non-members too. My role was to listen to the members, and to defend the stewards.
Alas, the meeting was acrimonious. People were, very naturally, upset that they would soon be unemployed. They were, as to be expected, concerned for their futures.
So, for a little while I allowed people to vent their anger, and fears. We were in a lose lose situation; and I was certainly not going to inflame the situation with insensitivities.
However, after the first flush of pass the blame, one of our members shouted "Where were the unions. What did you do to stop the closure?" At this point I became a wee bit pissed off. The man who posed the question was well known for stirring things up in the workplace; yet conspicuous by his absence at every single event we had arranged; whether marching on the Emirates; visiting Parliament; or even coming out on a Saturday morning to do some leafleting in Brixton High Street.
"Where were you 'X'?" I replied. "You're part of the union. So are you; and you are too; and you as well" I pointed out to some of the others who had been invisible during the campaign - incidentally, these were people who had fairly good physical and mental capacity.
Then I started to name people who had poured their hearts and souls into the campaign. These were the people who should be thanked I explained. Instead, you pour blame upon them. At this point people began to applaud; and I noticed members clapping the stewards and chief activists on the back; while others sheepishly extended a hand for shaking.
We all from time to time need to let off steam. Sometimes it's a bit too scalding; that's when the coolness of a friendly and understanding touch on the shoulder or shake of the hand is worth a million smiles. People walked away from that meeting on that day, still sad; but with a feeling of a happiness carried out.
Our Branch has been active for over 16-years and during that time we've contributed in both money and solidarity to hundreds of causes from making a small contribution to the fire-fighters who laid down their lives the day the Twin Towers collapsed to requests for support and solidarity to industrial actions up and down the land, and beyond. And, if we last another 16 we'll carry on the tradition.
Members of the L&E 1971 Remploy Branch are appreciative of any help and support given to them by sister organisations within the Movement. This extends to DPAC and Right to Work who recently invited us to a meeting to discuss ways to counter the Remploy factory closures, three of which are in London. Thank you.
Most of you on the left will be familiar with the old disability saying "Nothing about us without us". This is how the 1971 Branch feels at the moment. Events and meetings are being arranged with no notification to either the Chair or Secretary of the Branch - I learned of a 'Fight Remploy Closures Meeting' from a Comrade this evening. When pressed for some answers to questions, I thought were quite reasonable given the circumstances, he could not tell me who had booked the meeting; who had sent out invitations to speakers; or indeed whether anyone from Remploy had a coordinating role in the event.
With a bit of digging I found the meeting on Google - just a date (which happened to be wrong!) and a venue were sufficient clues to tracking down the info. Looks like a good gig. John McDonnell, Lez Woodward, Gail Cartmail amongst the speakers; but nobody from Remploy in London - as though we don't count. More digging found that DPAC was also holding an event in Remploy's name on 18th April. On top of all this the Trade Unions have organised a march and rally from the DWP in Tothill Street to Old Palace Yard in Westminster at noon on Friday 20th April.
Have since spoken to people involved in the meeting. Maybe this will have a reasonable outcome.