Dan, up until last autumn I was the Branch Secretary for the Remploy London factories, a position I held for some 16 years. During this entire period I spent my time representing disabled workers in disciplinarians and grievances; I assisted with the application of social security benefits all the way through to appeal stage.
Over this period I got to know Remploy workers in London and around the country very well. In times of strife and struggle our Branch answered the call. When 13-years ago we needed bodies for a 24-hour vigil outside parliament to stop a proposed closure of anything up to 16 factories, the 1971 Remploy Branch sent along its members; a couple of us braved the freezing February weather staying out for the complete period.
Margaret Hodge, the Minister for Disabled People at the time, called the unions and company to a meeting a few days later where a moratorium on closures was imposed. The upshot of this was that a couple of sites did close, but their workforces were subsumed into local factories.
We were at the Emirates several years ago fighting for a new factory for the Holloway Remploy Comrades displaced by the new Arsenal ground. When I say we, I mean the trade union movement. Hundreds of non-Remploy union activists turned up on that Saturday and helped get the message across to the Remploy board that they had a duty to spend the money received from the Gunners to re-house their employees.
Within weeks they had a replacement factory a couple of miles away off Green Lanes, Finsbury Park. Without the sell-out trade unions this factory would have gone to the wall.
Further evidence of perfidious trade union action can be traced back to August 2007 when those back-stabbing bastards from the union side of the Remploy Consortium launched a nations-wide crusade to save thousands of their members' jobs. Over a number of months a coach made its way from Aberdeen to Penzance visiting every Remploy factory, and garnering support along the way. The crusade culminated at the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth, where thousands and thousands of trade unionists from around the UK and Ireland to lend their voices to those of their Remploy Comrades.
In addition to the crusade Remploy Branches and factories in towns throughout England, Scotland and Wales organised their own rallies and demos throughout 2007 and 2008. I know as I travelled thousands of miles criss-crossing the countries from Stirling to Poole and Cardiff to Norwich joining thousands of other trade union activists in our fight to save the jobs of our disabled Comrades.
Sadly Labour did not listen; and the following year 30 factories. Of course this made it easy for the Tories to come along a few years later and finish the job; and despite the Sayce Report that hammered home the last nails in the Remploy coffin, the trade union movement still brought the fight to the government, arranging lobbies in parliament, setting up meetings of Friends of Remploy MPs to listen to Remploy workers' concerns. The 1971 Branch held a public meeting with a top table full of Remploy workers past and present who gave heart stirring testimonies of their working lives in Remploy; how they had fought every form of adversity before coming to work at Remploy; and how a sense of uselessness descended upon them as their factory gate slammed shut in 2008. One Comrade solemnly admitted to having become suicidal such was his feeling of hopelessness for the future.
To say the unions let down Remploy is both a lie and a slur on the character of all the disabled trade unionists who fought until they could fight no longer against the forces of intransigent ideology.