‘Remploy factory workers strike to save jobs’ or ‘Brixton to Barking by bus’

19 Jul

I decided to travel from Brixton to Barking Remploy by bus in order to confirm for you that it’s probably best to take the train from Fenchurch Station in future or find a good cycle route. At times the 6 different buses I took provided me with a wonderful way of exploring a part of London I am not at all familiar with* – but the duration of 3 hours (I went in the wrong direction at one point which meant it took 6 bus journeys there rather than 5 had I not got lost) meant that by the time I arrived at Barking Remploy mid-afternoon, I’d missed the rally and the picketers were packing up and heading home.

Today’s strike and another strike next Thursday at Remploy factories across the country have been called in response to the government’s announcements that they will close down 27 Remploy factories putting more than 1,700 jobs at risk. The government claims that the factories are loss making and old fashioned. Yet, they don’t hesitate to subsidise their friends in the massively destructive banking sector to the tune of billions. In contrast, Remploy workers make things that are actually useful to society such as furniture for schools and libraries (and also Jaguar car parts and chemical warfare suits). And of course, the hypocrisy of the government cutting jobs when they have spent so much of their time bullying people for being unemployed is unbearable.

Those fighting against job losses are not doing so uncritically. Of course average salaries of £13,800 for shop floor workers do not recognise the time and effort that the workers give. Furthermore, there is the debate about workplace segregation. However, the reality for many workers if they are to lose their jobs, is much worse. As one of my friends who works at Remploy told me, ‘we’ll be put on the scrap heap’. He described his fears of ‘mainstream employment’ after his years of torment with bullying workers who in one incident set his trousers on fire and in another physically attacked him. He described his worries that he wouldn’t be able to live on benefits. And this is all too true in what has become, as Johnny Void puts it, ‘the most brutal manifestation of the Welfare State possibly ever seen in a developed economy’.

Despite arriving so late, I received a wonderful welcome from my friend who works there which made the bus journeys feel worth it. He told me excitedly how the day had been ‘out of this world…it’s been brilliant’. He told me how he had been telling the national media that ‘the government’s behaviour is disgusting and disgraceful’. He’d also done lots of shouting for the rally. Reflecting on the day and his commitment to saving their jobs, he remarked ‘I would stand outside for 24 hours if I had to’.



*Having managed to hide away from the Olympics in south London it was interesting to see their parasitical manifestation in east London – Community support police standing guard on Barking high street, Olympic staff in Olympic uniforms, a corner shop wall turned into a Coca Cola advert with the Olympic rings, bus stop signs warning of changes during the Olympics, a huge union flag on a flag pole at the entrance to a school, Anish Kapoor’s costly contorted metal protruding on east London’s horizon.

I was also interested to see the huge amount of boarded up buildings that we passed – particularly old pubs – this brought to mind Owen Hatherley’s comment from his talk on Journeys through Urban Britain (see blog post below) that the present government are embarking on a ‘project of destruction rather than construction’. There was one striking building that had once been a public baths but was now boarded up with steel – wonderfully located in east London a couple of miles away from the Olympic site revealing the government’s true attitude to sport for ordinary people.



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