For the past couple of Thursdays I have been dropping in on my nearby Remploy picket line. Like many others it is faced with imminent closure - and my local factory is a small one that has been deemed 'uneconomic' for quite a while. The workers there are solid in their support for the strike - nearly all of them have been on the pickets - but in truth they don't seem to be holding out for much more than a decent redundancy. Although they are still pinning some hopes on the union fighting it out in the courts.
I've seen quite a few picket lines over the years - but I don't think I've ever seen one where there was a stronger sense of 'solidarity' between the workers. And I don't mean solidarity in the hack-sense of jargon-ese but of genuine mutual care and awareness for each other. It may be says something about the undeniably special aspect of Remploy workplaces.
It's a special something that the Tories who are effectively now withdrawing funding for Remploy have no respect for. Whilst also adding insult to injury with a hypocritical spin that this is not about austerity but about better 'integration' of disabled workers who will now be supported by charities and quangos to gain work in 'mainstream' workplaces.
Talking to the people on the picket yesterday they reckon that only a third of current Remploy employees will be able to hold down work in these 'mainstream' workplaces. The rest simply won't be able to get the levels of support they require - and so will join the ranks of those who are having to navigate their way around the increasingly punitive benefits system for disabled people who can't work. Most of all though - they said that they will all lose the sense of identity and mutual support that working together at Remploy has given them.
In giving these workers our support - it is not at all a question of patronisation or condescension - the rest of us could quite simply learn a thing or two from them in terms of solidarity and class pride.