‘Maria Miller, factory killer’: Remploy rally chants ring out at Manchester Town Hall protest

By Ian Silvera

A demonstration by hundreds of Remploy workers against the government’s proposal to close 36 Remploy factories took place outside Manchester Town Hall today.

The Consortium of Trade Unions – made up of GMB, UNITE and Community Union – attacked the government’s plan, suggesting that at least 1,700 staff could face compulsory redundancy.

The factories employ people who are disabled and who, because of their ailments, would not be employed elsewhere.

The protestors waved banners with slogans such as ‘stop the Con-Dem government’s cuts’ and ‘save jobs for disabled people’ in front of the historic town hall this afternoon.

Co-organiser Joe Smith argued that the government should seek to re-modernise the Remploy factories and not close or sell off the sites.

The 55-year-old said: “Remploy is a community – a place where vulnerable, disabled [people] go to work.”

Mr Smith monitors CCTV as part of his Remploy work and was angered at the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Ian Duncan Smith’s comment that Remploy workers ‘just make cups of coffee’.

The Union organiser said the Secretary of State had no idea of what Remploy factories actually do and explained that their work, among other things, involved making furniture and protective suits for the Armed Services.

Workers came from factories across the country were represented at the Manchester demonstration.

Remploy Leeds factory worker Tony Gledhlill came to Manchester to show his solidarity to fellow Remploy workers who are facing potential job cuts.

The 44-year-old has worked for Remploy for 27 years and despite his four disabilities – 85% deafness in one ear, high blood press and joint problems – he enjoys his work.

“What work can I do without Remploy?” he said. “I can’t even carry my shopping bags.”

Mr Gledhlill expressed that he felt Remploy was more than just a business, it is a family.

When a colleague’s husband passed away, for example, Mr Gledhill let the widow stay at his house for three months.

At 12.45pm the demonstration left the outside of Manchester Town Hall and headed towards the group’s public meeting at Britannia Sachas Hotel in Piccadilly.

Chants of ‘Maria Miller, factory killer’ began to erupt from the crowd, referring to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Minister for the Disabled Maria Miller who has supported the Remploy closures, as the protestors marched through Lloyd Street and onto the Northern Quarter.

On Fountain Street the group met up with a black ‘stop the Con-Dem cuts’ transit van which accompanied the demonstration until they reached the Britannia Sachas Hotel.

Hundreds packed into a conference hall to the Consortium of Trade Unions’ public meeting.

GMB Regional Secretary Paul McCarthy chaired and opened the meeting and introduced Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd.

Mr Lloyd expressed his disgust at the Minister for Work and Pensions Chris Grayling who once compared Manchester to the American television series The Wire and pledged to not touch Remploy factories in opposition.

The Labour MP said: “He (Chris Grayling) stood on your heads and lied through his teeth.”

Mr Lloyd said to the hundreds in attendance that they should echo their message around the country and also expressed how proud he was at those who had turned up to the demonstration.

GMB Union National Officer Phil Davies broke the news to members from the joint demonstration that The Consortium of Trade Unions are seeking to ballot their members for industrial action over Remploy factory closures.

Mr Davies said that the unions could now see a chink in the government’s armour and vowed to keep fighting for Remploy employees.

He added: “Yesterday we looked hard and asked ourselves if Remploy was worth fighting for.

“We all came to the conclusion that it is worth fighting for.”

It is estimated that the closure of the remaining 36 Remploy factories would possibly put 1,700 people out of work.

The 36 Remploy factories due to close include: Aberdare, Aberdeen, Abertillery, Acton, Ashington, Barking, Barrow, Birkenhead, Bolton, Bridgend, Bristol, Chesterfield, Cleator Moor, Croespenmaen, Edinburgh, Gateshead, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Merthyr Tydfil, Motherwell, Newcastle, North London, North Staffs, Oldham, Penzance, Pontefract, Poole, Preston, Southampton, Spennymoor, Springburn, Swansea, Wigan, Worksop and Wrexham.

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