Saturday, October 14, 2006

Able to work and to fight for their rights!

NO, the big one with the red nose isn't me, so while Special Branch check their files for an ID, let me explain that he was one of the figures who, together with the guys in orange suits invaded Liverpool's Adelphi hotel last year to speak to delegates attending a trades union councils' conference (like the person with red delegate's bag) about fears that government was switching work from the Remploy tailoring factory where they worked to private companies.

Remploy is a public agency providing paid employment and training for disabled workers, and maybe "disabled" is a misleading term, never mind politically incorrect, because its skilled workforce have shown they could do vital specialist work producing
protective clothing such as Chemical and Biological Warfare suits for government at home and abroad.

Letting disabled workers become skilled craftspeople who more than earn their keep might seem the sort of thing everyone, and any government, would support unconditionally. But while the Blair government wants to "help" disabled people back into jobs by threatening their benefits, it is less concerned with ensuring there are reasonably paid job openings. In this as other fields, public enterprise and social need are up against the nasty, brutish insistence on privileging private interests and exploiters which New Labour inherited from Thatcherism.

These disabled workers are not only able to do skilled work, however, but as in Liverpool where their "Mr.Blobby" characters as above brought Saturday morning traffic in the city centre to a standstill, they can also stage imaginative protests. This afternoon workers from Reploy factories are due to raise their protests outside Arsenal's new stadium in North London before the game against Watford.

The Transport and General Workers Union and the GMB say a Remploy factory close to the Emirates stadium is being compulsorily purchased as part of the ongoing development of the area, but there had been no guarantee of a new plant to replace it. The unions fear that Remploy, which employs 5,000 disabled workers in 83 sites across the UK, is planning a number of factory closures over the next few years. They have warned that if any Remploy factories are closed they will ballot workers for industrial action.

Phil Davies, national officer of the GMB said: "Arsenal has done everything right by agreeing to pay a substantial amount of money to Remploy for the site." But he warned that many disabled Arsenal fans faced losing their jobs if a new factory was not opened in the area.

Jennie Formby, national officer of the Transport and General Workers Union, said: "We'll be asking fans to back our campaign to get the Holloway site relocated, as the club were led to believe and as our members were promised."

Meanwhile .... A Health Warning for the Government

In Oxford, Brighton and Haywards Heath today people will be taking part in the latest demonstrations around the country over cuts in hospital and other health services.

Health workers are being sacked, and up to 60 main acute hospitals could be closed or downgraded because of cuts due to the financial crisis in the National Health Service(NHS).

Geoff Martin, of Health Emergency, said: "This weekend thousands more people will join the national fightback against the government's cuts programme for the NHS. They know that the planned axing of front line services has nothing to do with a rational planning process and everything to do with hacking back the NHS budget".

Many more protests are planned. "We've warned before", says Martin, "the anger at NHS cuts could become New Labour's poll tax and the government would be well advised to back off on the closure programme or risk electoral meltdown."

The trouble is, that whereas the poll tax became a focus for the anger that brought down Margaret Thatcher and eventually put in a Labour government,
Blair and Gordon Brown can carry on confident the public has nowhere else to go, at present. If the only result is a Tory government getting back they can retire to opposition, safe in the knowledge they'll not lose too much financially, and the policies will continue.

The various protests around the country need to be united in recognition that what is happening to your local hospital is a national, indeed international issue; and you need a political alternative going beyond protest.

But saying which, here are some details I've been sent about things happening in Greater London:

  • North West London: Where the busy Accident and Emergency services at Park Royal (Central Middlesex) hospital are threatened, and people would have to traipse up to Northwick Park, which is also in trouble... There's a meeting in Harrow on Thursday, Keep Lyon House & Northwick Park Hospital open. With Dr John Lister, Paul Kenny (GMB), Gloria Mills (TUC president). Organised by Harrow Trade Union Council. October 19, 7.30pm, at the Baptist Church, College Road, Harrow on the Hill. For info e-mail
  • North East London: Save Whipps Cross Hospital public meeting Thursday, 2 November. Waltham Forest Keep Our NHS Public has called a public meeting on Thursday, 2 November to launch a mass campaign to defend Whipps Cross Hospital.
    The meeting will start at 7.30 pm at al Badr Hall, Lea Bridge Road, E17. Speakers confirmed so far include Neil Gerrard MP, Charlotte Monro, Chair of UNISON at Whipps and Indira Mootoosami from the BMA. All three local MPs have been invited to speak and there will also be a speaker from Keep Our NHS Public. The campaigners are running a stall today in Walthamstow Market Square outside the library, and have a planning meeting on Monday evening October 16, 7.30 pm at Quaker Meeting House, 1a, Jewel Road, E17 (off Hoe Street). All welcome.
  • Lobby of Parliament. Join the lobby of Parliament in defence of the NHS called by the TUC, health trade unions and staff associations on Wednesday, 1 November. There will be a rally at 12 noon, Methodist Central Hall, the Sanctuary, SW1.

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