Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried

Left Foot Forward's roundup of the progressive news you might have missed this week.

In no particular order… PS: Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

10. Unions have reacted with fury after fast fashion giant Asos announced profits have risen by 329% in a year, with a bumper £141 million payday for its shareholders. 

The GMB union says Asos’s profits have ‘come from putting workers at risk’ during the pandemic. 

ASOS continued trading throughout lockdown, when many competitors shut warehouses. GMB called the Barnsley warehouse a ‘cradle of disease’. Boss Nick Beighton refuted the claims, saying they were “false” and did “nothing more than serve to create panic and hysteria”.

A GMB survey of 500 Asos workers in March suggested the vast majority felt unsafe at work. In May there was a suspected outbreak of coronavirus in the warehouse surveyed, GMB says.

Neil Derrick, GMB Regional Secretary, said: “Let’s be clear – the way these monstrous profits have been made is immoral.  These shareholders dividends come from risking the health of workers in the worst pandemic this country has seen since the Spanish Flu.  

“Asos should immediately use these profits to help implement a safer working environment and better PPE for their petrified staff. They should also reward their workers who have needlessly put their lives at risk by pumping this money into a pay rise, it is the very least they deserve”.   

9. A shock new poll from Ipsos Mori shows a massive 58% support for Scottish independence.

The SNP appear to be heading for a majority next May, even under the proportional voting system. The Scottish Greens are on course to increase their number of MSPs too.

The SNP’s Keith Brown MSP said: “This is a landmark poll which shows that independence has now become the settled will of the majority of people in Scotland.

“Faced with the chaotic and incompetent government of Boris Johnson and a Westminster system which treats Scotland as an afterthought at best, more and more people are deciding that the best way forward for Scotland is as an equal, independent country.”

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie MSP added: “It’s clear that the Scottish Greens constructive approach to opposition is appreciated by the public. From Scotland’s fairer tax system, to the reversal of unfair exam grades, and free bus travel for young people from next year, we’ve worked constructively to make Scotland a fairer country.

“This poll also shows support for independence at its highest ever point. It’s clearer than ever that the UK simply isn’t working for Scotland and that we must take our future into our own hands to build a better Scotland.”

8. Workers being paid the minimum wage on outsourced Ministry of Defence contracts across Somerset and Devon face being plunged into poverty by their employer, according to Unite.

The workers who undertake cleaning and catering roles are employed by ESS, part of the multi-billion pound Compass Group, on outsourced ministry of defence contracts.

They are currently being forced to undergo what the union calls a ‘false redundancy process’, with workers choosing between having their weeks reduced from the standard 52 weeks a year to 48 weeks, or being made redundant.

Workers are set to lose up to £1,600 a year, if they agree to the cut in their working weeks, according to Unite.  ESS are blaming the Covid pandemic for the cut in working weeks, though Unite says MoD contracts are unaffected by the pandemic.

Unite regional officer Shevaun Hunt said: “The workers have been left feeling upset and vulnerable as they are being asked to sign up for poverty pay or made redundant on the spot.

“These workers are only paid the minimum wage and are already on the breadline. They have no way of making ends meet. This is simply an appalling way to treat people who are dedicated to providing an excellent service for our armed forces,” Hunt said.

7. Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price MS has called on the Welsh Government to urgently introduce a “circuit-breaker” lockdown, to provide time to get the test and trace system in order.

The Plaid Cymru leader added that this should be accompanied alongside a “full reintroduction of the furlough scheme”, a financial rescue package for businesses and practical and financial support for those who will be asked to self-isolate.

Price warned that without action the NHS would soon be “overwhelmed” and that it would be the people of Wales who would pay the price for the government’s failure to “reset the approach”.

The R rate in Wales is currently estimated to be at 1.37. Five more people died with coronavirus and 764 have tested positive, according to the latest figures from Public Health Wales published yesterday.

Seventeen areas in Wales have seen local lockdown restrictions put in place, affecting more than two million people.

6. Activists will take part in a coordinated national day of action across the UK this Saturday to challenge the government’s alleged mishandling of the coronavirus crisis.

The People’s Assembly say the Tories’ handling of the pandemic has resulted in one of the world’s worst outcomes in terms of deaths, while the impending retraction of the furlough scheme is likely to cause an economic catastrophe.

People’s Assembly National Organiser, Ramona McCartney, said: “On October the 17th, the People’s Assembly will mobilise to tell the government that their response to this crisis is unacceptable. Ordinary people paid for the last financial crisis and we won’t pay for this one. It’s about time that billionaires, who have seen their hoarded riches pile up, paid their fair share. Public services need to be run in the interest of the people and not for the profit of private companies.”

The day of action will see a mix of different campaigns under the theme ‘we won’t pay for the crisis’. The day will feature events from a mock trial of Boris Johnson to anti-austerity speeches from key figures of the labour movement. There will be campaigns outside Serco HQ against the privatisation of our services and protests calling to give our NHS workers ‘the pay rise they deserve’.

The People’s Assembly’s John Rees said: “This government has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing from the first wave of Covid. The same mistakes are being repeated at the cost of people’s lives, jobs, wages, and well being. Don’t let this happen to us. Protest this Saturday.”

Organisers say all events will be risk-assessed and Covid-safe. Most events will begin at 11am. See here for list of locations and details.

5. The Lib Dems have called for the Chancellor to go further, after Rishi Sunak announced those who work for firms forced to close due to coronavirus restrictions are to get two-thirds of their wages paid for by the government.

Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesperson Christine Jardine said: “This partial U-turn by the Chancellor after pressure from the Liberal Democrats and others is welcome, but not enough. Losing a third of your income overnight if you work in hospitality could push many people over the financial edge. 

“Of course the government must support those it tells to close, but help shouldn’t be limited to just some parts of the UK – it’s needed right across the country. 

“People are struggling in every area and the economy as a whole is on the ropes. Business needs certainty and a clear strategy – not chop and change, knee-jerk reactions. The Chancellor needs to expand furlough support urgently and across the whole economy until June 2021.”

4. The Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsey Hoyle has told Times Radio that MPs could become super-spreaders of coronavirus.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said: “MPs could easily become superspreaders because they come from all parts of the country…Whatever happens people’s lives matter most, their health comes first and people with certain medical conditions, people of a certain age…

He told Stig Abell and Aasmah Mir from Times Radio Breakfast that the House of Commons had to decide on moving to a virtual Parliament but it was proven it worked.

The Speaker said: “Don’t forget I was the speaker that brought in virtual voting, I brought us into an almost virtual parliament, because we had to, we were in national lockdown. So we can prove that it works…Well, I would say it can be effected but the commission is not in full agreement, but it’s not my decision, if it was it would make life easier.”

3. A former Tory minister says Britain has become ‘far from a functioning meritocracy’ in a new book.

In The New Elites, released this Thursday, George Walden says: “[Britain] is further and further dominated by this small privileged professional caste of well-born (mostly) men. Their aim is not to raise popular aspirations but to exploit mass taste, mass gullibility, and mass spending power for their own intellectual amusement—until they lose interest or something better comes along.”

Walden was Minister for Higher Education under Margaret Thatcher between 1985 and 1987.

2. Unite has urged BA to reset ‘constructive relations with staff and the unions’ following the news of boss Alex Cruz’s departure. Unite want to see Cruz’s ‘brutal’ fire-and-rehire approach to the coronavirus crisis come to an end.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “It’s unsurprising that Alex Cruz has suddenly left British Airways. The handling of industrial relations through this crisis has been unnecessarily confrontational and at times heartless.

“The harsh reality is that BA’s fire and rehire policy, exposed by Unite, caused untold and unnecessary misery to thousands of loyal employees. These brutal industrial practices has seen the reputation of BA damaged on an international scale.

“We hope that the incoming CEO Sean Doyle will begin a new chapter of constructive relations with staff and unions, repair the reputation of the airline and boost the morale of staff. Unite stands ready to work with the new CEO.

“At this moment of crisis it is vitally important there is complete transparency on the terms on which Mr Cruz will be leaving British Airways and that these are the same as the thousands of staff who have left through redundancy,” Howard Beckett said.

1. 50 years ago, on 13 October 1970, the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was founded at the London School of Economics.

The meeting was called by students Bob Mellors and Aubrey Walter and was attended by 19 people. It soon grew into weekly open meetings attended by hundreds of LGBTs. 

“The formation of GLF was a watershed moment in British LGBT+ history. For the first time, thousands of LGBT+ people came out and protested against our persecutors. GLF’s slogan ‘Gay is Good’ challenged the centuries-old view that gay was bad – and mad and sad,” said Peter Tatchell, aged 68, who was an activist in GLF from 1971-74.    

“GLF put LGBT+ rights on the public agenda and transformed LGBT+ consciousness, from shame to pride and defiance. GLF initiated the UK’s first Gay Pride march in London in 1972. It also founded the first LGBT+ switchboard, the first LGBT+ community newspaper, Gay News, and the first counselling service run by and for LGBTs, Icebreakers. 

“GLF’s key demands set the agenda for the LGBT+ movement for the following five decades. GLF did not seek equal rights within a flawed, unjust status quo. It campaigned for the transformation of society to end straight supremacism and stood in solidarity with all other oppressed people.” 

“Fifty years on, we honour the heroes of the GLF,” Mr Tatchell said. 

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

See last week’s Radical Roundup here.

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