Radical roundup: 10 stories that got buried – 25th Nov 2020

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

The Spending Review has overshadowed everything this week. Here’s some stories that didn’t top the agenda.

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

10. A security guard at the Francis Crick Institute in London is set to take his employer Wilson James to an injunction after alleging he was dismissed because of his trade union activism.

On 11th November, after three weeks in his new job, Cetin Avsar, the security guard from Turkey bringing the legal action, received a letter inviting him to a probationary review hearing.

The letter stated that his “conduct has not reached the required standards”. The letter, seen by LFF, cited his membership of trade union the United Voices of the World (UVW), having previously participated in a strike. He was subsequently dismissed. The union has described the tribunal hearing as an “unprecedented legal showdown”.

The Francis Crick Institute previously declined to comment, while a spokesperson for Wilson James told LFF: “Wilson James is aware of the claims made by UVW, but as the situation concerning Mr Avsar remains under review it would not be appropriate to provide further comment at this time.” 

9. Universities UK’s (UUK), which represents the university sector, has called for urgent action on racial harassment in higher education in a new report.

Commenting, University and College Union (UCU) head of equalities Jenny Sherrard said: “Universities have been quick to state their anti-racist credentials in recent months, but we need more than warm words from institutions in order to ensure that our higher education sector is equal and inclusive. The recommendations in this report provide a solid foundation for turning words into action and embedding a culture of zero tolerance towards racial harassment across the sector.

“The report rightly emphasises the importance of engaging with black staff and students – including through trade unions – to understand their experiences and perspectives. As UCU’s Witness research has shown, racism can be subtle and insidious so it’s vital that responses are informed by lived experience, and that those experiencing racism are empowered and supported to speak out.

“Black staff and students have been allowed to shoulder the burden of challenging structural and everyday racism for too long, so the report’s emphasis on collective responsibility and a whole-institution approach is also important. Institutions need to back that up with proper resourcing to ensure that challenging racism is on the agenda at every level.”

8. Public ownership campaigners have warned of potential cronyism in the latest batch of Personal Protective Equipment spending from the Chancellor in the Spending Review.

Pascale Robinson, campaigns officer at We Own It, said: “Rishi Sunak has announced billions of pounds for testing, PPE and vaccines in the spending review. Now we need to see the detail. After the shocking scandals over the disastrous procurement of PPE and the mismanagement of test and trace, the government must be investing in a public sector response, not funneling yet more cash to their mates in the private sector.

“Moreover, pumping money into testing is important, but so too is contact tracing. We all know how vital contact tracing is to get a grip on this crisis, and yet we’ve seen how poorly handled it has been by private companies like Serco in England.

“The government should now be investing properly in a properly functioning contact tracing system, led by local public health teams. That’s crucial to get us safely through the woods on this pandemic.”

7. Ireland’s Sinn Féin have welcomed the US President-Elect Joe Biden’s reiteration that there should absolutely be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Biden’s latest comments in support of the Irish peace process follows previous commitments by the President-Elect that there will be no trade deal between the US and Britain if the Good Friday Agreement is breached.

Chris Hazzard, Sinn Féin’s South Down MP, said: “Throughout the Brexit negotiations, senior politicians from both mainstream political parties in the United States have stood strong and stood firm in their protection of our peace process.

“Their message has been consistently clear: any breach of the Good Friday Agreement is unacceptable and will ensure there is no trade deal between the US and Britain.

“As we enter this crucial phase of the Brexit negotiations with less than 36 days until the end of the transition period, the British government must fulfil their legal obligations as contained in both the Good Friday Agreement, and the EU Withdrawal Agreement.” 

6. Veterans of the Gay Liberation Front will stage a torchlight rally this Friday, 27 November, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first LGBT+ demonstration in Britain.

The protest was led by the newly-formed Gay Liberation Front (GLF), set up to challenge anti-gay laws and police harassment – specifically in response to the arrest of the then leader of the Young Liberals, Louis Eaks, in Highbury Fields, Islington.

The veterans and allies will meet at 6pm in Highbury Fields, opposite Highbury and Islington tube station, beside the pink triangle plaque that commemorates the protest that happened there 50 years ago.

To conform to lockdown regulations, participants will wear masks, remain in two-person groups and keep socially distanced from each other. 

 “27th November 1970 was a watershed moment that challenged police persecution for the first time in the UK. It began our fightback, igniting a LGBT+ protest movement that in the following five decades rolled back straight supremacism and won the repeal of anti-LGBT+ laws,” said Peter Tatchell, who was a member of GLF 1971-74.

5. British Gas workers could walk out on New Year’s Eve unless the company withdraws a threat to ‘fire and rehire’ thousands of workers.

GMB has announced dates for the British Gas strike ballot and possible first industrial action. The ballot will open on Tuesday, December 1st, 2020 and close Thursday, December 17th – with the first possible strike action to take place anytime from New Year’s Eve. 

Further strikes could be called throughout the winter. The industrial action ballot comes after British Gas owner Centrica threatened to ‘fire and rehire’ 20,000 workers if they didn’t accept ‘draconian’ cuts to their terms and conditions.

Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary said: “GMB members did not create the mess that Centrica is in, and it is wrong that all the risks associated with trying to turn the business’s fortunes around should be placed on the workforce.”

“The message to Centrica from GMB has been clear all the way; they need to take the gun off the table, stop the threats and return to the negotiating table,” Bowden added.

4. University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust has become the first NHS trust to sign up to Unite the union’s ‘Unity over Division’ charter designed to promote tolerance, equality and diversity in the workplace.

Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, said the landmark signing of the charter is another step forward in Unite’s fight to stamp out racism and far right activities. The trust employs more than 16,500 staff.

Aloma Onyemah, head of equality diversity and inclusion at Leicester’s hospitals, said: “Signing up to the Unity over Division Charter with Unite is another positive step forward in our commitment to ensuring equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is embedded across our hospitals.

“EDI is core to our values as a trust and the charter supports our wider ambition to ensure our talented workforce reflects the communities we serve, and our patients receive high quality care and service, regardless of background.”

Unite regional secretary for the East Midlands Paresh Patel said: “The signing demonstrates a genuine commitment between Unite and the trust to work together, to educate and tackle racism head on.

“Given that we have also celebrated Black History Month recently, this charter is a positive move to ensure that Unite continues to tackle racism within the workplace, regarding of the nature of the industry, business or organisation.”

3. There is no dedicated space in London’s emergency homeless accommodation for young people, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has admitted.

London is suffering an ‘historic high’ of very young people pushed out onto the streets, most for the first time, making them uniquely vulnerable to harm.

The Mayor has told Green Assembly Member and mayoral candidate Sian Berry that plans for separate hotel accommodation for under-25s have fallen through after Government funding failed to materialise.

In response Sian asked the Mayor to ringfence a specific proportion of his own rough sleeping budget to fill this gap. She said: “I’m raising the alarm today that a real crisis is coming for young people. We are already seeing an historic high of under-25s forced to live on the streets. The informal support struggling young people normally rely on from family and friends is much harder to find under coronavirus restrictions.

“I am hearing warnings from all over London, from homeless outreach workers and youth services supporting young people, that homelessness and rough sleeping is rising and getting worse.

“The Mayor has admitted there is no dedicated space within his emergency accommodation programmes for young people, and this had to change,” Berry said.  

2. The Good Law Project and the Runnymede Trust have filed for judicial review of ‘jobs going to mates’ of Conservatives during their handling of the pandemic. 

In a statement to supporters, Jolyon Maugham QC, Director of Good Law Project, said: “Kate Bingham heads up Britain’s vaccine task force. She’s a venture capitalist with no public health experience, married to a Conservative minister. Dido Harding leads the Test and Trace system. She has no public health experience and is the wife of a Conservative MP. Mike Coupe, is head of COVID-19 testing, and has – you guessed it – no public health experience. The list goes on.

“Why – when facing the single greatest threat to public health this country has ever seen – would the Government of the day not want the best-qualified people to lead the response?”

“Thousands of lives depend on these public bodies. Yet this Government has handed them over without competition to cronies who’ve channelled billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to private companies and their associates – while the Test and Trace system fails,” he said.

The Good Law Project says that in response to the group’s pre-action legal letter demanding ministers reveal how and why these individuals were chosen to lead vital public health bodies, the Government failed to produce any evidence. But they admitted the roles were not openly advertised. “This is not the Britain we should be, and we don’t believe it is lawful,” Maugham added.

No wrongdoing is alleged on the part of those receiving the roles.

1. Green campaigners have hit out at billions in funding being earmarked for road-building in the Spending Review.

Commenting on the government’s national Infrastructure Strategy, unveiled today (Wednesday), Friends of the Earth’s head of policy Mike Childs said: “With billions of pounds earmarked for a climate-wrecking road-building programme and inadequate funding for home insulation, eco-heating, buses and cycling this strategy falls woefully short of what’s needed to meet the UK’s legally-binding targets for building a green future.

“National infrastructure projects should be the cornerstone of the fossil-free economy we need to head off the climate emergency. Ministers must ensure every major development is in line with meeting the net zero target.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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