Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – 20th January 2021

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. Labour climate campaigners will table motions at dozens of London constituency parties calling on Mayor Sadiq Khan to cancel the controversial Silvertown Tunnel, a four lane tunnel to be built under the Thames in East London.

Motions calling for Sadiq Khan to cancel the Silvertown Tunnel are being passed in branches across London for CLPs to debate starting in February.

Many climate activists believe the tunnel is incompatible with the targets for climate action in the 2015 Paris accords.

Labour MPs, including Matthew Pennycook, Shadow Minister for Climate Change, have called on Khan to cancel the project.

A spokesperson for Labour for a Green New Deal commented: “Building a massive road tunnel with a dedicated lane for lorries can never be part of a credible Labour policy on fighting climate change.”

9. Campaigners have branded Conservative MPs ‘disgraceful’ after they voted down an amendment to the Trade Bill on Tuesday which sought to ensure the NHS is excluded from future trade deals.

The criticism came from campaign group We Own It, which has been campaigning for nearly 18 months to secure protections for the NHS in trade deals.

MPs first voted against the amendment to the Bill that sought to protect the NHS in July 2020, but held a second vote after the House of Lords backed it in December. The House of Lords voted for the amendment after more than 300,000 people signed a petition asking them to.

On Tuesday, MPs voted 357 to 266 against the amendment. MPs also voted against an amendment to the Bill which sought to ensure that parliament is able to scrutinise trade deals before they are signed by the government.

Campaigners claim that failing to pass the NHS protection amendment means the NHS could be opened up to being charged more for drugs, the rights of American healthcare companies to access our NHS could be enshrined in international treaties and privatisation could be “locked in” to the health service, making it increasingly difficult for a future government to reverse.

8. The Welsh Government has issued a legal challenge to the UK’s Internal Market Act, which supporters of devolution have branded a power grab.

On Tuesday, Counsel General and Minister for European Transition Jeremy Miles updated Members of the Senedd on the steps Welsh Government is taking to protect the Senedd from the ‘attack on its competence’ made by the legislation.

Jeremy Miles told the Welsh Parliament: “Members will recall that a pre-action letter was sent to the UK Government on 16 December, just before the Act was passed and received Royal Assent.  We received a response to that letter on 8 January.  That response did not address any of our concerns about the effect of the Act on devolution.

“Therefore, I have today issued formal proceedings in the Administrative Court seeking permission for a judicial review.”

The Welsh Government has proposed a timetable to the Court which would result in this case being heard in the final week of March.

7. A joint report by the four Chief Inspectors of Probation, Prisons, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services – raises “grave concerns” about the potential long-term impact of Covid 19-related court backlogs on the criminal justice system across England and Wales.

The report comes a week after the Howard League for Penal Reform submitted evidence to the House of Lords Constitution Committee on how the criminal case backlog and extension to custody time limits has affected people in prison awaiting trial.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is a challenging and worrying time for everyone, and the criminal justice system is under enormous strain as we try to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“Tens of thousands of people in prison are spending hours on end in their cells without purpose, often in solitary confinement, and yet more and more defendants are being remanded by the courts.

“The decision to plough on with court business even during a national lockdown will surely lead to more cases being disrupted as jurors, witnesses and staff fall prey to the virus.”

6. Despite previously opposing the move in the House of Lords, the Government accepted a Labour amendment to the HS2 Bill on Tuesday, which will give towns and villages in Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire a say over transport links.

Labour’s amendment was opposed by Tory Peers back in November, but the Government has now accepted the move to prevent a vote of MPs and potential rebellion.

Labour’s win will force the Government to launch a landmark transport consultation with the residents of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire, as part of the HS2 process, meaning that residents will have a say about whether the Government should be delivering more local transport links, as well as how disruption from the works can be minimised.

5. The SNP has challenged Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie to say whether he backs his ‘London bosses’, after UK Lib Dem leader Ed Davey confirmed that his party would abandon any attempts to rejoin the EU.

In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Rennie said that the Lib Dems are “not a rejoin party” – despite promising to voters in the 2019 General Election manifesto that every vote for the party was a “vote to stop Brexit and stay in the European Union”.

The SNP says the move confirms the party’s position as the only major party committed to reversing Brexit and ‘securing Scotland’s membership of the EU’.

SNP candidate for Edinburgh Western, Sarah Masson, said: “With the Lib Dems joining the Tories and Labour in becoming pro-Brexit parties, it is clear beyond any doubt that the only way to protect Scotland’s interests and secure our place in the EU is to become an independent country.

“With the Lib Dems delivering another trademark U-turn, Willie Rennie must end the silence and clarify whether he stands by his previous pledge to ‘pursue re-entry’ to the EU.”

4. Three years after construction giant Carillion collapsed, a move to bar directors of the firm from boardroom roles has been welcomed by Unite.

The Insolvency Service will start legal steps to bar eight former directors of the construction firm from top boardroom positions. Unite said the move should have come much sooner.

The firm collapsed in scandal in 2018, with £7 billion in liabilities and the loss of thousands of jobs.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Carillion’s collapse was not a victimless white-collar crime as thousands of workers lost their jobs. If executives and directors had reported honestly on Carillion’s financial predicament, many of those job losses could have been avoided.

“We would like to see those responsible for the Carillion debacle to be charged and appear in court. Without a doubt Carillion had been trading while insolvent for some time before its collapse.

“The events behind the Carillion collapse demonstrated everything that is wrong with corporate law in the UK; a failure to act before a company collapses and very slow investigations.”

3. Despite Covid being declared a ‘major incident’ in London, precarious workers are still being compelled to provide cleaning and security services in non-essential buildings, the IWGB union has warned. Many remain on zero hours contracts without adequate financial support if they have to self-isolate.

The Universities of London branch of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) are demanding hazard pay for essential work and the immediate closure of all non-essential sites, with those workers to be placed on furlough. 

Dozens of IWGB members working at London universities have contracted Covid-19 since the start of the year, with at least 20 self-isolating with symptoms at UCL alone. This comes as the Observer reports no companies have been prosecuted and fined for breaking Covid-19 safety rules since the start of the current lockdown.

The IWGB wrote to universities on 21 December requesting the closure of non-essential buildings infection rates and received no response. On 4 January, London universities told workers to come back to campus. The lockdown was announced that evening. The IWGB THEN wrote a joint letter with the University and College Union (UCU) to the University of London which again received no response.

Maritza Castillo Calle, chair, IWGB Universities of London Branch, said earlier this week: “I’m now home sick with Covid-19 after being compelled to work through lockdown as a janitor in an empty office. It’s been a painful, frightening and debilitating illness. I don’t want to see more people getting sick and losing their lives because universities wanted to keep up their profits. That’s why we’re demanding furlough for non-essential workers and hazard pay and basic rights for those who are essential. Medical research and university hospitals could not operate without them and it’s the least they deserve for the risks they are taking.”

2. Workers at North London’s Sage Nursing Home went on strike for the first time over the weekend, over low pay and allegations of discrimination.

Care workers and cleaners there – part of the United Voices of the World Union – are paid below the Real Living Wage, with some staff earning just £8.72 per hour. The real living wage in London is £10.85 an hour.

Staff allege discrimination against the largely BME workforce, and that when staff are ill they get only 50 per cent of their wages – with staff to choose between paying their rent and their health – or the health of residents. The workers are crowdfunding a strike fund online, and have already exceeded their £20,000 target.

1. The University and College Union – representing university lecturers – has threatened industrial action to prevent an unsafe return to campus this academic year.

On Sunday, the University and College Union (UCU)) called for university teaching to remain online for the rest of the academic year to protect the wellbeing of staff, students and their communities.

UCU believes any return to in-person teaching this academic year is impractical due to the Covid pandemic being at its worst stage since March 2020. The union also pointed to regulator concerns over the type of tests the government intends to use to reopen campuses, and delays in the government’s mass vaccination programme, as further evidence that a rushed return could compromise safety.

The union said that university staff have faced unmanageable workloads over the past year trying to adapt teaching for both in-person and online provision, and said a clear decision now that the majority of courses will remain online for the rest of the academic year would allow staff to plan accordingly.

UCU said that if university management and the government do not provide this certainty it will support members to fight to stay working remotely off campus, including balloting for industrial action.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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