Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – Week 2 February 2021

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

Your weekly dose of under-reported news, in no particular order… PS: Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

10. Student activist group Liberate the University (LtU), in coordination with thirteen national organisations including the National Rent Strike, has issued five demands to Vice Chancellors amid growing anger over the treatment of students during the pandemic.

Organisers say this past year has highlighted the ‘disregard that unelected senior managers have for student and worker well-being’ within UK universities. These five demands agreed by the groups are:

  1. Zero fees for the academic year 2020/21, including a rebate of all fees paid thus far
  2. Formation of staff-student Covid councils to allow for democratic management of the pandemic response
  3. An end to the hostile environment policy and hypersecuritisation of the campus
  4. An end to job cuts, including a reversal of all cuts made as a result of the pandemic, as well as full sick and isolation pay for all staff 
  5. A full government bailout of the Higher Education sector, which can only be achieved if we stand together

The open letter is being sent to Universities UK (UUK) as well as a number of Vice Chancellors. VCs will also receive a copy of David Graeber’s ‘Bullshit Jobs’ to show senior management the precarity of their position.  The organisations have pledged to step up their actions – including rent strikes – in the coming months.

Leo Peace, 20, LtU’s Chair of Direct Action, said “As young people, we have been conditioned into thinking that change is no longer possible, that the logic of marketised education is natural. Covid has demonstrated that change is not only possible, but is already happening. We as students demand to be brought to the negotiating table so that this change is made in our name; after all, we are the university.” The open letter can be found here.

9. Campaigners have slammed the government’s approach to the NHS in trade deals, after the Trade Bill returned to the Commons on Tuesday.

We Own It – a group which has been campaigning to ensure the NHS is not included in trade agreements for the past 18 months – say the government’s proposed protection for the NHS “isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”. A government compromise amendment stated that future trade agreements “must be consistent with maintaining UK publicly-funded clinical healthcare services”.

However, campaigners claim that this would offer little protection for the NHS. In particular, they have drawn attention to the fact that the amendment solely covers “clinical healthcare services”, rather than the NHS as a whole, and only seeks to maintain ‘public funding’ of the NHS, rather than public ownership.

Johnbosco Nwogbo, campaigns officer at We Own It said: “The government’s amendment falls well short of what is needed…Our NHS is already suffering under years of privatisation – with as much as 26% of the NHS budget being spent on the private and independent sector.

“Maintaining publicly funded healthcare services won’t stop the private healthcare sector in the USA or any other country getting their hands on huge chunks of our precious health service. What’s needed is to ensure…that it remains publicly owned.”

He added: “If the government was serious about protecting the NHS it would do the right thing and put in place proper and full safeguards for the health service in any future trade agreements, and write those safeguards into law. That’s the only way we’ll take our NHS off the table. Hundreds of thousands of people have campaigned for this – it’s time for the government to make it a reality.”

MPs also rejected amendments which would increase Parliamentary scrutiny of future trade bills. Global Justice Now said MPs had effectively silenced themselves. The Bill will return to the Lords for ‘ping pong’.

8. Unions have a responded to a new government campaign to recruit more social care staff in England, to fill gaps left by employees forced to self-isolate.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said the most effective recruitment boost would be to increase pay: “Care staff are hugely undervalued, and woefully underpaid. Low wages are mostly to blame for the high rate of employees in the care sector joining then leaving. 

“Care work is fulfilling but tough and isn’t to be taken on a whim. Looking after people involves so much more than washing and feeding them.” 

She added: “If the government is serious about filling thousands of vacancies across the sector, it must start treating staff with the respect they deserve and grant them fair pay that reflects their skills.”

7. Extinction Rebellion has launched a ‘secure, anonymous’ whistleblowing platform, TruthTeller.Life, with a campaign urging senior employees of climate-damaging companies to come forward. 

Extinction Rebellion is asking those with insider information to safely and anonymously reveal what they know through the platform. Information received will be published in collaboration with trusted media outlets. 

TruthTeller is testing a new type of ‘precision activism’, by proactively seeking out potential whistleblowers in particular companies within target industries. These include fossil fuel companies, banks and asset managers, auditors and management consultants, insurers and risk consultants, multinational manufacturers and supermarket chains, among others.

6. The Home Office is in a state of policy paralysis after years of overseeing the deeply flawed hostile environment policy, according to a major new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

Extensive “root and branch” reform is now needed to move on from the policy and rehabilitate the department, according to the think tank. In a comprehensive analysis of the hostile environment published in September, IPPR found the policy had forced people into destitution, fostered racism and discrimination, and was a driving factor in the emergence of the Windrush scandal. The policy also failed in its own terms, with no discernible impact on encouraging individuals without immigration status to voluntarily leave the UK.

The report is the first to set out a blueprint for a new institutional and policy approach to ending the hostile environment for good.

To transform the government’s approach to immigration enforcement, the report calls for the repeal of many of the legislative building blocks behind the hostile environment – including key parts of the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016.

The hostile environment is underpinned by the checks, charges and data-sharing measures carried out by employers, landlords, and frontline workers. IPPR found these provisions had effectively outsourced immigration enforcement – exposing migrants to potential racial discrimination and often mistakenly impacting people with legal immigration status. The policy was also found to have deterred some from seeking vital police or medical assistance when needed. In the midst of a pandemic, this is particularly troubling, the authors argued.

5. Almost a third of all NHS staff have had coronavirus virus, and health workers desperately need gold standard PPE, according to the GMB Union.  

In a survey of more than 1,600 ambulance workers across the country, 37% of them have had coronavirus – with a massive 84% of them saying they caught it while on the job. 

Almost 30% of ambulance workers who had Covid said their symptoms were ‘really bad’ or ‘required medical attention’. Across the whole NHS, 30% said they had caught the virus with almost 60% saying they passed it to a family member. 

GMB argues that poor PPE is to blame, and the union is calling on the Government and Public Health England to urgently review PPE guidance for health workers. 

4. Unite has welcomed leaked reports that Cameron-era NHS reforms are to be reversed.

The government is reportedly planning to reverse market-led changes to the NHS in England introduced in 2012.

The changes would aim to tackle bureaucracy and encourage health services from hospitals to GP surgeries and social care to work more closely. The draft policy paper also says the health secretary would take more direct control over NHS England.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said the 2012 reforms were a ‘disaster’, fragmenting services and giving too much sway to the private sector. 

3. Kent police has come under fire after confiscating the mobile phone and memory card of freelance photographer Andy Aitchison, who was arrested while covering a protest at Napier Barracks, Folkestone.

The freelance photographer was supported by the NUJ and Bindmans law firm following his arrest and confiscation of journalistic material. He was kept in a police cell for seven hours despite him clearly attending the demonstration, to publicise the treatment of asylum seekers, as a member of the press. The police force has now returned the items.

2. A host of leading academics, celebrities, campaigning groups and unions have joined health campaign group Keep Our NHS Public to launch a so-called ‘People’s Covid Inquiry’.

Campaigners believe that the time for a Covid Inquiry is now, to analyse why the UK country has suffered over 100,000 deaths, and what lessons should be learned to inform future decision and policy making. 

Overseeing proceedings will be the renowned human rights barrister Michael Mansfield QC, and participants will include:  Chair of Independent SAGE Sir David King, Lancet editor Richard Horton, as well as frontline workers.

1. Yoga teachers in the UK have voted to form a new branch of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which organises precarious and gig economy workers including Uber and Deliveroo drivers.

This is the first trade union for yoga teachers in the UK, and the second ever in the world, after Unionize Yoga in New York. 

Key concerns include unpaid overtime and poverty pay, as well as a lack of basic workers’ rights like sick pay and annual leave. Members also report an endemic culture of bullying, harrassment and discrimination.

Covid-19 has thrown many yoga teachers into poverty, with many ineligible for furlough and falling between the gaps of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). According to membership surveys conducted by the IWGB Yoga Teachers’ Union over 60% earned below living wage before Covid-19, with some earning as little as £5 an hour including unpaid overtime. Just a fraction are classed as formal ‘employees’.

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

Listen to an audio version of part of the Radical Roundup on the UnionDues podcast, out on Tuesdays.

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