Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – Week 3, April 2021

Our roundup of the progressive news you might have missed...

Your weekly dose of under-reported news, in no particular order… 

Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

10. The Trade Union Congress has condemned compulsory vaccinations for care staff as “ill-thought through”.

Commenting on today’s announcement of compulsory vaccinations for care staff, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said care workers have had a ‘raw deal’ during this pandemic.   

“While they’ve risked their lives to care for our loved ones, they’ve been rewarded with inadequate PPE, ongoing poverty pay, and no action on zero-hours contracts in the care sector.    

“Today’s ill-thought through plans will be a further blow to care workers’ morale. We all want to get as many care workers vaccinated as possible. But forcing workers to get the jab will harm trust and employee relations. And it may be discriminatory, leaving employers open to legal challenge.     

“Ministers should instead strongly encourage every care worker to get vaccinated – and make it as easy as possible.  

“That means giving care workers paid time off for the appointments and taking away any financial worries by guaranteeing decent sick pay for any recovery time afterwards.”  

9. 10. Sinn Féin has claimed it is committed to ending sectarianism in the North of Ireland / Northern Ireland, following a wave of unionist rioting.

The republican party’s National Chairperson Declan Kearney MLA said in a statement over the weekend: “Sinn Féin is absolutely committed to challenging sectarianism in all its manifestations and ensuring the development of a culture of respect for all identities, cultures and traditions.

“I am calling for agreement on the introduction of a clear legal definition of sectarianism as a hate crime within anti-sectarianism legislation with appropriate legally enforceable sanctions, and against actions which are motivated by sectarianism…

“Our proposals also include the incorporation of a citizens’ anti-sectarian charter into the pledges of Ministers, MLAs, TDs and local councillors across the island, and the full implementation of the Together: Building a United Community strategy in the north…

“Together let’s end sectarianism, and together let us commit ourselves to reconciliation as something that is essential for building a better future for all.” 

8. Palestinian rights activists blockaded an arms factory and company HQ this Tuesday.

The firm, Elbit, saw its arms production grind to a halt in both the north and the southwest of the country, Palestine Action activists said, with actions in Oldham and Bristol.

Activists sprayed buildings in blood-red paint, broke windows, chained themselves to the premises and stuck “war crime scene” barrier tape across the front doors.

Banners hang from Oldham’s factory roof saying ‘Elbit’s arms: Tested on Palestine, Used in Kashmir’.

Activists pledged to blockade both sites for as long as possible to “disrupt Israel’s ability to keep making and profiting from murderous weaponry.” Elbit Systems is an Israeli-based ‘defence electronics’ company.   

This latest escalation by the group, targeting two key sites at the same time, follows a string of disruptions, closures and damage to Israel’s chain of factories.

Palestine Action – launched last summer – has forced Elbit’s sites to close for several weeks at a time, costing the firm and its associated companies over £2 million in losses, according to the campaigners.

Elbit Systems, Israel’s largest arms manufacturer, has 10 sites in the UK, including factories and offices. The company markets its weapons as “battle-tested” on Palestinian civilians in Gaza and uses this as a lucrative “selling point” to encourage governments across the world to purchase its hardware.

The British Maritime and Coastguard Agency are also understood to Elbit’s drones to monitor and prevent migrants entering the UK to seek refuge.

7. Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran has urged the Government in the Commons today to include the repeal of the Vagrancy Act, which criminalises rough sleeping, in next month’s Queen’s Speech.

Speaking in a debate in Westminster Hall on repealing and replacing the Act, Layla Moran said that “the Secretary of State couldn’t commit to a timetable in a letter to me last week” and asked the Minister to “guarantee that repealing the Vagrancy Act will be in the Queen’s Speech next month”.

The Minister for Rough Sleeping and Housing made no such commitment at the end of the debate. Moran started the campaign to scrap the Vagrancy Act when she was first elected in 2017, and introduced a cross-party Bill for the second time last year that would repeal it in days if the Government gave its support.

Calling the law, still used in England and Wales by police forces against rough sleepers, “a disgrace”, Moran said “we seem to be stuck at the final hurdle” and that “we shouldn’t wait one more day”.

Speaking after the debate, Layla Moran MP said: “Today it is still the law for rough sleepers to be arrested and prosecuted for the crime of not being able to afford a roof over their head. It is a moral outrage that a Victorian-era law continues to punish those who desperately need help….Colleagues from across the Commons have sponsored my bill which would end the demonising punishment given to homeless people. We have cross-party support and charities such as Crisis demanding action – yet in return we face a heartless Government dragging its heels.

“So why the delay? Why haven’t we seen the Government’s review into the Vagrancy Act yet? If Robert Jenrick agrees homeless people should no longer be criminalised, then he should announce the long overdue repealing of the cruel, Dickensian Vagrancy Act in next month’s Queen’s Speech.”

6. New figures released should be a “stark warning” to voters, the SNP has said, as the damage of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal continues to be revealed.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that exports of goods from the EU have fallen by £2 billion since Boris Johnson’s botched Brexit deal was agreed – confirming that the so-called ‘teething problems’ of Brexit are here to stay. 

ONS statistics show that £13.6 billion of goods exports to the EU in December 2020 have dropped to £11.6 billion in February 2021.

The report also highlighted that the overall value of food exports, including Scottish seafood, is lower now than in any month of 2020 – having dropped by £300 million since December. 

Commenting, SNP candidate for Perthshire South and Kinross-shire, Jim Fairlie, said: “These devastating figures are a stark warning to voters about the hard reality of a Tory Brexit, highlighting the immense damage it is doing to Scotland’s economy. 

“Scottish Tory MPs voted for Boris Johnson’s botched Brexit deal in January, as businesses up and down the country braced themselves for an economic shock. 

“Today’s ONS figures show just how badly Scottish producers have been treated as a result of this botched Brexit deal. We have been completely ignored throughout the Brexit process and are now forced to pay the price for a hard Tory Brexit we didn’t vote for.”

5. Plaid Cymru have called for a change in the law to ‘stop Boris Johnson from lying’.

At today’s PMQs, Plaid Cymru MP for Arfon, Hywel Williams, sked Boris Johnson if he agrees with the principle that “politicians must not lie”.

Mr Williams said that “lies, corruption scandals and a lack of accountability have defined Westminster’s rotten politics for years” and said that his party will be proposing a new law to be introduced to make lying by politicians illegal.

In PMQs, Hywel Williams referenced a Bill introduced by Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price in 2007 that would have made lying by politicians illegal.

The Prime Minister has faced widespread criticism about several untrue statements in recent months, both in Parliament and in the media, which are yet to lead to any repercussions.

In PMQs, Hywel Williams MP said: “In 2007, my friend Adam Price, then the member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr proposed an ‘Elected Representatives (Prohibition of Deception) Bill’

“At this distance in time it would be unkind to quiz the Prime Minister on the detail – but he is seen as a big thinker. So today, perhaps he could just tell the House what he thinks of the principle of that Bill, which is that on important matters of public policy, politicians must not lie.”

In response, the PM said he would “concur with the basic principle that he just enunciated”.

Speaking after the session, Mr Williams said that Plaid Cymru will be working with cross-party think-tank Compassion in Politics on a Bill that would ensure that there are consequences for politicians who intentionally lie. Compassion in Politics has led a petition pressing for lying to be made illegal, which has already gained nearly 200,000 signatures.

4. The Scottish Greens are pledging to establish a ‘Scottish Centre for Peace’ in their manifesto for the upcoming Holyrood elections.

The centre would be tasked with researching peaceful conflict resolution as well as hosting international summits, talks and mediations, including peace negotiations between conflicting parties.

Building on a model established in other countries, particularly Norway, the Scottish centre would seek to contribute to building sustainable, lasting peace in conflict zones throughout the world.

Ahead of the party’s manifesto launch, Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said:
“Armed conflict affects hundreds of millions of people across the world every day. Scotland may be far from the frontlines but we can, and must, contribute to solutions and play our part in creating lasting global peace. With a strong reputation for internationalism, Scotland is perfectly placed to establish a Centre for Peace, modelled on the success of similar programmes such as those run by our neighbours in Norway.

“The eyes of the world will fall on Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit later this year, set to be one of the most important meetings in human history. The Scottish Greens want to build a meaningful legacy from that moment and establish Scotland as a peaceful, progressive part of the international community. Whilst that will of course be so much easier to do with independence, the establishment of a peace centre is a first step we can and should be taking now.”

3. The rise of homeworking in the UK requires negotiation and agreement not imposition, the Unite union has said.

Unite says employers should reach homeworking agreements to avoid an industrial minefield when turning workers’ homes into a place of work. 

The explosion in homeworking, caused by Covid-19, means trade unions will have an increasingly important role to play in minimising the dangers and maximising the advantages of working from home according to Britain’s leading union, Unite.

Unite has produced a new framework homeworking agreement to assist Unite workplace representatives in their negotiations with employers.

The number of people working from home is expected to double following the coronavirus pandemic, new research suggests. A survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that employers believe 37 per cent of staff will regularly avoid the journey into the office following Covid-19, up from 18 per cent before the pandemic. The number of people expected to make their work-from-home arrangements a permanent fixture stands at 22 per cent, up from 9 per cent pre-lockdown.

Unite executive officer Sharon Graham said: “Covid-19 is leading to an explosion in homeworking. There are dangers as well as opportunities for workers and it is in everyone’s interest to ensure homeworking is introduced properly and fairly.  Unite has produced a set of minimum standards that we expect all employers to adhere to as part of negotiations.

“It is important to remember that homeworking done badly can lead to more work for the same pay. It can also lead to stress and depression, as well as health and safety risks from working in an unsuitable environment. It is vital that employers now recognise that homeworking is an issue for negotiation not imposition and that we will be demanding adequate protection for our members.”

2. In response to a question from Left Foot Forward, the PM’s spokesman said Greensill inquiry chair Nigel Boardman will not be paid as a non-executive director of the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy while undertaking the inquiry.

Labour has questioned Boardman’s independence handling the David Cameron lobbying scandal, since he receives remuneration as a non-executive director from a government department.  

But No 10 insisted his work with BEIS has been ‘paused’ while he handles the inquiry.

Opposition parties are piling pressure on the government amid the growing row over the ‘revolving door’ between government and private firms.

1. British Gas ‘doesn’t give a toss’ for customers or staff, the GMB union has said, as a bitter dispute escalates.

The company has launched ‘mass sackings’ of engineers, despite a huge backlog of repairs needed for customers.

Strikes at British Gas continue today, following the layoffs of striking gas engineers who refused to accept a 15% cut in pay rates, and other imposed changes in terms and conditions.  

Gas engineers take part on the 43rd day of strike today in this long running and deadlocked dispute.   

The strikes have led to a backlog of millions of customers waiting for planned service visits and hundreds of thousands having to wait for emergency repairs.   

Justin Bowden, GMB Regional Secretary said: ”That British Gas doesn’t give a toss for either customers or staff is shown by the mass sackings of engineers it needs so badly for customer services that it has suspended the sale of boiler insurance cover. The ‘graveyards of vans’ returned by the sacked gas engineers shows this.  

“These sacked gas engineers are badly needed by customers to clear the huge backlog of missed planned annual service visits and repairs. There is sadly nothing in law to stop corporate bullying by companies of their own staff to sign terms they don’t accept and sacking those who don’t submit to this bullying.   

“But GMB members won’t accept the outcome of the bullying. This is why we are staging the 43rd day of strike action today.  I have news for [BG boss] Mr O’Shea. This is not the end of the dispute.”

Josiah Mortimer is the editor of Left Foot Forward.

As you’re here, we have something to ask you. What we do here to deliver real news is more important than ever. But there’s a problem: we need readers like you to chip in to help us survive. We deliver progressive, independent media, that challenges the right’s hateful rhetoric. Together we can find the stories that get lost.

We’re not bankrolled by billionaire donors, but rely on readers chipping in whatever they can afford to protect our independence. What we do isn’t free, and we run on a shoestring. Can you help by chipping in as little as £1 a week to help us survive? Whatever you can donate, we’re so grateful - and we will ensure your money goes as far as possible to deliver hard-hitting news.

Comments are closed.