Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – Week 4, April 2021

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

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

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10. Sadiq Khan has said that the controversial DSEI arms fair – where arms firms can pitch their weapons to governments – has ‘no place in London’ and committed to ‘explore all possible options to end it being hosted in the city.’

The move follows thousands of letters from campaigners, coordinated by Campaign Against Arms Trade and Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Sian Berry, the Green Party candidate, has vowed to be “active in preventing this horrific trade in weapons of violence, oppression, torture, and violations of human rights from occurring within our city.” She pledged to do everything in her power to stop DSEI, including using the Mayor’s discretion to recover the costs of policing the event from DSEI’s organisers.

DSEI, a biennial event, has been widely condemned for playing host to delegations from a range of human rights abusing states, who will look to buy and sell military technology from the world’s largest arms companies.

Regular attendees of the fair include delegations from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE. The Saudi-led coalition, of which Bahrain and the UAE are part, has subjected Yemen to a ceaseless bombardment for almost 6 years, contributing an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.

While coronavirus travel curbs may force this year’s fair online, campaigners have called for the event to be permanently cancelled.

Caroline Jones, of Campaign Against Arms Trade commented: “It’s great to see some of the candidates recognise the DSEI arms fair as the abhorrent event that it is. DSEI exists to sell weapons, regardless of the appalling consequences.

“Over the last six years, UK-made weapons have played a central role in the brutal Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen. The deals being negotiated at DSEI in September could be used in atrocities and abuses for years to come.”

9. A new bill seeking to ban the sale of fur in the UK was heard in Parliament today.

It’s the first time a bill has been proposed to ban the fur trade since Britain’s departure from the European Union made the move a legal possibility, campaigners say.

The bill was presented in the House of Commons after Prime Minister’s Questions by Taiwo Owatemi, Labour MP for Coventry North West, and was co-sponsored by Shadow Cabinet ministers, Emily Thornberry, Luke Pollard and Ed Miliband.

Yesterday five of the UK’s biggest animal protection organisations from the Fur Free Britain campaign gathered at the gates of No 10 Downing street to submit one million petition signatures to the Prime Minister, calling for the UK to ban the sale of cruel animal fur.

In response to the Fur Trade Prohibition Bill, Claire Bass, executive director for Humane Society International/UK said: “Fur farming is rightly banned in the UK, but we’re now outsourcing the same suffering, and we thank and commend Taiwo Owatemi MP for her Bill to correct that double standard by banning fur imports and sales.

“The UK’s imports of fur mean that every year some two million animals are suffering in tiny cages, and being gassed and electrocuted to death overseas, all for a completely frivolous and unnecessary product. In a world of global trade it’s not enough to just ban cruel practices in our own backyard, we need to stop bankrolling cruelty in other countries.”

8. The Court of Appeal has declared that foster carers are workers, in a win for unions.

The IWGB Foster Care Workers Branch declared victory following the ruling last Friday, calling for a government review of foster carers’ worker status.

The court ruling falls short of guaranteeing basic conditions for foster care workers and is limited to the right to unionise. The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is now calling on Parliament and the Supreme Court to intervene and update legislation in line with the judgement.  The IWGB is backing the introduction of a ‘Foster Care Workers Bill of Rights’ in all four devolved nations. 

Foster carers now have the right to create trade unions and push for recognition from local authorities. Unions see it as an ‘important step forward’ to gaining sick pay, paid holiday and a minimum wage guarantee.

Kenny Millard, Chair of the IWGB Foster Care Workers Branch, said: “This is a crucial victory for foster care workers across the UK. It is the result of years of union organising and grassroots pressure. The path is clear – we must use this right to trade union recognition by continuing to grow union involvement in the sector.

“The more people that join the Foster Care Workers’ Branch, the more opportunity we’ll have to follow through on the path set by this ruling. This is a massive step in the right direction and is evidence of what can be achieved when workers unite and fight.”

7. A global coalition of over a hundred environmental organizations and community groups is calling on Amazon to address the ‘staggering’ amount of single-use plastic pollution it generates by shifting to plastic-free and reusable packaging. 

The coalition sent a letter urging Amazon’s outgoing and incoming CEOs, Jeff Bezos and Andy Jassy to take immediate steps to prevent the more than 465 million pounds of plastic packaging waste the company produces on an annual basis.

A December 2020 report by Oceana found that Amazon was responsible for adding more than 22 million pounds of this plastic pollution to the world’s oceans and waterways in 2019 alone.

Environmental campaigners say the situation today is ‘undoubtedly worse’, as Amazon’s net sales increased by 38% in 2020 due to a massive spike in sales driven by the pandemic. Oceana’s report notes that Amazon’s 2019 impact was the equivalent of dumping a delivery van’s worth of plastic into the oceans every 70 minutes.

With at least 15 million metric tons of plastic waste entering our oceans each year, an estimated 90% of all seabirds and more than half of all sea turtles have ingested plastic. The plastic films used in Amazon packaging are often mistaken for food by sea turtles, which can prove fatal.

Steve Hynd, Policy Manager for the Bristol-based City to Sea campaign, added: “We know that plastic pollution has, in many ways, got worse during the pandemic. For companies like Amazon to become part of the solution rather than the problem we need two things from them. Firstly, we need them to be honest about the size of the plastic problem they have and how the pandemic has impacted that.

“Secondly, we need them to show leadership in transitioning away from single-use plastics to reduce their packaging footprint, to encourage reuse and finally to ensure as high a rate of recyclability as possible.”

6. Labour is struggling to break through with Conservative voters – with many seeing little difference between Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn.

New research by Savanta ComRes shows that just one in seven 2019 Conservative voters believe Labour has better policies under Starmer than under Corbyn (15%). Almost one in five 2019 Conservative voters say Labour’s policies under Starmer are worse than they were under Corbyn (18%). 

Despite over half of those currently intending to vote Labour (54%) saying the party is more likely to win an election under Starmer, just a third say that the party has better policies under his leadership compared to under Corbyn (36%). Of those who voted for Labour in 2019, one in five say the party has worse policies under Starmer (20%).

Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta ComRes said: “For much of his leadership, it has seemed that Keir Starmer’s main play to voters has been simply not being Jeremy Corbyn, and while that’s had some impact among the public, it simply hasn’t done enough to convince many voters who have abandoned Labour to come back to the party.

“On many metrics, including being more likely to win an election and having better policies, those who voted Conservative in 2019 view Starmer’s Labour identically to how they viewed Corbyn’s.

“With the voting intention gap between the two parties the widest its been in a Savanta ComRes poll in almost a year, Starmer is in danger of taking Labour backwards unless he can start doing more to claw back voters.”

5. The Liberal Democrats are calling for all EU citizens in the UK to be given the automatic right to stay, as new figures reveal that 323,800 are still waiting for the Home Office to process their applications.

The party is warning that those who aren’t given ‘Settled Status’ by the 30th June deadline could “become the victims of another Windrush-style scandal”.

Responding to the figures, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said: “The Conservatives must guarantee the rights of EU citizens who’ve made their lives here, and contribute enormously to our economy, our public services and our society. They must not become the victims of a new Windrush-style scandal.

“Over 320,000 of our friends and neighbours are facing the cruel anxiety of hoping the Home Office will grant their applications before the cliff-edge at the end of June.

“There is a serious risk that hundreds of thousands of people will be left effectively undocumented and exposed to the Conservatives’ Hostile Environment. We can’t afford the Government to ignore these warnings any longer.

“EU citizens in the UK have been living under a cloud of uncertainty for far too long and the buck stops with Boris Johnson who promised them the automatic right to stay. He must deliver on his promise.”

4. A campaign group has ranked London mayoral candidates on their commitments to the environment – with the Greens coming out on top.

Clean Air in London scored Green candidate Sian Berry full marks (10/10) for her pledges,

followed by incumbent mayor Sadiq Khan (7/10) and Lib Dem Luisa Porritt (6+/10).

Tory candidate Shaun Bailey scored half marks (5/10), including one penalty point for not supporting expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). He missed one point because PM Boris Johnson has not supported a new Clean Air Act.

Sadiq Khan has come under fire from environmental campaigners for pushing ahead with the new Silvertown Tunnel, which critics say will drive up road use and pollution. However, air pollution as a whole has fallen during his term through schemes such as the ULEZ.

3. A culture of Tory cronyism is ‘rapidly enveloping the NHS’ and only maximum transparency and openness could start to reverse this trend, Unite has warned.

Revelations that health secretary and social care secretary Matt Hancock met former premier David Cameron and financier Lex Greensill for a private drink in 2019 – to discuss a new payment scheme for the NHS – is the latest revelation which shows the NHS being lined up for further privatisation, the union says.

The union points to ‘vast sums’ splashed out in controversial contracts for PPE to those with close links to the Tory establishment and failings in the test and trace scheme.

Unite national officer for health Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe said: “The Tories, since they came to power in 2010, have followed a consistent policy of privatising the NHS, starting off with then health secretary Andrew Lansley’s 2012 Health and Social Care Act, which turned out to be an expensive administrative disaster for staff and patients.

“While NHS staff have worked themselves to the bone in caring for Covid-19 patients and then delivering the successful vaccination programme, Tory politicians have been collaborating in seeing that lucrative NHS contracts are delivered to their chums in the private sector.

“It appears that the government is more interested in boosting the bank balances of the few than the health and welfare of the many…There has to be a moment of reckoning to see who does this government really seeks to serve – the public or its friends and chums in this clique?”

2. The Scottish Greens have welcomed the decision of the Scottish Trades Union Congress to back a motion stating the Scottish Parliament should have the power to hold a referendum on independence.

The motion stated that the Scottish Parliament should not require the consent of the UK Government to hold such a vote. The STUC also restated its view that the Westminster Government should not resist a vote if a majority of pro-independence MSPs are elected in May.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “The position outlined by Scotland’s trade union movement recognises the fundamental right of self-determination.

“The STUC rightly says that Scotland’s future is a matter for the people of Scotland, and if they choose to elect a parliament with a pro-independence majority then it should be for that parliament to hold a referendum.

“I’m sure many traditional Labour voters will find it incomprehensible that the Scottish Labour Party’s position is at odds with this perfectly reasonable statement of democratic principles. Scotland’s future is at stake in this election. That’s why the Scottish Greens are asking the public to vote like our future depends on it.”

1. Doctors, patients and NHS campaigners will stage protests across the country on Thursday, in opposition to their practices being taken over by US healthcare giant, Centene.

A socially distanced protest will take place outside Centene’s subsidiary offices, Operose, which recently took over the privately owned AT Medics that runs 37 GP practices across London.

Protestors – including Jeremy Corbyn MP – will assemble at 77 New Cavendish Street, London W1W 6XB between 3 and 4pm on Thursday 22nd April.

Similar protests will also be held in Leeds and Nottingham where GP practices are also being taken over by the US health provider.

Medics and campaigners alike believe that this takeover of 49 GP surgery sites under 37 contracts, that first came to light in February, represents the growing foothold that large private companies have in the NHS.

They fear the move will ultimately have a negative impact on patient care and on employee’s terms and conditions leading to cost-cutting, de-skilling of staff and possibly a reduced quality of service.

Across the country, Centene now own 58 practices, covering 500,000 patients, making them almost certainly the largest providers of primary care in the English NHS.

One of the GPs involved in the action and member of Keep Our NHS Public, Dr Brian Fisher, said: “This is a dangerous step towards more privatisation and Americanisation of our NHS. It is likely to lead to fewer GPs and to money being siphoned from patient care to US profits. It may, for the first time, open up the planning of local NHS services to the private sector –profits must never be allowed to come before patient care.”

Josiah Mortimer is the editor of Left Foot Forward.

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