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

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10. Campaign Against Arms Trade has called on the UK government to condemn the abuses inflicted by Israeli forces over recent days, including air strikes last night that are reported to have killed dozens of people in Gaza.

The air strikes follow several days of attacks by Israeli police and settlers on Palestinians in Jerusalem, injuring over 300 people, including the storming of the Al Aqsa Mosque. 

Since the Conservative government was elected in May 2015 the UK has licensed over £400 million worth of arms to Israeli forces, including:

  • £183 million worth of ML22 licences (military technology)
  • £104 million worth of ML10 licences (Aircraft, helicopters, drones)
  • £20 million worth of ML4 licences (Grenades, bombs, missiles, countermeasures)
  • £4.6 million worth of ML6 licences (Armoured vehicles, tanks)
  • £1.9 million worth of ML3 licences (ammunition)
  • £1 million worth of ML1 licences (small arms)

The actual level of exports will be significantly higher, CAAT says, as there have also been 43 Open Licences in this period, mainly for aircraft equipment. Open Licences allow for an unlimited quantity and value of exports. The UK also produces 15% of the value of each F-35 stealth combat aircraft produced, of which 27 have been delivered to Israel so far.

A review by the government at the time found 12 licences for arms which are likely to have been used in the 2014 bombardment of Gaza. Likewise, in 2010 the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that UK-made arms had “almost certainly” been used in the 2009 bombing campaign.

Dana Aboul-Jabine of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “These terrible air strikes have further added to the many years of injustice and bloodshed. They must be met with condemnation, and action from the international community, particularly when following the increased tensions we have seen and the storming of such an important holy site.

“Regardless of how many atrocities have been inflicted, Downing Street has continued to arm and support Israeli forces. UK-made arms have been used against Palestinians before, and it is likely that they will be again. These arms sales do not just provide military support, they also send a clear sign of political support for the daily abuse that is central to the occupation.

“Time and again, successive UK governments have put arms sales ahead of the rights and lives of Palestinians. That long and shameful policy must stop,” Aboul-Jabine said.

9. The Prime Minister must now follow the good example set by the Scottish government and quickly find the money to give all health workers across the UK a decent pay rise, says Unison.

Today NHS workers belonging to Unison and other health unions across Scotland voted overwhelmingly to accept a pay offer, which will see most staff receive at least a 4% pay rise.

Commenting on the news, Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “NHS staff in every part of the UK have given everything through the worst days of the pandemic.

“Covid might be in retreat, but now it’s a different kind of pressure as health workers try to reduce the huge backlog of cancelled tests, appointments and operations that’s built up.

“The government in Edinburgh has shown it understands a world-class NHS is only possible with proper investment in staff. It’s high time the Westminster government acknowledged that too.

“Health workers across the whole of the UK deserve to have their ongoing efforts and dedication recognised. Staff in three of the four nations can’t be left behind.

“Boris Johnson must do the right thing and unlock the cash so health workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland g​et the proper pay rise the public* wants them to have.”

8. Extinction Rebellion co-founder Dr. Gail Bradbrook was arrested at her home in Stroud early Tuesday morning, and released under investigation later the same day.

She was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police for conspiracy to cause criminal damage following a ‘Suffragettes-inspired’ window-breaking at her local Barclays branch, and alleged fraud in relation to the Repair Harm debt strike.

The strike involved donating Barclaycard debt as ‘reparations’ to those facing the effects of climate devastation.

Both protests formed part of XR’s ‘Money Rebellion’ actions to spotlight Barclay’s investments in environmentally-destructive industries.

7. The government’s new Online Safety Bill, designed to tackle abuse, is not fit for purpose, press campaigners say.

The draft bill sets out a regime for some social media platforms to be regulated by Ofcom.  Newspaper-operated social media platforms will be exempt from the new regime.

Press campaign group Hacked Off has publicised examples of anti-Semitic and racist abuse in newspaper comment sections, which will be exempt from the new regulatory regime under the government’s proposals. 

Commenting, Hacked Off Policy Director Nathan Sparkes said: “We were promised a world-leading regulatory regime to protect the public from online harms, but the government has failed to deliver.  In providing an exemption to newspaper-operated social media platforms, without any reasonable justification, the government would create safe havens for those responsible for racism, hate and abuse online. 

“Racism and anti-Semitism already flourish on these platforms, with the public regularly exposed to hateful and abusive posts under online newspaper stories read by millions.  The government’s decision to shelter these popular parts of the internet from all meaningful accountability will embolden racists and extremists to continue their spread of extremism and abuse.”

6. A record eight Scottish Greens MSPs will be sworn in at the Scottish Parliament today as the party’s biggest ever group will take its place in the Scottish Parliament.

The Holyrood election saw Scottish Green MSPs elected to represent Glasgow, the Highlands and Islands, the North East, Mid Scotland and Fife, Lothian and for the first time, Central Scotland.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “It is a pleasure and enormous privilege to welcome our biggest cohort of Scottish Green MSPs into parliament. This group will bring new energy to Holyrood and work hard for a fairer, greener Scotland.”

They include Ariane Burgess, the Scottish Greens MSP for the Highlands and Islands, who is expected to deliver the affirmation in Gaelic, Ross Greer (West Scotland), who was the youngest ever MSP when first elected in 2016. And co-leader Lorna Slater has worked as an engineer in the renewables energy sector, most recently as a project manager in the construction of the world’s biggest tidal turbine in Dundee.

5. Three quarters of the public think teaching assistants aren’t paid enough, new polling shows. 

The poll, conducted by Survation on behalf of GMB, found that 74% of those polled said that the average teaching assistant’s earnings of £13,856 last year was too low, with half (48%) saying that it was much too low. 

78% agree school support staff should be received overtime payments if school days are extended following the lifting of lockdown, while 68% agree school support staff should be paid during holidays the same as teachers do. 

GMB is calling for a substantial pay rise for school support staff – as part of the local government pay claim – to make up for a decade of real terms pay cuts under Conservative governments. 

4. Shadow Secretary of State for Education Kate Green MP has given University and College Union members a boost in their fight against cuts to jobs and courses by pulling out of an event organised by two universities planning to close courses. 

The Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston had been due to speak at an online event on Monday 10 May, organised by Aston University and London South Bank University (LSBU) but pulled out when she was made aware of plans at both universities to close courses. 

Aston University is planning to close its Department of History, Languages and Translation, putting 24 jobs at risk of redundancy. The closure will mean 10 courses being cut including BSCs in English literature, international business, history and politics. A UCU petition against the cuts has already reached over 6000 signatures. 

LSBU has taken the decision to close seven courses in its Law and Social Sciences School and to implement a wide-ranging and universal ‘Portfolio Review’ of its 2022 curriculum.  The local branch will be asking for a reversal of the course closure plans, a commitment to no compulsory redundancies and immediate suspension of the curriculum review. 

3. Bristol University has ramped up the pressure on rent-striking students by threatening to involve a debt collection firm.

Activists say it would make the University of Bristol the first to pursue private debt collection during the pandemic, and marks a shift in the university’s handling of the rent strike.

“Having an outside company potentially affect our finances and credit score is really scary” said Alice, a participant in the Bristol rent strike. “Financially, being a student this year has been really tough, jobs are hard to find and the university threatening this action is upsetting,” she said.

Giovanni, another student striker, claimed the move from the university is “vile bullying behaviour.”

The university’s own debt procedure normally means they hold onto debt for 12 months before going to a third party. However students have been contacted being told their debt from October 24th will be passed onto STA International debt collectors as early as May 17th.

The university’s action is being seen as a ‘retaliation’ to the rent strike, thought to be one of the biggest in recent UK history.

A University of Bristol spokesperson told student outlet Epigram: “We do not make a profit from student rent and all accommodation fees are used for operating, maintaining and improving our halls of residence. This includes 24/7 pastoral and wellbeing support.

“Recognizing the impact the pandemic has had, we have offered students rebates which are the equivalent of a 25% reduction in rent over the duration of their tenancy. We believe this to be one of the most significant rebates across the university sector and it is significantly more than students living in private rented accommodation have received.”

2. Trade unions and Labour parliamentarians have issued a joint call to ban fire and rehire, as pressure builds for ministers to take action. 

Nearly 20 unions and more than 140 MPs and Lords joined together as part of Unite the union’s campaign to prevent employers from using the UK’s weak employment laws to raid wages and cut terms such as sick pay.

In a letter sent to Boris Johnson, the unions and politicians called on the prime minister to use the Queen’s Speech on 11 May to introduce legislation outlawing the controversial practice. 

Pressure is mounting on the government to take action as soon as possible, with a Unite commissioned poll released last week finding that 70 per cent of the public want it made illegal

The TUC found that already one in 10 workers had been threatened with fire and rehire during the pandemic, with that number set to grow dramatically as furlough ends unless the law is changed.

Last month in the House of Commons, Paul Scully MP, parliamentary-under-secretary of state for business, said the government “will tackle”fire and rehire, which he condemned as “bully-boy tactics”. 

Unite has launched a major national campaign to end fire and rehire in the UK, saying that the ease with which workers’ employment conditions can be worsened is a boon for bad bosses.

1.  TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, has taken the unprecedented step of writing to public sector pay review bodies, calling on them to recognise and reward the efforts of key workers who kept the nation going through the pandemic.

It is the first time a TUC general secretary has appealed directly to pay review bodies. She has taken this step because of the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic – and because of the debt the UK owes its key workers.

The letters says that a significant pay rise for public sector workers is “fair, affordable and necessary”. And it warns that holding back the living standards of public sector will hit economic recovery.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said key workers have kept the country going through the coronavirus pandemic: ”They have earned a significant boost to their pay – and the UK can afford it.

“We owe key workers a huge debt. Any further cut to their standard of living risks a staff exodus from essential services. This would be a disaster for our nation.”

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