Radical Roundup: 10 stories that have got buried – Week 1, June 2021

What got spiked this week?

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10. Labour has responded with anger to a new funding settlement from ministers to Transport for London, following a collapse in fares during the pandemic.

The £1bn in emergency funding for six months comes with strings attached, including calls for cuts and fare increases.

Sam Tarry, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Transport, responding to the Transport for London funding announcement, said: “Sadiq Khan has done well to kill off the very worst of the punitive conditions the Government wanted to impose on Transport for London, but this funding package still falls well-short of what Londoners and our economy needs.

“It is adding insult on top of injury to expect TfL to stump up an extra £500m every year without unfairly punishing Londoners for doing the right thing by not using public transport during lockdown.  

“The Government needs to set out substantial, long-term funding for TfL that will enable it to plan for the future, secure thousands of jobs across the capital and continue to build a transport network that’s the envy of the world.

“Once again, this government has opted to play politics with TfL rather than giving it the backing it needs.”

9. Construction unions Unite and GMB have secured the first access agreement for the massive HS2 development.

The agreement has been signed between the unions and the Mace/Dragados joint venture company which will undertake the construction of the new Euston Station.

The agreement secures the right of trade union representatives to visit the project’s inductions as well as welfare facilities to talk to all the workers on the site during their breaks, in order to deal with any concerns or worries that they may have.

The joint unions are working to ensure that similar agreements are signed for all areas of the HS2 project to ensure that workers are well treated, throughout the whole development.

Unite national officer Jerry Swain said: “This is a landmark agreement and establishes the path for harmonious industrial relations on HS2.

“The HS2 project is the largest construction project in Europe, in order for it to be delivered on time and on budget it is essential that workers are treated with respect.

“In order for that to be achieved it is essential that recognised unions are able to freely engage with our members and other workers on site, get them organised, understand their concerns and resolve their problems.”

Charlotte Childs, national officer, GMB said: “This is a great agreement that sets the tone for trade union engagement on the HS2 project.”

8. Momentum activists descended on Whitehall to highlight the ending of the eviction ban and demand a transformative response to Britain’s housing crisis on Monday.

At two o’clock forty tenants held a mock eviction hearing for Robert Jenrick outside the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, ahead of the expiration of the pandemic eviction ban. Activists also held simultaneous protests in Portsmouth, Southend, Hammersmith and Shipley.

Momentum’s Eviction Resistance campaign is demanding: an end to section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions; the cancellation of all pandemic rent debt; and the extension of the eviction ban until the pandemic is over.

Momentum is also campaigning for a housing motion at the Labour party conference which, if passed, would commit Labour to building 100,000 council houses a year and give councils the power to requisition long-term empty homes and put them to use to solve the housing crisis. The motion would also commit Labour to implementing a national housing system to house all those experiencing homelessness, regardless of immigration status.

Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: “Even before the crisis, tenants were being crushed between high rents and low wages. The Covid crisis has only made the situation worse.

“Meanwhile, UK billionaires have increased their wealth by more than 237 million pounds a day since the pandemic began.  Enough is enough – we have to defend working people against the greed of the mega landlords. We need transformative solutions, like banning no fault evictions and cancelling all pandemic rent debt.”

Left-wing MP Apsana Begum added: “The pandemic has hit renters incredibly hard. Now the Tories are letting vulnerable people be evicted during a pandemic in order to guarantee the profits of mega landlords.”

7. The SNP has backed an all-party campaign to reform drugs laws – including decriminalisation, and renewed calls for immediate action on drug consumption rooms.

The Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) – which has been in force for 50 years as of last Thursday – was designed to prevent drug use and reduce harm but since it came into effect there has been a dramatic rise in drug use, addiction and deaths in the UK.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform met last week to discuss the issues and how to reform UK drug policy to address the current failings of the Act.

In March, SNP MP Tommy Sheppard published his Private Members’ Bill, which outlines a series of reforms including decriminalising possession of small amounts of restricted drugs for personal use and ensuring that overdose prevention facilities – also known as drug consumption rooms – can operate legally. It would also see excessive drug use treated as a health emergency instead of a criminal matter.

The Bill has cross-party backing and is supported by a range of organisations including Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Release, and the Scottish Drug Forum. The legislative changes in it are based on evidence gathered by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee in 2019 from those affected by drug use, academics, service providers and others with significant expertise in this area.

Commenting, Tommy Sheppard MP said: “While the SNP Scottish Government is stepping up with £250 million of funding to tackle the drug deaths emergency in Scotland, and SNP MPs are leading the campaign for drug reform in Westminster, the UK government continues to bury its head in the sand, hoping the problem will go away. That is wrong and will solve nothing. The Misuse of Drugs Act is outdated and not fit for purpose.”

6. The Green Party have selected rugby league international Ross Peltier to be their candidate in the Batley and Spen by-election to be held on July 1st.

Peltier, a Jamaica rugby league international who also plays for Doncaster Dons, lives with his partner and young children in the constituency. He also works in the building sector and has a strong interest in sustainable construction.

Labour has selected the sister of murdered MP Joe Cox, and is expected to hold the seat.

On his selection by North Kirklees Green Party, Peltier said: “From a young age I have been raised to have a passion for your local community, to give to and help others to create a better place for us all to live in….I feel I am in tune with the attitudes, needs and wants from the area through living and working shoulder to shoulder with everyday people within the community.

“As a professional rugby league player I have a profile of sorts in an area which holds rugby league as its beating heart. I feel I can bridge the gap with the working person who has been a single party voter all his life to the Green Party. “

5. Employers will no longer be able to get away with mistreating any employees who take part in union-organised workplace disputes following an important legal decision today, says Unison.

UK law had previously prevented employers from sacking staff involved in strike action or other workplace disputes, but not from disciplining or making life difficult for them, the union said.

But now, disciplinary action against workers who go on strike will be unlawful. This follows today’s judgment at the employment appeal tribunal (EAT) over a case taken by care worker Fiona Mercer against the Alternative Futures Group (AFG).

She had been involved in organising, and subsequently took part in, a long-running dispute over AFG’s plans to cut payment for sleep-in shifts undertaken by its care staff.

Fiona was disciplined, suspended and prevented from going into work by her employer. AFG’s heavy-handed tactics meant she and many of her care worker colleagues were put off from taking part in the strike action, says Unison.

Unison and Fiona had originally taken North-West based charity AFG to an employment tribunal in Manchester in May 2020. A tribunal found that although the Trade Union Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 wasn’t compatible with international human rights law, it wouldn’t be taking further action.

Unison appealed, and now today the EAT has found in Fiona’s favour. The EAT president said that UK law was not compliant with international law, and has added wording to the 1992 Act, so that striking workers are now protected.

Commenting on the EAT decision, Unison general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Until now, employers have used a loophole in UK law to pick on workers who’ve taken part in disputes, safe in the knowledge that nothing will happen to them. Now they’ll no longer be able to.

“This is an important victory for UK workers. It confirms that if ever they need to take legal action over pay, holidays or other workplace issues, unions can protect them from employer bullying and harassment.”

4. Campaigners have launched a legal action against the UK government in a bid to end factory farming in England.

They claim a ban is urgently needed to prevent further pandemics, including the silent pandemic of increasing antibiotic resistance.

Renowned human rights lawyer, Michael Mansfield QC, is leading the court action. Humane Being – a volunteer-run action group – is behind the legal challenge, along with former pig industry veterinarian, Dr Alice Brough and former RSPCA board member, Jane Tredgett. Their Scrap Factory Farming campaign is crowdfunding the £60,000 needed for the judicial review of government policy.

David Finney, spokesperson for Scrap Factory Farming, said: “We are sitting on a pandemics timebomb. Three out of every four new and emerging diseases in people come from animals. The cramped, unhygienic conditions on UK factory farms are the perfect breeding ground for these diseases and condemn more than half a billion animals each year to a life of suffering and sickness.

“We may get control of Covid-19, but our government is doing nothing to address the root causes of zoonotic influenza. Between November 2020 and April 2021 there were more than 25 outbreaks of Avian Flu reported on UK farms. If we fail to ban factory farming, experts say it will not be a matter of if there will be another pandemic, but when.” 

Dr Alice Brough, pig veterinarian and co-claimant to the legal challenge, added: “Having worked for several years in one of the UK’s most intensive livestock sectors, I have seen the problems with factory farming first-hand. The systems can be extremely stressful, unhygienic and inappropriate for animals’ needs. Disease is rife, including those with pandemic potential, and excessive antibiotic use inevitable.

“This overuse contributes to antibiotic resistance which is already causing 700,000 human deaths globally each year. By 2050, this number is forecast by the World Health Organisation to reach 10 million if we continue on our current path.”

The legal team have filed the court action and papers were served to Defra on Tuesday.

3. The Israeli state should face international sanctions for alleged crimes against the Palestinian people, Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill has told the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Deputy First Minister was responding to a question on last week’s successful Sinn Féin motion in the Dáil which led to the Irish government becoming the first in Europe to declare that Israel’s military campaign last month amounts to the illegal annexation of Palestinian territory. 

“It is important for democrats to speak out against the crimes that are being perpetrated on a daily basis in Palestine, not least the recent onslaught against Gaza which resulted in such horrifying loss of life and destruction,” she commented.

“International solidarity played a key role in defeating apartheid in South Africa and the same is needed to defeat apartheid in Palestine.”

Michelle O’Neill added: “As members of the international community, we have a responsibility to demand that international law is upheld.

“At present, it is clear that the Palestinian people continue to be denied equality and rights while Israel continues to flout international law through its illegal occupation of the west bank and siege of Gaza.

“The UN and the EU should uphold their own rulings by ensuring Israel faces sanctions for its actions.”

2. Plans to increase Glasgow and Clyde’s woodland by a fifth have been welcomed by the Scottish Greens.

The Clyde Climate Forest, launched this Tuesday, will see planting schemes across the region with the aim of creating a large interlocking green network, including a biodiversity corridor.

The project is a partnership between the local authorities, Scottish Forestry, NatureScot, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Public Health Scotland and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health, with the Woodland Trust providing £400,000 in funding.

Commenting, Scottish Greens co-leader and MSP for Glasgow Patrick Harvie said: “The ambition to grow the Glasgow and Clyde’s tree cover by a fifth is welcome in the year of the COP26 conference, and comes after Glasgow became the first city in Scotland to declare an ecological emergency in 2019, thanks to Scottish Green councillors.

“The project’s ambition must be realised quickly, and with a significant proportion of the trees being native woodland, so that it can play a major part on nature recovery. We are in nature and climate emergencies, so we need all partners and contributors committed to the scale required.”

1. The right-wing Telegraph newspaper has been mocked online after complaining of ‘red tape’…caused by Brexit.

The Brexit-supporting paper warned on Wednesday that ‘shoppers face higher grocery bills as more EU red tape looms…threatening consumers’ pockets’.

But the extra costs being passed to consumers stem from increased bureaucracy caused by the need for border checks on goods, after the UK left the EU’s customs union.

The same paper has run pieces throwing its weight behind Johnson’s hard Brexit deal, including op eds stating that ‘the Brexit deal is unequivocally positive’. Others told readers to ‘Back Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal to reclaim UK sovereignty’.

Mike Buckley, Director of Labour for a European Future, told LFF: “Brexit was always going to force food prices higher. The impact has been delayed due to the Government’s refusal to control borders, but as checks come into force prices will inevitably rise.

“The right wing press are attempting to disguise the cause for now – but that’s unlikely to continue. Already the Brexit-supporting Express has spoken out against harms to the fishing and farming industries. As the pandemic fades and Brexit harms become clearer, we could see the whole project become unpopular pretty quickly.”

BONUS: Protesters from across the left will come together for a joint protest on June 26th, headlined: “After Covid: Demand a New Normal”.

Activists will gather from 12pm, at Portland Place, London. Spearheaded by the People’s Assembly, organisers say the demonstration will bring together the ‘whole of the progressive movement to relaunch an opposition to this disastrous government’.

In a statement, the group said: “Support is flooding in from unions, campaigns and organisations all over the country who will all be there on the day.”

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn MP, from the Peace And Justice Project, said: “I’m proud to support this demonstration. It makes a simple and crucial point: we cannot go on like this. People deserve decent housing; properly funded schools, hospitals, and public services; fair pay and fulfilling work; and a liveable planet.

“The pandemic has exposed what happens when health services are run down and government services are outsourced and privatised – placing the interests of the wealthy before the public good. In its place we can, and we will, build a future that works for the many not the few.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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