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

Protests, strikes, sell-offs and more: find out what got spiked this week.

Your weekly dose of under-reported news… Got a story tip? Email us: [email protected]

10. Trade unions, climate groups and social movements will march on Parliament this weekend for a national ‘Unite Against the Tories’ demonstration.

The protest is organised by the People’s Assembly and backed by the Fire Brigades Union, Bakers’ Union, National Education Union, Extinction Rebellion, as well as other leading activist organisations.

Thousands are set to protest against what they call a ‘corrupt’ Tory government, calling for faster action on the climate emergency, an end to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and a ban on fire and rehire tactics by companies, among 12 demands.  

In a statement ahead of the march, a spokesperson for the People’s Assembly said: “This government has made it clear it wants working people to pay for the coronavirus crisis. Its pitiful offer to the nurses, the public sector pay freeze, lack of sick pay, while contracts are granted to their friends and cronies tells you that.

“Meanwhile, there are further subsidies to companies while we are facing mass unemployment levels when furlough ends. Employers are going on the offensive, especially with notorious fire and rehire policies -but there has been widespread opposition to this including strike action.

“There is visceral anger over the multitude of government failures during the pandemic, with one of the highest Covid death rates in the world. This government has failed us and this will be our first opportunity to take to the streets in opposition…The Tories want to take away our rights to demonstrate for our rights. We cannot let that happen.”

9. Labour has demanded that all workers be given the right to flexible working ahead of the lifting of restrictions and rumours of a planned government consultation on flexible working. On Thursday, No 10 said the government had no plans to introduce a right to work from home.

Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work Angela Rayner has demanded that the government set a “default presumption in favour of flexible working” rather than just the right to request flexibility, meaning employers must accommodate flexible working unless there is a reason that a job can’t be done remotely and flexibly.

Labour says that the right to flexible working will enable working people to benefit from changing working practices post-Covid and enjoy a better work-life balance, save time commuting and spend more time with their families. To protect workers from increased working hours, Labour is also demanding the ‘right to switch off’, so working from home doesn’t mean “homes turning into 24/7 offices.”

The government dropped its promised Employment Bill, which Labour argues should have been an opportunity to legislate to guarantee flexible working rights

8. The University of Liverpool has told staff taking part in a lawful marking and assessment boycott that it will withhold 100% of their wages, despite staff being willing to carry out a majority of their duties

University management said they will withhold wages until staff complete marking all assessments affected by the industrial action, and has said it considers all other work staff carry out to be voluntary and not worthy of payment.  

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) began the boycott last Friday, in a long running dispute over the university’s decision to sack 24 staff from the faculty of health and life sciences during the Covid pandemic. Managers are using criteria similar to the ‘rank and yank’ management approach Amazon has been criticised for using. Staff previously took three weeks of strike action, which ended last week.

UCU said it has never seen an employer withhold 100% of pay from staff participating in a marking and assessment boycott. The union said it is especially egregious as if the university removed the threat to dock pay, staff would be willing to perform most of their duties.

The university emailed all staff  to say pay will be withheld from last Friday until staff resume all their marking and assessment duties in full. Staff who complete marking assessments after the industrial action ends will not receive any back pay. The marking boycott comes after 90% of members who voted in a ballot, backed taking industrial action to fight the university’s plans to slash the teaching and research jobs.

7. Trade and environmental campaigners have warned that ministers are “on a mission to drive down standards and hand over power to transnational corporations”, as the UK begins talks to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

As well as putting downwards pressure on UK standards and regulation, the agreement would sign the UK up to a system of corporate courts, known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), allowing big polluters to sue the government for taking climate action.

Global Justice Now led the successful campaigns to exclude ISDS from the UK-Australia trade deal and to knock back the US trade deal. But the group warns that signing up to the corporate courts in CPTPP would be “an act of environmental vandalism in the year we host COP26, binding us to climate inaction for another generation.”

The group says that the CPTPP would entrench the corporate court system that gives multinational corporations special powers to bully and sue governments, and undermine food standards

Nick Dearden, Director of Global Justice Now, said: “Liz Truss is on a mission to drive down standards and hand over power to transnational corporations. CPTPP membership will sign us up to a system of secretive corporate courts, known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), that allows big polluters to sue governments for taking action on the climate. 

“Just as we’ve knocked these courts out of the UK-Australia trade deal, we find out the government is trying to sneak them into other trade deals. If the UK joins this block, it will be an act of environmental vandalism in the year we host COP26, binding us to climate inaction for another generation.”

6. The Chair of the International Development Committee, Sarah Champion MP, has called on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to show more respect for her Parliamentary Committee by providing better detail about departmental plans and spending.  

The call was prompted by a change in the way that crucial information about foreign aid is presented – a change which Sarah Champion said meant her Committee could not properly fulfill its democratic role of scrutinising aid spending.  

The International Development Committee Chair said the change in presentation was part of a pattern by the government of trying to hide cuts to programmes that help people in poorer countries. 

As just one example of these cuts, the United Nations World Health Organisation (WHO) has told the International Development Committee in a written submission that hundreds of millions of people are at risk of painful, debilitating tropical diseases because of cuts to a UK programme to fight these diseases.  

In addition to hundreds of millions of people suffering, the WHO said that “a consequence of the aid cuts” would be that “20,000 – 30,000 individuals are likely to die, with the uncertainly in that estimate related to expected recent increases in disease due to Covid-19-related programmatic delays”.

Sarah Champion’s call for more respect for her Committee was prompted by a change in the way the Foreign Office presents its proposed spending plans (known officially as ‘Main Estimates’) on foreign aid. The change was discussed in an exchange of letters between the top official in the Foreign Office, the Permanent Secretary, Sir Phillip Barton KCMG OBE, and Ms Champion.

Sir Phillip explained in a letter to Sarah Champion on June 8, published here that most of the proposed spending plans incorporating the foreign aid budget for 2021-22 would now come under a single budget line called ‘Strategic priorities and other programme spending’.

But Sarah Champion, in a reply published here said the subsequent lack of detail in the proposed spending plans fell short of what her Committee expected to see.

5. SNP MP Owen Thompson has called out Boris Johnson’s reported attempts to “neuter” the role of the Electoral Commission.

The reports come not long after the independent regulator announced that it would launch a formal investigation into the Prime Minister’s lavish flat refurbishment, stating that: “We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred.”

In a Written Statement, Tory minister Chloe Smith confirmed that the UK government would bring forward measures that will target the role and powers of the Electoral Commission – including stripping it of its powers to prosecute.

Commenting after challenging Boris Johnson at PMQs on the issue today, SNP MP Owen Thompson said: “The Electoral Commission performs the important role of independent electoral regulator in the UK. 

“Whether it is investigating Tory dark money donations or attempts to undermine democracy, the Electoral Commission’s role is critical in ensuring there is public confidence in democratic processes. 

“The move to interfere with the commission comes unsurprisingly not long after it launched an investigation into who paid for the Prime Minister’s lavish – and still unexplained – flat refurbishment. 

“With the Tory government reportedly seeking to neuter and direct the Electoral Commission, there are real questions over what Boris Johnson is looking to achieve.”

4. The National Union of Journalists has hit out at newly-released plans to privatise Channel 4.

The union has responded to a government white paper on the future of the broadcaster, noting: “Ministers say it needs to compete with Netflix and Disney+ — but the whole point is that it doesn’t. Its job is to provide the sort of UK programming that a US-owned broadcasting behemoth has no interest in producing. Its job to nurture home-grown new stars from Bradford to Brixham.

“Is a new buyer – probably non-UK based – working in a for-profit model really going to invest in edgy productions and support the award-winning, hour-long Channel 4 News?  Industry experts say no. The money its sale will raise will be peanuts for the government. Privatisation of Channel 4 makes no sense on any level.

“Viewers of the broadcaster’s traditional television channels and its catch-up service, All 4, grew by 2 per cent and 26 per cent respectively last year, and by 4 per cent and 40 per cent in the first half of this year. The broadcaster is on track to break £1bn in revenues for the first time this year.”

Paul Siegert, NUJ national broadcasting organiser, added: “It’s hard to see any justification for privatising Channel Four other than ideology. C4 has achieved what it was asked to do and has proved a hit with viewers.  So, if it isn’t broke, why is the government proposing the fix of privatising it?  Four years ago, the government said it would continue to be owned by the public and it should honour that promise.”

He added: “In its White paper, the government should be looking at ways to increase media plurality and support public service broadcasting in the UK, which has high levels of trust, to allow these stations to continue to provide the engine of innovation, nurture UK talent, support independent programme makers, and provide training to the creative industry.”  

3. Strikes due to begin on Wednesday at cereal maker Weetabix have been suspended following talks between Unite the union and management at the company.

Engineers employed by Weetabix and who are members of Unite, the UK’s leading union, were preparing to take strike action in a fire and rehire dispute, which would have resulted in the affected workers suffering substantial pay cuts.

As a result of talks held this Tuesday, Unite agreed to suspend strike action that was scheduled every Wednesday from tomorrow until September. In response Weetabix has agreed not to make any changes to the engineer’s contracts until at least 1 September. The move to deescalate the strike action is designed to allow meaningful negotiations to take place.

Unite regional officer Sean Kettle said: “Following constructive talks with Weetabix, Unite has agreed to suspend the strike action which was due to begin tomorrow.

“The decision to suspend the strikes was in response to Weetabix agreeing to postpone the proposed implementation of the contract changes for our members.

“It is hoped that fresh negotiations will allow a deal to be reached that will be acceptable to our members.”

2. Recent changes to the Bank of England’s mandate could allow the UK to lead the world on green finance ahead of COP26, according to a new report published by research groups the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and Positive Money.

The report, ‘Greening Finance to Build Back Better: A UK Roadmap Ahead of COP26’, argues that Britain’s financial system is not currently geared towards investing in the real economy, with only 2 – 5% of bank lending before the pandemic going towards SMEs, which provide 60% of private sector jobs in the UK. But the report outlines how recent changes to the Bank of England’s mandate could allow finance to be steered away from fossil fuels and speculative lending and towards green investment which supports the government’s ‘levelling up’ and Build Back Better agendas. 

The Bank of England’s monetary, financial and prudential policy committees now all have mandates to support the government’s net zero plans, following updated remits from the Chancellor earlier this year. The report calls for policymakers to take advantage of these mandate changes to:

• Unleash green investment, by greening the Bank of England’s existing lending schemes, and the Treasury coordinating with the central bank to increase public spending on a fair green transition which creates new jobs and levels up the whole country.
• Regulate private finance, by introducing higher capital requirements for fossil fuel lending to more accurately reflect the risk of these investments, and requiring all UK financial institutions to outline credible Paris-aligned decarbonisation plans
• Reform the institutional ecosystem, by establishing a green action task force and developing metrics and targets to hold officials to account on progress in shifting UK finance towards Paris-alignment

The report comes as Japan’s central bank last week announced similar plans to increase loans and investment for activities aimed at combating climate change.

New Economics Foundation chief executive, Miatta Fahnbulleh, said: “The set-up of the current UK financial system and the government’s Build Back Better agenda are not geared towards providing the vital patient finance needed to support jobs, businesses, and local communities as part of a green recovery.

“In the context of a significant green finance gap, a primary issue is the quantity and pricing of lending. The Bank with support from the Treasury can help accelerate a socially just green recovery through targeted lending schemes aimed at lowering the cost of borrowing of green activities, particularly those undertaken by SMEs and households.”

1. Hundreds of staff are to strike at Telford’s spitfire manufacturer GKN Sankey in a pay dispute.

Workers with combined 4,000 years of experience will walk out following an ‘assault on redundancy payments’, the GMB union says.

More than 200 long-service workers have voted overwhelmingly to strike at GKN Sankey in Telford following a months-long onslaught on redundancy packages and pay. 

The wheel manufacturing company – which made RAF Spitfires during World War 2 – has repeatedly refused to negotiate with their recognised trade union, GMB. 

The strike will begin on Monday July 5, with more dates to be announced. 

Stuart Harrison, Regional Organiser said: “This ballot result sends a clear message to the company: GMB members won’t tolerate your heartless behaviour. These workers have a combined experience of four thousand years but are having their futures threatened. 

“GKN Sankey must commit to protecting the hard-won rights of their workers and start showing them the respect they deserve.” 

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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