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

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10. Plans to restrict citizens’ right to challenge government decisions in the courts have been slammed by Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, as the bill appears before Parliament.

David Lammy MP, responding to the introduction of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill this Wednesday, said: “Judicial Review is the process by which the public can challenge the Government and other public bodies when they break the law.

“It is wrong for the Government to try to put itself above the law by limiting where courts can hold the Government to account.

“It is unhinged that the Ministry of Justice is wasting resources on attacking a vital process that works well while the courts system is on the brink of collapse.

“Instead of using the pandemic as an attempt to hoard more power, the Government should be addressing the record-high courts backlog and record-low conviction rates for rape.”

9. Extinction Rebellion is considering its options for appeal, after six members who took part in the blockade of Murdoch’s printworks in September 2020 were convicted last week.

In a statement, the group said: “We are astonished that Judge Fudge ruled there was no political interference in the police operation despite overwhelming evidence. Priti Patel contacted the police frequently throughout the night and demanded the early removal of protesters. We suspect under pressure from fossil fuels investing climate-delayer Rupert Murdoch. History will decide where the real guilt lies.

“As floods devastate Europe, another heat dome is building in the United States, and environmental defenders across the world are being silenced, XR will continue to demand that the press tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency.

“The media is a central pillar in helping the public understand the scale of the response needed. Our captive press is failing in its democratic responsibility.”

This was the second trial for the Broxbourne Printworks blockade in September 2020. The ruling was handed down by District Judge Fudge at St Albans Magistrates’ Court.

Caspar Hughes, Elise Yarde, Hazel Stenson, Amir Jones and Charlotte Kirin were each sentenced to a 12 month conditional discharge and £150 court costs plus £22 victim surcharge. Laura Frandsen received a £150 fine and £150 court costs plus £34 victim surcharge.

8. GMB members working for the NHS say they are appalled by the government’s  announcement on Monday that heath and social care workers will be exempt from self-isolation – but only to work – after being pinged by the NHS app.  

Double vaccinated frontline NHS and social care staff in England who have been told to self-isolate will be permitted to attend work in s-called exceptional circumstances, under the plans.

Holly, a mental health nurse from London, said the decision shows how little regard this Government has for frontline workers’ safety and well-being.  

She added that the staffing crisis is desperate, and that this policy was being used to plug the gaps.

Staff pulled out of isolation to go into work, will have to stay at home when they leave.

The GMB is concerned that forcing otherwise isolating staff into work could harm patients, and branded the policy ‘one rule for them, another for us’.

7. Members of the University and College Union (UCU) in 15 further education colleges in England have voted for strike action.

Staff are angry that employer body, the Association of Colleges (Aoc) recommended a pay offer of just 1% in December 2020, a decision that was criticised by UCU, Unite the Union, Unison, GMB and the National Education Union (NEU).

An overwhelming 89% of members who voted backed strike action, on an average turnout of over 62%. UCU said the turnout and vote for action reflected the anger staff feel over having their pay held down for so long.

The ballot includes many London colleges including City & Islington College, Westminster Kingsway College and the College of North East London.

After years of UCU’s joint campaigning with employers, further education won £400m of increased government funding, £224m of which arrived in August 2020 and should have been used for staff pay, with the AoC indicating it would make a more significant pay recommendation as a result.

The pay gap between college and school teachers currently stands at £9,000 as staff working in further education have suffered real terms pay cuts of over 30% in the past decade

6. A new study for the Bakers’ Union has found that almost one in five people run out of food due to a lack of money.

The report found that 40% had eaten less than they should because of a lack of cash, over a third (35%) ate less to make sure others in the house got a meal, and one in five had relied on food from friends and relatives. More than 7% had experience of using food banks.

It comes after the publication of the government’s National Food Strategy for England, which the union said failed to deliver the plan needed to tackle hunger.

Sarah Woolley, General Secretary of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union (BFAWU) said 10 million people across the UK face food poverty.

She called for a new ‘Right to Food’ law, something not offered in the government’s strategy. The union has branded the government’s offer ‘bread crumbs’.

5. The National Union of Journalists has condemned attempts to interfere with journalists’ private communications, following a major investigation into spying.

The union called for journalists to use extra vigilance to protect their data, with the NUJ backing new laws to protect journalists’ communications.

The report by Forbidden Stories – a worldwide collaborative journalism investigation-   revealed that at least 180 journalists across the world have been spied on using Pegasus software, a tool developed by the Israeli cybersurveillance company NSO and sold to a number of clients, including states across the world.

The list of the 180 journalists targeted includes reporters from global media platforms, as well as freelance investigators who appear to have been targeted by regimes determined to uncover sources, undermine research, and in some cases, stop their reporting.

Revelations of the use of NSO’s Pegasus software to spy on journalists shows the profound vulnerability of media freedom and illustrates the serious breach of the public’s right to know.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “All concerned with bringing this story to light deserve the highest praise. But if media organisations can obtain such a substantial and detailed cache of information, then clearly so can others.”

4. A group of specialist engineers employed at the Rolls Royce plant in Barnoldswick, Lancashire began strike action on Monday, after fears for the long term future of the site resurfaced.
 
Members of Unite held a long running strike before Christmas in opposition to plans to scale back production at the factory, the cradle of the jet engine, and which workers believed spelt the long-term demise of the factory.
 
Following the industrial action an agreement was reached between Rolls-Royce and Unite which guaranteed the future of the factory. Crucially, as part of the deal it was agreed that Barnoldswick would continue with a minimum headcount of 350 workers and a centre of excellence would be built to train the workers of tomorrow.
 
However following a meeting in mid-May Unite was forced to issue a failure to agree notice with Rolls-Royce as local managers made it clear that they were not planning to reach the 350 headcount figure and the offload of work had been accelerated.
 
Unite has been attempting to resolve the matter and seek reassurances about Barnoldswick’s long-term future, without success – leading workers to return to the picket lines.

3. Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP has hit out at the Labour NEC’s decision to ‘auto expel’ members of Socialist Appeal and three other left-wing groups.

On Tuesday, Labour proscribed four groups: Socialist Appeal, Labour in Exile Network, Labour Against the Witchhunt and Resist (set up by expelled ex-MP Chris Williamson).

Nine of the National Executive Committee’s 39 members opposed the proscription of Chris Williamson’s Resist, which intends to register as a political party, ten opposed the banning of LIEN and LATW, and 12 voted against the Socialist Appeal ban, LabourList reported.

Before the meeting, John McDonnell MP said in a statement: “Members of the party who are supportive of the ideas advocated by Socialist Appeal have loyally worked hard voluntarily for Labour candidates to be elected and have been at the forefront of many campaigns and trade union struggles.

“Banning or proscribing members associated with the ideas of Socialist Appeal flies in the face of what Labour has always stood for. If any member of the party has broken the party’s rules, there are already procedures to deal with this.

“There is no need for this resort to bans and proscriptions. The question that must surely come to mind, is if it is those associated with the policies and ideas of Socialist Appeal who are targeted now, who is next on the list for proscription.”

Ian Hodson, Bakers’ Union president, is expected to be expelled as a sponsor of Labour Against the Witchhunt, which claims many allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour are politically motivated.

Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal’s newspaper, said: “This is a blatant, politically-motivated attack on the left by the Labour right wing. It is clear that Starmer and the right wing are determined to expunge socialism from the Labour Party. Their aim is to return the party to Blairism, and make Labour a safe pair of hands for capitalism.”

Euan Philipps, spokesperson for Labour Against Antisemitism welcomed the ban of the four groups: “[They] represent some of the most extreme elements of the antisemitic Hard Left. Over recent years they have promoted anti-Jewish views, encouraged a toxic environment for Jewish party members and hampered attempts to tackle antisemitism.”

2. The past year has been especially ‘grim’ for England’s prisons, the Howard League for Penal Reform has said.

The group was responding to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons’ Annual Report for 2020-21, published on Tuesday, which noted that prisoners had face ‘prison within prison’ – trapped in their cells for nearly all the pandemic.

The Howard League runs a free and confidential legal advice line for children and young adults in custody. The charity has been inundated with calls throughout the pandemic as strict restrictions have impacted on prisoners’ physical and mental health.
 
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This has been a particularly grim year for prisons. Hundreds of families are grieving. Thousands more have been denied the chance to see their loved ones. Tens of thousands of people have been held in overcrowded conditions or solitary confinement with nothing to do for months on end.

“With the prison population at a lower level, mainly due to restricted court business, the government should seize the chance to properly stabilise regimes, eliminate overcrowding and reform sentencing to reduce demand on the system. Instead, ministers appear to be looking the other way, which will lead to more crime.”

The charity has also written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, to recommend moving away from a strategy of prison-building to investing in communities and rehabilitation.

1. The SNP’s Westminster leader has challenged Boris Johnson to categorically deny that Scottish Tory votes to slash the aid budget for the world’s poorest were bought off with the promise of government jobs.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Ian Blackford MP cited remarks made by senior Tory MP Damian Green that jobs were “dangled” in front of Tory backbenchers to prevent them voting against these cruel cuts to aid. 

It comes after the UK government faced a significant rebellion in the House of Commons on the vote. Despite an explicit Tory manifesto commitment to maintain the 0.7% spend on overseas aid, Douglas Ross and the Scottish Tory MPs all fell in line behind Boris Johnson and voted in favour of the multi-billion-pound cut.

Blackford also called out Johnson for attempting to “shut out” the majority voice of Scotland’s democratic representatives in Westminster by failing to follow proper procedure and informing the SNP of his decision to speak in the aid debate. The MP warned it was “obvious this was solely and deliberately directed at the SNP” given the Labour leader had been fully informed the previous evening.

Ian Blackford MP said: “Since the devastating vote to slash international aid to the world’s poorest, there have been deepening concerns and growing accusations surrounding the dodgy backroom dealing and dirty tactics deployed by Boris Johnson’s government to prevent a bigger backbench rebellion.

“Reports – publicly backed by a senior Tory figure – that the offer of government promotions was ‘dangled’ in front of Tory MPs in exchange for their votes raises very serious questions.

“I have written to the Prime Minister offering him the opportunity to categorically deny that Scottish Conservative votes to cut foreign aid were bought off with the promise or discussions of government jobs.

“We know all too well the rogue and immoral manner in which this Tory government is being run. In stark contrast to Westminster’s cuts to aid, the SNP Scottish Government is increasing its International Development Fund by 50%.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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