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

The news you didn't see this week...

Radical Roundup

Your Wednesday fix of under-reported news… Got a story tip? Email us: editor@leftfootforward.org

1. Sheffield residents will march on Royal Hallamshire Hospital this weekend, demanding justice for a man who was charged over £100,000 by the NHS after having a stroke, under the government’s hostile environment rules.

A carnival of resistance will parade through Sheffield this Saturday to resist NHS charging policies levelled against migrants, and demand justice for Sheffield resident Simba Mujakachi, who faces a bill of over £100,000 bill for life-saving treatment.

The Justice for Simba campaign alongside allies in Sheffield and people from around the country will march on Royal Hallamshire Hospital to deliver Simba’s petition, which over 68,000 people have signed, requesting that Simba’s debt is scrapped and demanding justice for everyone affected by immigration policies in the NHS. 

Mujakachi’s family came to the UK in 2004 from Zimbabwe, when he was just 14, but they were denied asylum.

The government changed the law in 2017 so that ‘ineligible migrants’ have to pay up-front for ‘non-urgent’ care.

2. Unite held a national day of action on Wednesday as part of its campaign to end fire and rehire.

The union’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, called the practice, in which employers sack their workers only to rehire them on lower pay and worse conditions, “an abhorrence” and “one of the scandals of our age”.

Unite members around the country pledged to mobilise outside the offices of 30 Conservative MPs, the Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack, the UK Parliament and a Tesco distribution centre to protest the practice and demand action. The union’s new general secretary Sharon Graham has made a commitment to build industrial strength to defeat employers using fire and rehire.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “‘Fire and Rehire’ is an abhorrence. It’s a legal mechanism used by ‘bad bosses’ to slash labour costs under cover of the Covid pandemic. It is one of the scandals of our age.

“We can win on ‘Fire and Rehire’ and win more often, if we fully commit to focusing on building union strength and organisation at the workplace. That is what Unite intends to do.”

Unite is supporting Barry Gardiner MP’s Private Members Bill to challenge Fire and Rehire and is calling on MPs of all parties to back it. The Bill is due its second reading on 22 October under the title of Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill.

Barry Gardiner MP said: “MPs from every political party and every corner of the country are saying that Fire and Rehire is wrong. Bullying and intimidation is not the way forward if we want decent employment and a productive economy. Next month my colleagues in parliament have a chance to stand up and stop the bullying.”

3. MPs from across the political spectrum have called on the government to ban the sale and import of real animal fur in Britain.

All 18 of the MPs who spoke at Tuesday’s Westminster Hall debate called for a ban on the fur trade, referring to the trade as ‘barbaric’, ‘cruel’, ‘utterly illogical’, ‘outmoded’, and ‘inhumane’. 

The debate was held after a 1 million signature petition was recently delivered to the Prime Minister by the #FurFreeBritain campaign, led by Humane Society International/UK.

Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK says: “There is overwhelming political as well as public support for a UK fur ban. If we are a nation of animal lovers, Britain cannot remain complicit in the appalling suffering of millions of fur-bearing animals caged or trapped overseas, all for frivolous fur fashion. We urge government to consign fur cruelty to the history books by introducing legislation to ban the import and sale of real animal fur as soon as possible.”

Since banning fur farming more than two decades ago in 2000, Britain has imported more than £800 million worth of fur from countries including Finland, China, France and Poland, where tormented animals such as foxes and mink suffer for their entire lives in barren battery cages, measuring around one square metre. Coyote, beaver and other animals are also trapped and killed in the wild using cruel traps that are also banned in the UK.  

Conservative MP Christian Wakeford who called for the debate, said: “It’s now time that we end the double-standard of having a ban on fur farming, whilst importing the same cruelty from overseas. The fur industry would appear to me to be an industry that is outmoded and out of touch with modern values and principles of the humane treatment of animals, and I implore my Parliamentary colleagues to join me in condemning it to the history books as we have done for so many other cruel and archaic treatments of animals.” 

Dr Lisa Cameron MP for the Scottish National Party said: “It’s not just the humane thing to do, but there’s also a public health interest in making sure this happens.”

4. Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP, challenged the Secretary of State for Wales to concede that it is “time to reshuffle the Wales Office out of existence”.

During a questioning session in the House of Commons this Wednesday, Saville Roberts pointed out the UK government’s recent announcements including the Internal Market Act, trade agreements, control of state aid, and plants to cut Welsh MPs from 40 to 32, are all directly or indirectly “taking from Wales and giving to Westminster”. She suggested that ‘levelling up’ can only happen with a “a strong parliament in Wales that’s empowered to do the job”.

Amid rumours of an imminent Cabinet reshuffle, she asked the Secretary of State for Wales Simon Hart MP if it is “time to reshuffle the Wales Office out of existence”.

Ms Saville Roberts also criticised the UK government’s plan to take £286 million out of the Welsh economy in the form of the £20 reduction to Universal Credit as “not levelling up, but hammering down”.

In the House of Commons, Liz Saville Roberts said: “His government’s attack on struggling families this autumn will make more than four in ten families with children in Wales over a £1000 worse off.

“It’s no surprise that he’s content with plunging thousands of people into poverty. But these families spend their money in high street shops and local businesses. government policy will be directly responsible for taking £286 million pounds out of the Welsh economy.

“This isn’t levelling up. This is hammering down. What assessment has he made of the effect of the Universal Credit £20 cut on the Welsh economy?”

5. Private renters from around England gathered outside Parliament on Tuesday afternoon to demand that ministers deliver on promises to end unfair evictions.

As part of Renters’ Day, 20 renters and members of the Renters Reform Coalition met MPs, including Stephen Timms, chair of the Work & Pensions Committee and Lloyd Russell Moyle, chair of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Renters and Rental Reform.

The Renters Reform Coalition organised the day of action as the last of the government’s coronavirus protections for private renters end this month.

Right now, renters can be evicted for no reason by their landlords, under section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act. The notice period landlords must give has been extended during the pandemic – up to six months, between August 2020 and June this year – but will revert to just two months on 1st October.

Generation Rent claims Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions can prevent renters from feeling safe in their homes or asking for repairs, and are a leading cause of homelessness. According to the English Housing Survey, 57,000 private renter households were evicted in 2019-20. 

The government pledged to end section 21 in 2019, yet no long-term legislation has been brought forward.

The Coalition is calling on the government to:

  • End unfair evictions and introduce open ended secure tenancies
  • Introduce a national register of landlords to raise standards
  • Stop illegal evictions
  • End discrimination in rented homes
  • Tackle the affordability crisis

Sue James, chair of the Renters’ Reform Coalition, said: “The pandemic has painfully reminded us of the importance of a safe and secure home, yet the lifting of the eviction restrictions takes that basic need further away. Private renters cannot go back to the status quo – of high rents, unsafe homes and insecure tenancies. It’s time to make private renting better, not worse.

“More than two years since the government’s original pledge to abolish section 21, renters are still waiting for a fairer system. Now that Parliament has returned, we have a once in a generation opportunity to ensure the private rented sector is secure and safe.”

6. The government has been pushing ahead with trade negotiations while ‘running down the clock’ on establishing a new body that would scrutinise treaties, MPs have warned.

Cross-party MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have again written to the International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss MP, reiterating their concerns that the Government is showing a lack of urgency in creating a new Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC). 

Establishment of the statutory body has been further delayed while the Government pushes ahead with trade negotiations- including an UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement which reportedly waters down temperature goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Committee is urging the Trade Secretary to swiftly appoint the Chair and members of the TAC. The letter also urges the Government to establish a statutory body, as opposed to the interim, non-statutory body detailed in the Secretary of State’s letter of 30 July.   

Whilst the Trade Secretary’s 30 July response committed to announcing the interim board’s membership over “the coming weeks”, no such announcement had yet been made.  

The TAC’s existence is essential to ensure that the interests of the British farming sector are upheld in trade deals. Therefore, note the Committee, it is a matter of “continuing concern” that the Government has yet to publish its response to the recommendations that the original TAC made in March 2021, a failure which could be “interpreted as signalling indifference” to the concerns of agricultural and animal welfare stakeholders. 

The EFRA Committee now call on the International Trade department to respond to its concerns by 21 September at the very latest.   

Chair of the EFRA Committee, Neil Parish MP, said: “These delays- both in responding to the original TAC’s recommendations, and in establishing its replacement, are unacceptable. The Government has repeated its ambition that the TAC will advise on future strategy. It is difficult to see how this can happen when negotiations are ongoing and the TAC does not exist.   

“By dragging its heels in responding to the conclusions of the former Trade and Agriculture Commission’s report, and failing to appoint the membership of the new body, the Government is effectively running the clock down on stakeholders’ input into future trade deals. There is an increasing risk that the Government’s continued inaction in this regard could be read as indifference to British stakeholders.” 

7. Scotland’s Culture Secretary Angus Robertson has set out the Scottish Government’s strong opposition to any plans to privatise Channel 4.

The letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden accompanies the Scottish Government’s response to the UK Government consultation.

It seeks assurances that the full impact to the output of Channel 4 services, businesses and the wider creative industries in Scotland is urgently considered.

Mr Robertson says that the proposed case for privatisation is ‘flawed’: “I strongly disagree with the assertion that privatisation offers the best means of ensuring its future success and sustainability as a public service broadcaster and its continued contribution to the UK’s creative industries.”

The letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport can be read here.

8. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has backed calls for a historic extension of the weekend, after a motion calling for a four day week passed during its annual congress on Tuesday.

Delegates at congress, held online, supported a motion to launch a public campaign for a reduction in overall hours worked, so workers can enjoy a three-day weekend with no loss of pay.

The University and College Union (UCU) – which brought the motion – said calls for a three-day weekend echo worker demands in the 19th century for ‘eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will’. A spokesperson said that after the sacrifices workers have made during the Covid pandemic, the time had come to demand an extension to the weekend.

The motion, supported by the Communication Workers Union and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, notes that the weekend was originally won by trade unions, securing greater freedom for workers, but that there has been little progress in winning more leisure time since then. It also notes that working hours in the UK are now amongst the highest in Europe and that they increased even more during the pandemic.

The successful motion now commits the TUC to launching a public campaign for the three-day weekend alongside a programme of political lobbying. A working group of trade union representatives should also be set up to discuss how to plan and implement the policy in each sector.

Pilots of a four-day week show no loss in productivity, whilst reduced working hours can increase overall employment and protect jobs. Scotland is the first country in the UK to confirm it will trial a reduced working week. UCU has released a video in support of the campaign.

Congress also supported UCU’s motion on climate justice which called for climate education to be embedded across the education system and within trade unions by 2030.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Workers in the UK work some of the longest hours in Europe, leaving many exhausted by the end of the working week, too tired to enjoy their free time or build quality new memories with their loves ones. This isn’t right.

“The trade union movement has sent a clear message that workers are long overdue a reduction to their working week and an extension to the weekend and I am looking forward to discussing how we can deliver it with trade unions in each sector.”

9. Half (51%) of UK adults say that they support an October ‘firebreak’ lockdown if hospital admission remain high, according to a new poll from Savanta ComRes.

Support is higher among older adults aged 55+ (57%) compared to younger adults aged 18-34 (43%), although generally around one in five (20%) of all ages oppose such a move. 

Similar levels that support a ‘firebreak’ lockdown say that one would be effective in reducing the pressure on the NHS (57%), although a quarter (27%) say that it would be ineffective.

The poll comes as the Prime Minister and Health Secretary laid out a series of measures designed to avoid “last resort” lockdowns this winter.

Three quarters (73%) of the public say that they are concerned about another wave of coronavirus this winter.

Commenting on the findings, Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta ComRes says: “The public have been supportive of restrictions and lockdowns ever since they were first introduced and therefore avoiding a ‘firebreak’ other than as a “last resort” shows the Prime Minister trying to appease his backbenchers more so than the public.”

10. Analysis of Holyrood polling shows the Scottish Greens on record high popularity following the cooperation agreement with the Scottish Government.

Polling research site Ballot Box Scotland has analysed stats from the Holyrood polling figures in the latest ComRes polling for the Scotsman, which put the Scottish Greens on 13 per cent for the regional list vote.

The analysis suggests this would elect a record 13 Scottish Green MSPs if an election were held today, up from the 8 seats the Greens secured in May.

In a blog on the result [1], Ballot Box Scotland concludes: “What’s clearly most remarkable here is that whopping 13% figure for the Greens, the joint highest they’ve ever polled.”

Commenting, Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer said: “The record-high level of support for the Scottish Greens shows that voters are excited by our entering into government for the first time.

“The public expect their elected representatives to focus on what they can achieve for people and planet, rather than cheap soundbites and opposition for opposition’s sake. That is exactly the approach we will take over the next five years.

“If the experience of our Green colleagues in New Zealand is anything to go by, our achievements in government will see this figure rise further.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MP Chris Hazzard is meeting pro-independence Scottish and Welsh parties, as well as pro-Irish unity Labour activists, in London this week.

The South Down MP said: “In Ireland, Scotland and Wales people are increasingly looking towards a new and better future outside of the union.

“The relentless contempt that the British government has shown for devolved institutions over many years has eroded any shred of confidence in what was an already fragile union.”

He added: “The conversation surrounding Irish unity is well underway. It was equally interesting to hear that there is a similar appetite for change in Scotland and Wales. Across these islands people are genuinely assessing a future beyond this union.”

Josiah Mortimer is co-editor of Left Foot Forward.

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