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

The news you didn’t see this week…

Radical Roundup

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

1.Weetabix ‘fire and rehire’ protests held at supermarkets nationwide

Protests against Weetabix’s plans to launch ‘fire and rehire’ attacks on its factory engineers are being held at supermarkets across the UK.

The UK’s leading union, Unite, whose members at the company’s Kettering and Corby factories are striking over the plans, said supermarket shoppers should be aware of just how tarnished Weetabix’s reputation has become.  

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Weetabix’s disgraceful fire and rehire attacks leave a nasty taste in the mouth. Shoppers will want to know that Weetabix has tainted its good name by attacking our members’ living standards while raking in massive profits.”

Over the next week, protests will be held in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In England protests will be held in London, the East Midlands, South West, South East, North East and Yorkshire.

2. 12 days of strikes announced at Serco Sandwell over festive period

More than 100 refuse workers will strike across the Christmas period at Serco Sandwell to force clean-up and maintenance of the public Household Recycling Centre on Shidas Lane. The safety issues over which the strikes are taking place include pools of dirty water, dilapidated fencing and trip hazards. 

The workers at the nearby Serco site, many of whom are GMB Union members, are also contending with a lack of handwashing facilities, overflowing toilets and poor protective equipment.

The dates are: 15 and 16 November; 24 and 25 November; 20, 21, 22 and 23 December; 4, 5, 6 and 7 January.

Justine Jones, GMB Organiser said: “We must act before somebody gets seriously hurt, or worse, on that death-trap site.

“Serco need to realise people come before profit – both the public and their own workers.

“Clean up your sites and let us go back to serving the people of Sandwell this Christmas.

3. ILO report a “stark reminder” that vaccine inequality is “economic self-harm”, People’s Vaccine Alliance says

Responding to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report, ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work, campaigners have called global vaccine inequality “a collective act of social and economic self-harm”.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of more than 75 organisations including Oxfam, UNAIDS, Global Justice Now, and Amnesty International, has called on Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to “stop holding up the global recovery” and unblock global vaccine production.

The alliance is calling on the UK government to support a waiver of intellectual property rules on Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments at the World Trade Organisation, and to pressure pharmaceutical companies to share the technology and know-how behind their vaccines with the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 technology access pool (C-TAP) and mRNA hub in South Africa.

Commenting on behalf of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, Alex Maitland, Oxfam’s Private Sector Senior Advisor, said: “Governments like the UK and Germany, who are defending vaccine patents at all costs, must stop holding up the global recovery. If Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak really want to move from jabs, jabs, jabs to jobs, jobs, jobs, they’ll waive intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines and force pharmaceutical companies to share their vaccine technology with the world.”

4. Scottish secretary refuses to match SNP’S £500m just transition fund

The SNP’s Energy spokesperson has accused the UK Government of delivering another “kick in the teeth” to the north-east by snubbing the party’s calls to match the Scottish Government’s funding of £500 million for a Just Transition.

The SNP Scottish Government has committed to investing £500 million in the North East and Moray over the next ten years, to accelerate the transition to net-zero and support highly-skilled jobs and livelihoods in the oil and gas sector.

In a response to a letter sent last month to the Prime Minister by four local MPs asking the UK government to follow suit – Aberdeen South MP Stephen Flynn, Aberdeen North MP Kirsty Blackman, Gordon MP Richard Thomson, and Angus MP Dave Doogan – Scotland Secretary Alister Jack dodged the question when responding on his behalf.

The SNP’s Shadow Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson, Stephen Flynn MP, said: “The Tories betrayed the North East on Carbon Capture and Alister Jack’s refusal to match fund the Scottish Government’s Just Transition cash is yet another kick in the teeth from a Tory Government that simply does not care about our region.”

5. Oxford MINI production faces disruption over drivers’ pay dispute, warns Unite

Production of the MINI at Oxford could be severely disrupted after drivers delivering components voted to go on strike for six days in a pay dispute, Unite the union warned on Friday.

The large goods vehicle (LGV) drivers employed by Imperial Logistics International (UK) voted by 94 per cent to strike for 24 hours on 9 November and 17 November; and then for 48 hours on 23/24 November and 30 November/1 December. There will also be a continuous overtime ban.

The crux of the dispute is that, while the bosses have offered a pay increase to retain their depleted workforce, it is still just under £2 less than the hourly rate being paid to those employed on an agency basis. Strike action could hit MINI production at the Cowley plant running at a 1,000 vehicles a day.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “There is a serious shortage of lorry drivers across the UK so Imperial Logistics needs to wake up, smell the coffee and pay our members the rate they deserve.

“Our drivers do the vital job of delivering the components to the plant.  With the ‘just-in-time’ supply chain any strike action and overtime ban will slow the production line down or stop it completely. That can be avoided – Imperial Logistics just needs to do the decent thing and pay the drivers fairly.”

6. “Warm words won’t cut it” for Welsh farmers concerned about the impact of the New Zealand trade deal

Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson on agriculture in Westminster, Ben Lake MP, warned last week that “warm words won’t cut it” for Welsh farmers concerned about the impact of the New Zealand trade deal.

Last year’s analysis by the UK Government found that its effect on Britain’s GDP would probably have “limited effect … in the long run” – being between a positive growth of 0.01% or negative growth of -0.01%. The analysis also concluded that an agreement would have “a potential decrease in employment in the agriculture and semi-processed foods sectors in the long run”.

In the House of Commons today, the Ceredigion MP asked the Secretary of State for International Trade, Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, to explain how Ceredigion farmers will benefit from the deal, given that the government’s own analysis shows that the agreement could cut jobs in agriculture. The Secretary of State responded that the agreement gives the opportunity for farmers to “reach out and share their wares more widely”.

Responding to the announcement, Ben Lake MP said: “The UK Government say that their trade agreement will not undermine Welsh farmers. Yet, their own assessment shows that this agreement would cut jobs in agriculture and produce zero additional growth. This is particularly concerning given how important the farming sector is to rural communities all over Wales.

7. Deal reached to end long running Covid safety dispute at 49 prisons

A long running dispute between prison educators at 49 prisons in England and employer Novus has ended after the employer agreed to the University and College Union’s (UCU) demands to address health & safety concerns raised by prison educators.

Around 600 prison educators took four days of strike action between April and June 2021 after Covid safety concerns were not addressed. UCU said the deal means its members will now be much safer at work. Investigations Novus had taken out against union members who raised health & safety concerns have also been dropped.

The agreement, secured through talks at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), includes improved risk assessment processes and systems of work to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of prison education staff. Regular meetings over safety concerns are taking place with meaningful engagement from Novus, and UCU says it welcomes this. Staff are already seeing practical benefits, such as the roll-out of CO2 monitors to assess ventilation. Novus will meet with UCU in December to review progress.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Our prison educators have been steadfast in their determination to ensure their working conditions are safe. Covid brutally exposed the many health & safety failings within the prison estate and through unprecedented strike action across 49 prisons our members have made prisons safer for both learners and teachers.”

8. ‘Total embarrassment” for UK aid to still fund fossil fuels

Environmental campaign group Global Justice Now has welcomed the recommendations of the International Development Committee’s climate report. The group, whose submission is referenced in the report, condemned the “total embarrassment” of a UK Aid-funded development bank, CDC Group, still financing fossil fuel projects overseas.

They say that “for any chance of a just resolution at COP26”, we need a new, increased climate finance deal “that reflects rich countries’ central role in propagating climate change and their fair share of historic emissions.”

Responding to the report, Daniel Willis, climate campaigner at Global Justice Now, said:

“MPs are right to call for a complete end to CDC Group’s funding of fossil fuels, including gas. For the UK to still be funding fossil fuels overseas on the eve of COP26, despite the Prime Minister’s claims to the contrary, is a total embarrassment.

“Calls for more climate finance for the least developed countries are also welcome. Rich countries have again this week passed the buck on meeting the $100 billion target until 2023, but the most vulnerable countries have been woefully underrepresented so far.

“For any chance of a just resolution at COP26, we need to see a new, increased climate finance deal that reflects rich countries’ central role in propagating climate change and their fair share of historic emissions.”

9. GMB to ballot NHS workers for strike action over ‘miserable pay cut’

GMB is to ballot tens of thousands of NHS workers for strike action over the insulting 3% ‘pay cut’ offered. The industrial action ballot will open on November 10 and close December 15. Any strikes would take place in the new year.

More than 9 out of 10 GMB members in the NHS have rejected the Government’s pay offer of 3% – which is below inflation and amounts to a real term pay cut.

GMB has been campaigning for a restorative increase of 15%, or £2 per hour  – whichever is highest -to replace what has been lost from NHS pay packets over the last decade. 

The union was the only one to reject the last NHS pay deal in 2018.

Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer, said: “After their heroic efforts during the pandemic, NHS workers are now being asked to swallow this miserable pay cut. A 3% pay offer does not restore a decade of real terms pay cuts, doesn’t recognise their covid efforts; is below inflation and will not cover the proposed increase in national insurance and pensions contributions.

“It is in fact, a pay cut. The NHS is facing a staffing crisis and is creaking under the pressure of the pandemic. A pay award like this – is a slap in the face for all health workers and is not the way to fix things.

“NHS workers deserve a restorative 15% pay increase, not this derisory offering.”

10. New polling shows 72% concerned that health bill could mean private contracts without scrutiny

7 out of 10 of us are concerned that the government’s new Health and Care Bill will mean NHS contracts being handed out to private companies without adequate scrutiny, according to new polling by Survation for campaign group We Own It. This includes 70% of Conservative voters and 82% of Labour voters.

60% of us believe the legislation needs to be explicitly amended to make sure the NHS is the default provider. Currently, campaigners warn, the government is scrapping requirements for competition while still allowing private companies to win NHS work, increasing the risk of crony contracts.

And while 51% think the government’s top priority should be dealing with NHS waiting lists and 29% think it should be making sure people can see their GP face to face, only 21% say the government’s priority should be to reorganise the NHS with new legislation.

Cat Hobbs, Director of We Own It said: “Our new polling shows the public is rightly very concerned about the likes of Richard Branson getting contracts in our NHS by the back door. The NHS needs proper funding and it needs to be reinstated as a fully public service. Instead, the government is undermining it by opening it up further to corporate interests. We’re calling on all MPs to take a stand now for our NHS and stop this Bill from damaging our health service.”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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