Around 400 workers, previously employed by (Conservative-run) Norfolk County Council-owned company Norse, are threatening strike action due to a dispute about pay and conditions. Environmental service workers, responsible for street-cleaning and park maintenance, are due to transfer from Norse to an arms-lengths company run by Labour-controlled Norwich City Council.
by Sean Meleady
Norfolk-based education workers belonging to the National Education Union (NEU) have won a hard-won victory, after working with other trade unionists across England to force the government to close schools to the majority of students. This follows a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, particularly amongst school-aged children.
By John Sillett
The recent collapse into administration of shop group Arcadia and Debenhams’ department stores was shocking, but not unexpected. Both companies have had their assets looted by their owners; Arcadia’s owner Philip Green has become widely seen as the unacceptable face of capitalism. Whilst the vultures pick over the bones of Topshop and its relations, there has been an avalanche of redundancies in many sectors, from construction to engineering. The pandemic has hastened the collapse or rationalisation of companies depending on footfall, like retail, hospitality and tourism.
By Sean Meleady
Due to the impact of Covid-19, the University of East Anglia faces an expected £35 million shortfall. One too often neglected aspect of the crisis is the impact it has had on non-academic staff, with UEA having proposed a blanket pay freeze for all its 3,712 staff, alongside offering optional voluntary redundancies and delaying incremental raises for long service.
By Sean Meleady
Norwich City Council has backed calls for the government to support a pilot for Universal Basic Income (UBI), which would trial providing a monthly income to all residents of the city, following a recent debate at City Hall. City councillors argued that all residents should receive this fixed monthly amount regardless of employment status, wealth and marital status.
By Sean Meleady
While Marcus Rashford has been making headlines with the campaign that led to a government u-turn on free meals vouchers, community groups are working hard to make sure that free meals vouchers are provided to families that need them during every school holiday, not just while the Coronavirus pandemic is in the news.
by Lotty Clare
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the worst parts of the global system of racial capitalism, and has put into stark focus the number one priority of corporations: wealth accumulation above all else. One of the most exploitative facets of this economic regime is the garment industry.
With governments poised to bail out massive corporations for their losses during this pandemic, who will bail out textile workers in the Global South, where so much of the labour that has generated enormous corporate profits has been outsourced to?
An abrupt halt in demand due to mass store closures has led to brands cancelling orders at short notice and in some cases refusing to pay for orders that suppliers are already manufacturing. CEO of New Look, Nigel Oddy, sent a letter to its suppliers stating that they would not be paying for any costs “in connection with any cancelled orders….this is a matter of survival for New Look.” For big brand executives, the pandemic is a concern purely in terms of profit loss, but for millions of garment workers, delay in payment of wages is quite literally a matter of survival.
Labour and human rights abuses in these supply chains occur mostly in the Global South, conveniently hidden from Western consumers.
The global garment industry relies on a combination of low wages, rapid production lines, and precarious job security, with its buyer-driven supply chains designed in a way which allows corporations to avoid accountability at the production end. The costs of labour and production are outsourced, and brands then enforce extremely unrealistic production targets. As a result, suppliers are left with little alternative but to exploit their workers in order to operate. Labour and human rights abuses in these supply chains occur mostly in the Global South, conveniently hidden from Western consumers.
The vast majority of the 50 million workers engaged in garment production in the Global South are women of colour. Many of these women are engaged in informal employment, have little or no savings, and are consequently living in a state of income poverty in countries which offer limited if any social security. Furthermore, most small factory suppliers lack the cash reserves or access to credit to pay workers and cushion financial shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In such a context, millions of workers and their families in the Global South face an imminent risk of losing their livelihoods.
In Burma, the pandemic is even being used as a cover to sack unionised garment factory workers. Employees at the Huabo Times factory – a supplier for brands including Zara and Primark – have been resisting ongoing exploitation and abuse of their labour rights carried out by the factory. Nwe Ni Linn, president of the workers’ union there, explained that only 3 days after submitting a union registration form, 107 workers were dismissed, most of whom were union members or leaders. This was done under the guise of COVID-19 physical distancing measures but a matter of days after this took place, 200 workers were then transferred from another factory to replace the workforce lost.
employees often work 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week and earn around $3 a day,
This is not an isolated incident. In the Yangon-based Jin Sen factory, workers took part in a sit-down strike after the factory reportedly sent spies into union meetings; 13 union leaders were fired shortly after. Sit-down strikes have also been used in other factories to avoid COVID-19 laws that ban demonstration gatherings. In one of Primark’s Yangon supplier factories – Amber Stone factory – workers have been wearing red headbands to protest a similar case of union busting, in which union leaders had allegedly been intimidated and beaten up by company thugs. At the Rui-Ning factory, 298 union members were fired in early May, and Myan Mode factory recently fired 520 of its unionised workers.
These employees often work 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week and earn around $3 a day, however very little has been done in response to workers’ demands for better treatment.
In India too, similar stories are emerging. On the 9th of July more than 300 garment workers organised a demonstration in Erode district of Tamil Nadu to protest non-payment of wages and lack of health and safety measures in factories. In Bangladesh, labour activists have raised the alarm about pregnant textile workers being illegally fired, employees who asked for PPE losing their jobs, and union members being purged under the cover of pandemic response measures.
The pandemic has not only revealed the exploitation of workers in the garment industry of the Global South, but closer to home too. In the UK, warehouse workers for ASOS have raised objections and campaigned with GMB trade union over a lack of social distancing and hygiene measures in the workplace. Headlines over the past week have also exposed the exploitation of workers in Boohoo supplier factories in Leicester. Wages of £2–3 an hour have been reported as being commonplace in Leicester factories that supply Boohoo, and employees have said that they were forced to continue work despite being unwell with the coronavirus.
Brands are pushing hundreds of thousands of working class, migrant, and Black and Brown workers into increasingly desperate situations. Yet this is taking place at the same time that these very same brands are releasing statements standing against racism; promising to ‘listen to learn’. But when will they actually listen to workers resisting exploitation in their own factories?
When working conditions are revealed, brands tend to spout empty words about their commitment to fairness and transparency. Sometimes brands will respond to criticism by cutting ties to the individual suppliers in an attempt to shed the blame. But this is not about a few bad factories treating their workers poorly, this is a systemic problem which needs a transformative systemic solution.
The pandemic is making it increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that struggles for labour rights are global struggles. Despite international campaigns, reforms have not done enough to improve working conditions and have done little to change fatally unequal power relations that exist in the garment industry. Successful change will mean real international solidarity between workers movements in the Global South and Global North.
The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events. Please consider making a small contribution to fund a better media future.
The only way to make the word ‘politics’, that great indicator of all manner of corruption and trickery, more contemptible is to plonk the word ‘student’ in front of it. It almost feels like you‘re not pronouncing ‘student politics’ right if you do it without a sneer, or at least a shudder. Student politics has an image problem.
By Paul Lievens, Banana Link Communications Officer
Bananas have been part of our diet for thousands of years, and are the most popular fruit in the world, with over 100 billion bananas eaten around the world every year. In the UK, each of us eats on average around 10 kg, or 100 bananas, per year. Grown across the tropical regions of the world, banana export production provides an essential source of income for hundreds of thousands of rural households in developing countries. However, many of the plantation workers who produce our bananas fail to earn a living wage and do not have their labour rights respected, while the intensive use of agrochemicals harms the health of workers and the surrounding environment.
Content warning: mentions sexual harassment, homophobic abuse
This week, the KCL Justice for Cleaners Campaign released a short film revealing the struggles of migrant cleaners at King’s College London, a day before management made a recommendation to the College Council as to whether to end the outsourcing of cleaning. Through the film, cleaners speak in their own words about the violence of the outsourcing model and how mistreatment at KCL is normalised.