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.
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.
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 redundanciesand delaying incremental raises for long service.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
Sometimes targeted adverts reveal to you more than you wanted to know. I’ve recently been experiencing facebook ads for Future Finance, a company that offers loans of up to £40,000 to students, with an interest rate of 17.45% APR for all the time that you’re studying. To put that in perspective, if you borrowed £7000 over 5 years, you’d have repaid a stonking £11,223 by the time you’ve paid it off. This eye watering example reveals both the current state of Higher Education financing and a frightening future that is increasingly intruding on the present.
It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. But what will the implications for universities be if this comes to pass? And what can we do to leverage this progress? In this series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green are bringing together perspectives from across the sector to explore these questions.
Students’ Unions are meant to defend students’ rights, fighting with and for them during their time at university and beyond. However, modern SUs are often dominated by corporate thinking, consumer culture and cosy collusion with university management. Radical, grassroots democracy is often muted or discouraged, channelled instead into more temperate, gradual and piecemeal avenues by Unions centralised in their functioning and timid in their approach.
It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. But what will the implications for universities be if this comes to pass? And what can we do to leverage this progress? In this new series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green are bringing together perspectives from across the sector to explore these questions.
Politics is in a very different place than a few years ago. Radical change feels possible, tangible, close. The Labour Party’s pledge to scrap tuition fees is one of many signs of this – welcome, and necessary to salvage higher education from the marketised juggernaut it has become. But just abolishing fees is not enough to fix all of higher education’s problems.
The much-reported Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) strike in protest of cynical changes to university staff pension arrangements begins next week. The UEA branch of UCU and UEA Students’ Union have produced this statement for The Norwich Radical, to offer an introduction to the issues surrounding the strike. The Radical encourages all students, in Norwich and elsewhere, to stand in solidarity with the strikers by not attending classes on the dates of the strikes, and by sharing their message with your peers.
We live in turbulent times. The political establishment has been rocked again and again this last year. The government is embattled in a way it hasn’t been for 7 years and that rarest of things in British politics, change, is peeking its head above the parapet. What’s more, for the first time in my lifetime, it seems my generation is willing to be an active participant in all this. June’s election saw the highest rise in youth turnout in British political history – it reached its highest absolute level since 1992. It falls to those of us already engaged to fan this flame and help it spread beyond the ballot box, building the political courage and competencies of our fellows. Nowhere offers a better opportunity for us to do this than on university campuses.
Following a steady drip of complaints to the SU in recent years, the Postgraduate Committee have this year steered me to focus my efforts on launching research into the experience of our PhD Associate Tutors (ATs). We already knew some of the issues that our ATs face and had brought them to the University’s attention, but in light of little change since then, it seemed a full review was needed. Following the publication of that review, I’d like to share our findings with you as well as our plans for the future (the full report can be found here).
In the midst of multiple crises faced by students, universities and schools, the outcome of the snap general election will be a major indicator of the future of the UK education sector. Each week until the vote we are featuring perspectives from our regular contributors and guests on what the election could mean for students.
Students have been at the forefront of progressive politics and change throughout the centuries. We were engaged in the 1848 revolutions that shook Europe, and front and centre of a wave of radical protest that shook the world in 1968. We played a part in challenging apartheid in South Africa and the continued Israeli abuse of the Palestinian people. Most recently we are leading the way on fossil fuel divestment.
The political transition we have seen in NUS over the last 12 months would have been unthinkable this time last year. The student movement has risen to the growing need for radical action this year, building groundbreaking, vital campaigns, presenting a powerful response to the many crises modern students face.
Since coming to power under the coalition in 2010, the Tories have repeatedly paid lip service to the principles of democracy. David Cameron’s concept of the ‘big society’ was outlined in democratic terms, where local communities would be empowered to have control over public services and community projects. ‘Localism’ and rhetoric around extending local democracy were key components of both the 2010 and 2015 Conservative Party General Election platforms.
Ultimately though, the reality is far from the picture Conservative ministers and strategists are painting. Through Cameron to May, the Tories have repeatedly undermined democracy in Britain and we are far worse off as a result. Here are just seven of the many ways they have done this.Continue Reading
I was born and raised in the pit village of Easington, close to the North East coast in County Durham. The Colliery was thriving and a great place to live when I was a growing up. There were plenty of jobs at the pit and everyone looked out for each other. It was (and still is in a lot of ways) a safe and caring community. Sadly, our way of life was turned on its head in 1993 when the wheel stopped turning, and despite a community rending period of strike action, the pits were closed. People suffered then, and continue to suffer the effects now. The cuts of recent years continue to rub salt into the wounds of these once proud people. Now I know coal mining is certainly not Green, but compassion and justice are!Continue Reading
On 9th and 31st March, a series of protests unfolded throughout France. Students and workers came together to reject the reform on the labour code proposed by the current French Minister of Labour, Myriam El Khomri. But what does this reform — the El Khomri law — really represent? And, with 71% of French people against the El Khomri law, why is it considered to be detrimental for wage earners?
“Exposure doesn’t pay rent”- it’s something we’ve likely all heard before, whether you’re a business looking to save money on photography, asking a friend for a favour or simply scrolling through Tumblr. The line “We can’t pay you, but it will be great exposure!” has become the bane of every artist’s life, and it’s understandable why. There has never been a sector of the workforce who have been asked so frequently to work for free as the creative sector. However, I don’t believe there has ever been such an individually vocal sector of the UKs exploited workforce, either.
Darlington’s melodic hardcore punks are on the up. Off the back of a new EP, increased media coverage including a feature in Vive Le Rock magazine and The Mixed Tape, they now have tour dates in the diary with Ignite and UK Subs and they look to make 2016 their year. Inspiring comparisons with Rise Against, In Evil Hour combine the speed and aggression of modern hardcore with scathing attacks on the state of society of and politics. It is this latter feature of their music that led The Norwich Radical to talk to frontwoman and guitarist, Alice and Gareth about their political outlook, how it interplays with their musical outputs and what role they see this fusion having in shaping political change as part of our series Music That Matters.
Bouncing onto the scene in the early 2000s, The Filaments’ fusion of ska and dub with a street punk reminiscent of the second wave of punk in 1982 made them stand out on the burgeoning circuit of the time. More stripped down and raw than contemporaries such as Capdown, The Filaments offered something more primal than the rest of the scene. Their sound has since been replicated and developed by younger acts, Faintest Idea being the most notable.
On August 21st, The Norwich Radical published an article — The Beating Heart of Labour — where the writer endorsed Andy Burnham in the Labour Leadership Election. Over the next 1,000 words, I intend to address the primary arguments in that article and why I believe them to be fundamentally wrong; why I believe Andy Burnham to be just as damaging to the Labour Party, its electoral prospects and likewise the country as Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, and why Jeremy Corbyn, albeit far from a political panacea, is without doubt the best candidate in the election and therefore the arguments presented in the previous piece are misguided and wrong.
The first major pitfall of the argument is rooted in what the article itself critiques — that Corbyn is unelectable. While Senior is right to reject the mythical notion of ‘electability’ as the primary motivation a member should have in selecting one leadership candidate over another, by suggesting that ‘economic credibility’ is central to any successful general election strategy, she fails to dismiss the electability myth for what it is— a rhetorical creation designed by a right wing media and out of touch political commentators to silence radicalism and deviation from political norms. The concept of a candidate or a political perspective as being ‘electable’ as we commonly understand it relies on the assumption that public opinion is somehow unmovable — that the political position of the electorate is largely static, and the role of political parties is to move towards it, and whichever is best and simulating this elusive point of view will win any forthcoming election.Continue Reading
by Romayne Phoenix, Chair of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity
Saturday June 20th will be the first time that we can all meet together after the general election and the shocking and unexpected result of the Tory Party in power. This looks set to be a massive demonstration. We need to join up and celebrate the strength of our growing numbers and we need to celebrate each and every successful act of resistance.
by John Rees, member of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity National Committee
There has already been an explosion of protest in response to the threat of an ever deepening austerity programme coming from this Tory government. In Newcastle, Cardiff, Sheffield, Peterborough, and many other places there have been thousands taking to the streets already. In Bristol seven young women, all A-level students, called a protest on a weekday evening and 3,500 people turned up to march through the city centre. But people want a national focus to demonstrate their anger.Continue Reading
Over the last six weeks a campaign has slowly taken shape for the Living Wage to be introduced at UEA. Whilst this mainly affects the trade union Unison’s members, the two other trade unions on campus – UCU and Unite – as well as the Union of UEA students, have all begun to work together to ensure that those at the lowest end of the pay scale are paid a fair wage.
With the minimum wage set at £6.50 for those aged 21 and over, many people are confused about the point of a Living Wage campaign, or even what the Living Wage would mean in real terms. The reality is that the minimum wage simply does not pay enough to provide what members of the public, according to research undertaken by the University of Loughborough, deem an ‘acceptable standard of living’. At the moment this is set at £7.85. The Living Wage is not an act of charity: paying workers a fair wage for their living gives them dignity, reduces sickness and absence rates, and improves staff retention rates. When a business does not pay the Living Wage it is local support groups, council services, and national welfare that pick up more of the bill to top up the worker’s income.
Employers who do not pay the Living Wage are therefore asking people to earn their poverty, and the University of East Anglia is unfortunately one of the culprits.
On the 800th anniversary this year of the signing by King John of the Great Charter.
We are told the Magna Carta is the foundation of the rule of law in England. This is partly true. The Charter was a truce between a power obsessed and ruthless king and his power obsessed and ruthless supporters who thought he had overstepped the mark. All law represents a truce between contending forces in society.
The garment industry is infamous for its appalling track record on workers’ rights. Every year, we receive news reports of another in a long list of abuses – from the Rana Plaza factory collapse, to the workers at PT Kizone who were denied their redundancy payments of multinational corporations until public pressure forced them to give in. Sweatshop is a word that resonates among the public as synonymous with the vast majority of garment production.
This is why it’s so important that UEA is standing up for workers’ rights and has finally implemented its decision to affiliate to the Worker Rights Consortium. This has come after a four year campaign by the People & Planet society and the Student Union at UEA, with mass petitioning, ongoing lobbying and the largest ‘nearly naked protest’ in the country.Continue Reading
Being young sucks. Let’s make that pretty clear, and it’s only getting worse. This Government (and New Labour before it) seems pretty hell bent on making your under 30s just the worst.
Raising the retirement age, destroying public services, increasing tuition fees, cutting EMA and trying their best to make workplaces unsafe, it didn’t seem possible, but this Government led by some lame old white people has made being young worse.
But on the other side, some youth and student led groups are working hard on the fight back, kicking off at these issues and organising to make sure out future isn’t is bleak as those boring Tories want it to be. The Young Greens are leading the way on this, and among other things, we’re asking young people to GET ORGANISED!Continue Reading