What’s Happening newsletter #9

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Real Media and Phoenix Media Co-op have teamed up to release a regular newsletter. We collectively seek to provide bold, accurate, accessible journalism which is unashamedly internationalist and subversive. At the centre of this is covering the work of people in the UK and globally who are forging a better world, largely by organising against marginalisation, oppression and destruction

Victory in Palestine Action trial

As Real Media reported in January this year, three activists threw bottles of red paint and locked themselves across the entrance gates, closing down UAV Systems in Shenstone as part of Palestine Action’s campaign against Israeli arms company Elbit Systems. UAV is a subsidiary of Elbit which manufactures drones used against Palestinians in the illegally occupied territories.

Eleven months later, they appeared at Newcastle-Under-Lyme magistrates court accused of committing criminal damage. On 6 December, at the end of a two-day trial, Judge Waites found them not guilty.

This is the first trial for Palestine Action activists despite nearly 18 months of sustained protests at many of Elbit’s ten office, factory and subsidiary sites around the country, mainly direct actions which police claim have caused a total of around £15m of damage. 

While activists were happy to explain their actions openly in the court accusing Elbit of criminal activity including international war crimes, the Elbit witness gave their evidence hidden behind a screen. 

The Judge ruled that the Crown Prosecution Service had not proved that convicting the defendants would be proportionate to their right to protest, adding that Palestine and the arms trade were important issues and the activists had specifically targeted the drone manufacturer in accordance with their strongly-held beliefs.

UK police have offered 24-hour rapid-response at Elbit sites and have regularly raided and arrested activists in an attempt to disrupt the campaign. But this first victory in court lends support to Palestine Action’s claim that they are enforcing law and preventing harm rather than breaking any laws, and they vow to continue their campaign to force Elbit’s operations out of the UK.

IWGB union campaigns in Sheffield and Glasgow

Delivery workers from JustEatUK subcontractor Stuart Delivery went on strike in Sheffield on 6 December, picketing numerous McDonald’s sites between 5pm and 10pm. The IWGB union has been key in seeking to hold the employer to account.

The gig economy has come under the spotlight more and more during the pandemic as the sector has grown. In England and Wales, for example, the percentage of people working with gig-economy platforms has nearly tripled since 2016. In recent days, campaign billboards from Fairwork have appeared outside gig-economy employers’ offices in London. These highlight public opinion in an effort to push for fairer deals for workers:

IWGB has also been highlighting the struggle of its foster care workers in Glasgow for justice against a pay freeze. As it stresses in one Twitter thread, “Foster carers are professionals working 24 hrs/day to provide care for children [with] complex support needs”. In a situation where “Glasgow foster care workers have seen pay & child allowances slashed”, the union is demanding an end to this freeze.

Freedom News explains: “After inflation, the freeze equates to a 23.12 percent cut in the foster child allowance, leaving many foster carers struggling to subsidise costs of care themselves. In many cases this is not possible as pay has also been frozen for 13 years, resulting in a 30 percent real pay cut.” It adds that “Sufficient investment across Scotland could reduce public costs by £875 million per year”.

UVW strike at Great Ormond Street Hospital

United Voices of the World is another ground-breaking grassroots union which fights for precarious and outsourced workers in industries where union activity has often been missing. After success in October in winning union recognition and direct employment to out-sourced cleaners at Great Ormond Street, the union is now supporting security guards whom hospital management have still left out of the deal. 

A strike (with huge ballot backing) began yesterday, and a noisy and boisterous rally (complete with children’s clown) took place at lunchtime today. Among many supporting speakers were doctors from Unite and Keep Our NHS Public.

The striking security guards are demanding the same sick leave, annual leave and career progression as the other staff at the hospital.

Pete Akintoye, one of the guards, says: “We want everyone to know that what we are requesting is fairness, that’s all. We want GOSH to listen to us, and to see this from a different perspective so that we can sit down and talk about the way forward.”

Serbia’s lithium protests

As we mentioned in our previous What’s Happening YouTube show, resistance is growing in Serbia to a lithium mine project proposed by Anglo-Australian giant Rio Tinto. The push in rich countries for a future of electric cars largely ignores the environmental cost of extracting minerals like cobalt and lithium, which is huge. And in Serbia, there have been massive protests against constitutional changes which allow wide compulsory purchase orders and which take away citizens’ powers to stop major developments by holding referendums. DemocracyNow! reported that “thousands of protesters blocked major roads and bridges in the capital Belgrade and in other cities and towns Saturday”, with people insisting that “they’ve had enough of widespread pollution” and “demanding clean air, water and food”.

As global capital rushes to replace one destructive industry with another in the futile search for infinite growth on a finite planet, people are calling out for an alternative way forward.

Other news

1) ‘Kill The Bill’ protests in London tomorrow (Weds 9 December). The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill reaches its third reading in the Lords, and citizens from a wide range of movements are planning large protests outside parliament during the afternoon and especially from 5pm in Victoria Gardens. The law is widely regarded as a government reaction to Extinction Rebellion and other civil resistance campaigns, but in truth it has been planned for a long time. As protests across the world are sky-rocketing in number and scope, with common themes of climate and ecological crisis, widening inequality, and cuts to public services, the government’s approach here is to criminalise peaceful protest.

For those that can’t attend in person, XR have created a digital toolkit to pressure the Lords.

2) Women in Haringey held a ‘Reclaim These Streets’ rally at the weekend to highlight the hundreds of sexual offences and rapes in the borough in just the past year, and the more than 80 women killed by men in the UK since Sarah Everard. Check out Real Media’s film report of the event.

3) Anti-fascist protesters in France turned up at far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour’s first campaign rally at the weekend. There is footage of police violence against protesters, and of apparent Zemmour supporters attacking anti-racist campaigners from SOS Racisme.

4) Another environmental campaigner, Javiera Rojas, was killed in Chile. As DemocracyNow! reports: “environmental advocates are demanding justice” for the land defender who led “protests against a thermoelectric project in northern Chile” and participated in 2016 “in a campaign that successfully cancelled a dam that would have stolen water from local communities and harmed wildlife”.


That’s all for this week, but please let us know of any stories and issues you’d like to see more of, and remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out our Wednesday evening shows (UK time).