Sunday, February 21, 2021

Year of the Ox in London!

By New Worker correspondent

Nelson’s Column was lit up red in the run-up to the Chinese Lunar New Year last week. The dazzling display in Trafalgar Square began on Wednesday 10th February to celebrate the Year of the Ox which started the following Friday.
    The London Chinatown Chinese Association (LCCA), with the support from the Mayor of London, organised the display to celebrate the start of the Chinese New Year, which is also known as the Spring Festival. This is the most important festival in China. Celebrations begin about a week in advance and end with the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the New Year.
    The London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted: “Very special to see Trafalgar Square lit up for Chinese New Year this Friday. East and South East Asian Londoners have made immense contributions to our city for generations. As we mark the Year of the Ox, I'd like to wish you much success and happiness for the year ahead”.
    He added that many Londoners will be celebrating this Lunar New Year very differently this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “Some will be away from their family, friends and communities for the first time as we all continue to protect each other from COVID-19. Thank you for everything you're doing to keep our city safe,” he said.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

London care workers keep up the fight

 by New Worker correspondent

Care workers and cleaners at the Sage Nursing Home in Golders Green North London walked out in a second wave of strike action from the 4th to 8th February last week.The key workers, who previously went on a three-day strike back in January, are demanding a living wage of £12 per hour, trade union recognition and full pay sick pay and annual leave in line with NHS rates.
    The workers taking action are members of United Voices of the World (UVW), a street union that represents low-paid, predominantly migrant workers in Britain. They’re now also one step closer to trade union recognition with the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) ruling in favour of the workers’ proposed bargaining unit.
     The latest round of strike action came just three weeks after the first, which saw workers host a virtual picket, which was supported by over 400 attendees consisting of union members, officials, care workers and Members of Parliament, all of whom expressed support for the workers’ demands and which was followed up by a lively physical picket outside the care home that same weekend.
    UVW officials have stated the dispute is not only about pay and terms and conditions, but also about the refusal of Sage’s trustees to willingly recognise the union and to adequately deal with grievances relating to discrimination, victimisation and health and safety concerns. The workers’ recent victory at the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC), the government body which regulates and rules on applications for trade union recognition, saw the CAC rule in favour of the workers’ proposed bargaining unit. Meaning the workers are one step closer to achieving recognition.
    The CAC ruling, coupled with the promise of further strike action, has seen Sage’s trustees begin to buckle, agreeing for the first time to attend a meeting with the workers to hear the unaddressed grievances.
    Molly de Dios Fisher, a UVW organiser, said: “Despite the arrogant tone in their letter offering a meeting to hear the workers’ concerns, we are hopeful Sage’s trustees will see sense and start fixing the problems at the home. The majority of care workers in the private sector earn below the real living wage, and London, along with the North of England, is the worst place for underpayment. So all eyes are on this dispute. Care workers and their unions know that a win for the Sage Nursing Home workers could be the catalyst needed for a sea change across the sector”.

Russian-British film festival opens this week

By New Worker correspondent

Russian films are routinely ignored by the mainstream media with screenings usually confined to niche slots on streaming services or independent cinemas that have been closed along with the rest of the entertainment industry under the current lockdown. But the internet has provided an alternative outlet to explore some of the best that Russian cinema has to offer to the world.
    The Sochi International Film Festival (SIFFA) opened its online British programme with film screenings and creative meetings this week.
    "As you know, 10th February is Diplomacy Day in Russia and around the world. Our Russo-British Music and Film Festival can be called the most diplomatic film festival, as it was created to build bridges between Russia and the UK through the power of film and music. Despite all obstacles, we will open the doors of our virtual cinema hall SIFFA in the UK on 10th February with the support of our partner, the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the UK," says festival president Lyubov Balagova.
The film festival is keeping up with the times by creating its own Siffa Online platform for film screenings and all of the creative zoom-ins will be posted on the festival's YouTube channel.
    "This might be a good time to explore Russian cinema, speak to exceptional individuals and get an insight into everything on their list for 2021, as well as talk to those who have achieved a lot and can motivate or just inspire us," say the film festival organisers.
SIFFA UK will feature films by Karen Shakhnazarov, Vladimir Khotinenko, Anatoly Balchev and Natalia Ivanova including Vysotsky.'Odessa Notebook, White Tiger, Muslim, No Strangers and others. Each film will be followed by a Q&A session and the programme can easily be accessed by going straight to the Sochi Film Awards website:
     Natalya Bondarchuk will come to the virtual meeting to share the memories of her father, film director and Oscar winner Sergey Bondarchuk and talk about her life and work as an actress and film director.
    "I invite everyone to join us. You may not get a second chance to see our unique programme, so plan your days so as to have an unforgettable time with us," the president of the film festival said in an appeal to all film lovers and connoisseurs.

Chinese ambassador bids farewell

 Liu Xiaoming and Madame Hu Pinghua say goodbye
By New Worker correspondent

Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming has retired after a ground-breaking eleven years at his post in London. At an online farewell reception in January the Ambassador said it had been an honour for him to have worked and lived in the UK for eleven years and to become the longest-serving Chinese Ambassador both in the history of China-UK relations and of all Chinese ambassadors of all time, which he will cherish for the rest of his life.
    `    “These eleven years have seen tremendous changes in both China and the world, during which he has witnessed the historic leaps in China’s development, a new era for socialism with Chinese characteristics, historic changes in the relations between China and the rest of the world, and the ups and downs, and twists and turns in China-UK relations” Liu Xiaoming said at the event attended by over 500 guests including representatives of the British government, diplomats, businessmen and members of the Chinese community in Britain.
        Ambassador Liu expressed his sincere thanks to all the friends who have cared for and supported China’s development and China-UK friendship, and who have provided support and assistance to the Chinese Embassy and his work, and his appreciation to colleagues in the Chinese Embassy in the UK for their dedication and efficiency. He hoped that “China-UK friendship will last forever, China-UK cooperation will become deeper and wider, and China-UK relations will go steady and go far”.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Deaths at Work

By New Worker correspondent

Last week saw the release of figures from the Office of National Statistics relating to Covid-19 fatalities. These, said transport union RMT showed that male bus and coach drivers and taxi drivers are two of the occupational groups with the highest rates of Covid-19 deaths.
     Mick Cash, the union’s departing General Secretary said: “Bus workers and taxi drivers have kept vital connections running throughout the pandemic for other key workers and essential travellers, and we need an industry-wide approach which ensures their safety and takes action to address the threats from the new Covid variant.
     “RMT is reiterating its calls for the Government to ensure that transport workers, are classified as a priority group for Covid-19 vaccination. This will save lives and maintain the resilience of the UK’s transport networks.”
     With regard to the situation on the rails the union also warns that “a complacent and callous approach to the increased threat from Covid-19 is leading to a surge in deaths and illness of transport workers”.
     Members report that since November the number of deaths and illnesses due to coronavirus amongst rail workers have at least doubled. At the same time Department for Transport figures also show that rail use is three times higher when compared to the last national lockdown.
    The union blames a “creeping complacency and a callous refusal by transport bosses to mandate a nationwide overhaul of risk assessments to take into account the heightened risk of the new virus has caused the surge”.
     Mick Cash deplored the Government’s laxity in dealing with “a lethal cocktail threatening rail workers … But instead of responding to our call for a urgent national review of all risk assessments we are being told its business as usual – this is as callous as it is complacent.
    “We are advising our members of their right to stop working if their safety is threatened and I will be seeking an urgent meeting with Grant Shapps asking that he intervenes to take speedy action to address the new threat and also to prioritise transport workers for the vaccine”.
     At one bus depot, that of Bannockburn First Bus, operations are still ongoing and bosses are only reducing services despite having 28 positive cases of Covid-19 which represents over half the workforce at the depot.
     Graeme Turnbull, a Unite industrial officer, demanding the temporary closure of the depot saying: “This is a timely reminder of the considerable risk and sacrifice that our members and all transport workers undertake on a daily basis to ensure key workers and our communities function in these challenging times. It is also vitally important that the company conducts an immediate investigation to understand how the virus has been able to take hold and spread across the workforce.”