News in brief

Burghfield walkout

There was strike action at AWE Burghfield recently over suspected union-busting by NG Bailey.

The engineering and services firm had removed five electricians and fitters (four of them members of Unite the union) without notice or explanation, saying that the main contractor, Costain, and AWE itself had asked for their removal.

This led to a walkout by 200 workers on 20 September. They are constructing ‘Project MENSA’, a new £1.8bn nuclear warhead assembly and disassembly facility at AWE Burghfield.

Unite has managed to get the five expelled workers transferred to other projects – but is still fighting for an apology and reinstatement.

Domes, data, drones

The Menwith Hill Accountability Campaign (MHAC) has a new report out on the Yorkshire spybase.

Officially an RAF base, Menwith Hill is actually operated by by US intelligence – by the national security agency (NSA) and the national reconnaissance office (NRO).

Professor Paul Rogers describes Menwith Hill in 3D: Domes, Data and Drones as ‘an impressive and authoritative report’ which is ‘particularly useful in highlighting [Menwith’s] role in the move towards remote warfare, especially the proliferation and use of armed drones.’

There was a launch event on 2 October held jointly with Yorkshire CND. More info:

Queer post-COVID

The London LGBTQ+ Community Centre has launched a research study looking at the impact of the pandemic on queer people and places: ‘A New Queer London: LGBTQ+ communities and spaces beyond COVID-19’.

As we begin to recover from the pandemic, researchers want to check in with the community and find out if their previous research still stands, or if people need more – or less – of anything.

Take part in the survey here:

Hibakusha recognised

Just weeks before the latest commemorations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August, a Japanese court ruled that victims of the radioactive ‘black rain’ caused by the US atomic bombings should be also considered hibakusha (‘bomb-affected people’).

They should receive the same benefits as other recognised survivors even though they lived beyond the officially-recognised contamination zone.

Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga (who has since stepped down) declared that his government would not appeal against the ruling. He even suggested that relief might be extended to other affected people beyond the 84 plaintiffs in the case.

Vaccine passports

On 12 September, the UK health secretary announced a government U-turn. Sajid Javid withdrew the idea of requiring ‘vaccine passports’ for entry into nightclubs and large events.

While this idea is on the backburner at Westminster, it’s been voted in by the Scottish parliament, with the reluctant support of Scottish Greens, who are in a power-sharing arrangement with the ruling Scottish National Party.

Turning back to the UK level, on 24 September, it was reported that the government was about to join the European Union’s vaccine passport scheme for international travel, which covers more than 40 countries.

This Brexit mini-U-turn also lays the basis for an internal vaccine passport system in Britain.

The ‘EU digital covid certificate’ (a QR code) is used for domestic vaccine passports in France, Portugal and several other countries. It confirms that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, or received a negative PCR test result in the last three days (in the last two days for a lateral flow test), or recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months.

The certificate also contains the person’s name and date of birth.

When someone (maybe a nightclub bouncer) reads your QR code, they do not access any health data, supposedly. The only information they get is whether your certificate is valid and authentic.

In mid-September, Italy became the first European country to make its vaccine passport compulsory for all workers, public and private, on pain of a fine, from 15 October. (The cost of COVID tests is capped at €15 – about £12.85.)

Liberty, the human rights group, has warned that vaccine passports and mandatory vaccination are ‘a serious reinvention of our relationship to the state and potentially to our employers’, and represent a coercive, ‘crowd-control crisis’ response to a public health issue.

Liberty adds: ‘If vaccine passports become normalised as a requirement to access work or services, it is those already marginalised, those who have historically been failed or whose rights have been violated by the state, and those who rely on work that is precarious, whose rights and autonomy will be most affected.’

Big Brother Watch has pointed to the danger that the vaccine passport could effectively become a national ID card.

Entrust is the big US IT company that was given the COVID vaccine certification contract by the NHS in May. Earlier, in February, Entrust had publicly suggested turning vaccine passports into ‘a national citizen ID programme that can be used for multiple purposes including the secure delivery of government services, secure cross-border travel, and documentation of vaccination’.

More info:

Western Sahara

The EU court of justice is due to rule just after we go to press on the legality of two EU agreements with Morocco that cover the land and waters of Western Sahara.

Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975 and has illegally occupied the territory ever since.

In 2016 and 2018, the EU court of justice decided that the resources of Western Sahara could not be included in EU-Morocco agreements because they had been reached without first obtaining the consent of the people of Western Sahara.

Under international human rights law, the court may well say that the EU-Morocco trade and fisheries agreements are illegal, causing headaches for the EU commission and EU governments.

This summer, Algeria and Morocco ramped up their conflict over Western Sahara. Algeria withdrew is ambassador in July and broke off diplomatic relations on August. In late September, Algeria closed its airspace to all Moroccan planes, civilian and military.

Algeria is the main supporter of the Western Sahara’s national liberation movement, Polisario, and home to 170,000 Sahrawi refugees. Polisario ended its ceasefire with Morocco a year ago after Moroccan security forces attacked Sahrawi demonstrators in a buffer zone on the southern border.

One cause of the latest Algeria-Morocco friction is a speech by the Moroccan ambassador to the UN in mid-July. Omar Hilale backed the separatist struggle of people in the Kabyle region of Algeria, saying it was hypocritical of Algeria to suppress Kabyle and support Western Sahara.

Another cause was the Pegasus scandal. Algeria discovered that Morocco had used the Israeli technology to spy on the mobile phones of at least 6,000 Algerians, including the heads of Algerian intelligence and top military commanders.

Citizens’ reality

As everyone knows, one of Extinction Rebellion’s original demands in 2018 was to make the big decisions about dealing with climate change through a Citizens’ Assembly.

Our French correspondent, Marc Morgan, points out that France’s experiment with a Citizens’ Assembly on climate has concluded this summer with a new law on climate change, the ‘Law on Climate and Resilience’.

The assembly, 150 randomly-selected people, met in 2019 – 2020, heard evidence and produced 146 practical proposals, some of them far-reaching.

Marc writes: ‘These proposals have been considerably watered down, and in some cases abandoned altogether, in the face of pressure from various lobbies and employers’ consortia.’

XR Scotland abandoned the 100-person Scottish Citizens’ Assembly on climate a year ago because of the way it was being set up.