The Korean peninsular : ‘A grand explosion’ from the North, greater cooperation with the US by the South

North Korea has launched its latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). This is the solid-fuel Hwasong-18. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) called the test a “grand explosion” that shook the “whole planet”. Kim Jong Un “clapped in delight” at the launch. He called for an increase in the North’s nuclear arsenal. Relations between North and South have deteriorated recently.

CNN commented that this was “a potential new round of confrontation with Washington and its allies”. Seoul called it “a grave provocation that damages the peace and security of the Korean peninsula” and has increased the level of the South’s security cooperation with the US. There was condemnation of the launch from the United Nations, the US and elsewhere. However, it is likely to be overlooked that Air Force Global Strike Command conducted an intercontinental ballistic missile test in February this year, launching an unarmed Minuteman III in California. This of course was acceptable because it was only a routine test and “not the result of current world events.”

We condemn all tests of this kind, wherever they are performed, as they can only increase the likelihood of war and do absolutely nothing to promote stability or peace in the world.

Peanuts offered to KP Nuts workers

Will nut enthusiasts find there is a shortage of their favourite snacks? KP Snacks has made £54 million in profit, and its profits have risen by 275% since 2018. Meanwhile, the average pay for its workers has fallen in real terms by 14% during the same period. In response 135 members of the workforce have begun to vote on whether to to take strike action. This could lead to the factory in Hellaby, Rotherham, being closed and a disruption of supplies to retail outlets. The company declined to include the lowest paid cleaners from negotiations for a pay offer, which at 6% amounts to a below-inflation rise, and a single payment of £1,000. Some members of the team earn “the KP living wage” as the company calls it, only £10.66 an hour. Sharon Graham emphasised that Unite stands with the workers, and commented that KP Snacks demonstrates “corporate greed in action”.

Hospitals crumble in the ruins of Sunak’s worthless promises

Lack of investment has resulted in seven NHS hospitals being considered “structurally unsound“. They were identified by the National Audit Office. The worst crumbling sites were West Suffolk Hospital in Bury Saint Edmunds and James Paget University Hospital in Norfolk. Hospitals in West Yorkshire, Surrey, Cambridgeshire, Kings Lynn in Norfolk and Cheshire were also listed. In a number of cases problems have been fixed temporarily. £65 million was spent to deal with urgent problems at West Suffolk, where there was a risk that ceiling beams could collapse. Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC), a cheap lightweight material, was used widely from the 1960s to the 1980s. Not long afterwards there were warnings that this material was unlikely to remain safe for more than 30 years. The Government maintains that all RAAC will be removed by 2035. Even if it was last used in 1989, it is not difficult to work out that there will be a working hospital somewhere that will remain unsafe for use for 16 years. Last month we reported that school buildings were crumbling and now we read that hospitals are in the same parlous state, threatening vulnerable children and sick patients and of the course the staff who work with them. I think we can wave goodbye to the 40 new hospitals promised by Sunak and due to be built by 2030.

Wells for Senegal : How an inspired individual is changing lives

Few people in the west have heard of Ourou Amady Bagga, a village in an arid area of Senegal where there were extreme water shortages. The village has now been transformed, vegetables are thriving and the residents could soon have surplus to sell.

Women had previously been walking miles every day, carrying heavy buckets of water from far distant wells and rivers, water which had to be carefully rationed. There was always a shortage. Wells had been dug in various parts of the area, but they were broken and unusable.

The transformation is thanks to action taken by a local builder, Mamadou Diakhate. He was alarmed by the impact of water shortages on the community and felt that it had a particularly severe effect on schools and children, interfering with their education. He therefore set up crowdfunding initiatives on the internet and made money to build wells in communities that lacked water. More than 50 wells have been built since 2020 and nine more are in the process of construction.

However heartening successes of this kind are, and however successful, they will not solve the devastation caused by global warming and forest degradation. The United Nations has reported that since 2000 droughts have increased by 29%. We need immediate concerted action from governments, from corporations, from all of us.

Horrifying brutal treatment of two women in India on 4th May

Time and again shocking details of the horrific treatment of women by men all over the world are reported. Recently it has been revealed in two videos that on 4th May dozens of men, some apparently as young as 15, paraded two women from the Kuki-Zo group through the streets in the state of Manipur, northeast India. The women were stripped of their clothes. They were groped and sexually assaulted and taken to a field. Here one of them was gang raped.

Some of us can only begin to imagine the horror and humiliation that these women endured. But these incidents are not confined to ‘other’ parts of the world. Brutality, sexual assaults, abuse and violence towards women happen everywhere, including in our own ‘civilised’ society. Male culture has still not changed. We learn increasingly of the inappropriate treatment, violence and degradation of women in our homes and workplaces, both in the private and public sector, in organisations such as the Metropolitan Police and Fire Service. It is not surprising that so many of us rage and despair at the prevalence of male violence.

John McAvoy – a life transformed

John McAvoy was handed a double life sentence in 2005 and spent ten years in prison. He is now a triathlete, holds multiple world records and is involved in Youth Beyond Borders and the Alpine Run Project which helps young people change direction and start a new life.

McAvoy’s father died before John was born, and John’s closest male role model was his uncle, Billy Tobin, who taught him about successful criminal activity and set John on the route to a life of crime and a decade in prison. This included time spent in Belmarsh. When John learned that his best friend was killed in an armed robbery, he decided he had to change before it was too late. So he has moved from violent crime and years in prison to helping young people who may have had a similar start in life to his own. David is one of the youngsters John has mentored. He was brought up in care. John has called him “phenomenal”. David has also spoken out and affirmed that it is possible to make a radical change in the direction your life is headed: “And I want to get my story out there. Being in care is so tough. I’ve seen so many kids broken by the system. I want to show kids that there is light on the other side if you just keep going. You’ve just got to keep going.”

Embarrassing revelations for our conservation-conscious king

Legally protected birds have been dying and disappearing in Sandringham. Rare birds of prey have vanished and some have been poisoned or shot. The police and enforcement officials have visited on a number of occasions, and it is suspected that the estate has hindered investigations. The embarrassment is particularly ironic as the King’s mother was patron of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and his father was patron of the British Trust for Ornithology.

Sunak and Braverman prioritise votes over saving the planet

Having failed to understand and produce a correct analysis of the recent Uxbridge by-election result, Downing Street is likely to delay some of the measures that would begin, albeit in an inadequate and paltry way, to address climate change. But we can take comfort from their declaration that they would “continually examine and scrutinise” the possibilities. Thank goodness for that. We can now all sleep more easily at night, safe in the knowledge that the Tories will be examining and scrutinising round the clock. Furthermore, we are all relieved that Sunak is going to be “proportionate and pragmatic”. And he is determined not to give us more hassle and more cost. Braverman has declared that “economic growth must be the primary objective for our country”. And she’s actually worried about people’s bank balances. These meaningless statements are attempts to reassure voters that all is well, the Tories are in control and they are not going to upset people by placing restrictions on how they live or by contributing to rising costs. Of course the only bank balances that really matter to them are those of the 1%, which include their own and those of all their cronies and donors. If we are serious about trying to grasp this last chance to avoid a total climate catastrophe, we would not be prioritising economic growth, which means plundering the earth for more resources and increasing our commitment to fossil fuels. But of course Sunak and Braverman are determined not to upset potential conservative voters, especially as their numbers have dwindled so dramatically.

Looking back in time : 1873 The Ascott Martyrs

One of the poorest parts of the country in the 1870s was rural west Oxfordshire. Most people there were employed in agriculture, and the pay and the conditions of work were extremely poor. In 1872 the National Agricultural Labourers Union was formed by Joseph Arch. It aimed to increase wages, and in 1873 they were arguing for a pay rise of two shillings per week. In the Wychwood villages in this area quite substantial numbers joined the union.

Sixteen women in the village of Ascott-under-Wychwood were sent to prison with hard labour, two of them with their babies. They were jailed for supporting the workers who were on strike, fighting for a living wage. It comes as no surprise that the Church of England supported the gentry and that the local magistrates, who were vicars, sentenced the women to prison. These events became quite widely known, partly because there was a riot and an attack on the Chipping Norton police station. There were reports and discussions in the local and national newspapers and questions asked in Parliament. The backlash resulted in a decision that picketing was to be allowed and that religious officials were no longer to be magistrates.

This summer marks the 150th anniversary of the Ascott Martyrs, with events taking place in the area both last month and this month. The commemoration is an important recognition of the long struggle for fair pay and conditions, which of course predates 1873, and the vital part which women played, and continue to play, in so many of our struggles for justice.

Duck in the middle with you

I was egged on to include this rather delightful story to end our last News Digest of the year on a cheerful note. Chloe Greenwood bought some free range eggs from Morrisons in St Austell and, just in case, she placed them in a handy incubator. A few weeks later Buddy hatched. She is now a fully-fledged member of the family, going out with the dogs and playing in their paddling pool. If she thinks it is dinner time, she taps on the window. She is a friendly duck and welcomes the postal worker, relaxes on the sofa and watches YouTube; her favourite videos – those that feature ducks. Buddy knows her name and has different quacks to explain her different needs. Hopefully this family will be spared the struggles many face in these times of austerity, but, even if they have to tighten their belts, it is pretty clear that Buddy will not become Duck Soup.

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