The Prospect Of Mass Destitution In Britain Calls For Radical Measures

Lord John Hendy QC

The government’s Bill in response to coronavirus does not protect against the grave risk of increased hunger, hypothermia, homelessness and, ultimately, insurrection, says Lord John Hendy QC.

The measures taken in response to the current coronavirus pandemic are remarkable in breadth and depth.

The response to the incidence of preventable death, injury and illness caused by war, hypothermia among the elderly who cannot afford to heat their homes, traffic accidents or influenza are nothing like on the scale we have seen in relation to coronavirus.

Yet many countries are taking similar measures to Britain which otherwise might be regarded as hysteria.

But we are where we are, and the government, having given advice on social distancing and self-isolation, has now shut schools and yesterday introduced a Bill to give itself draconian powers.

Those powers are controversial but this article focuses on the question whether the Bill sufficiently protects the incomes of working-class people.

In the Budget last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer offered a huge package of £330 billion of loans and guarantees to business to cope with the impact of coronavirus.

In contrast, the meanness of the Bill in looking after the UK’s 32.7 million workers and their dependants is truly striking. The only measure of relevance (ss.37-42) is in relation to statutory sick pay (SSP).

The relevant part of the Bill gives the Inland Revenue the power to reimburse employers who pay SSP. No surprise there.

At present entitlement to SSP is confined to “employees,” so excluding the self-employed, freelances etc and the so-called “limb (b) workers” who are workers under a contract but not an employment contract. These excluded workers may number about five million.

Also excluded are workers who earn less than the lower earnings limit of £118 per week.

Zero-hours workers are likely to be ineligible too. It is not clear to what extent the Bill will permit regulations to extend SSP to workers who are not “employees.”

The fact that the Bill gives power to remove the three waiting days before SSP kicks in is to be welcomed.

But the biggest problem is that SSP is fixed at only £94.25 per week. Anyone currently earning more than the lower earnings limit of £118 per week so as to qualify for SSP will, by definition, be making a loss.

At £94.25, SSP amounts to only 18.4 per cent of the average weekly wage of £512 per week — itself a figure that in real value has only just risen above the level of 12 years ago.

Virtually every other country in Europe provides a significantly higher rate of sick pay.

It should be remembered that the internationally accepted definition of poverty is earnings of less than 60 per cent of the average wage.

SSP is thus by definition more than two-thirds below poverty pay.

The Bill contains power to make regulations to define when a worker’s incapacity for work is related to coronavirus.

SSP, as the name on the tin suggests, is ordinarily only available for those who are sick.

But workers who are advised to self-isolate need guaranteed income even if they do not end up with the disease. It is not clear that the Bill will entitle them.

SSP of £94.25 per week is a positive disincentive to follow the advice to self-isolate.

In the health and care sectors this would be disastrous. According to the GMB, ISS, Sodexo, Hermes, G4S and Interserve are going to maintain full pay for self-isolating workers in health and care.

Clearly, the government should follow suit for all health and care workers. They are the front line.

And there is another category, those who lose work and pay in order to care for someone who is unable to go to their normal daytime activity because that facility is no longer available because of coronavirus (whether lack of staff, or government advice to close or self-isolate).

The obvious example is parents having to stay home to look after kids shut out of school.

One huge category the Bill does nothing for are the tens of thousands who have already lost or are under immediate threat of losing their jobs because of the cut in demand in the economy caused by coronavirus and the government’s advice not to go to pubs, bars, restaurants or other gatherings, or to travel abroad unnecessarily.

The Financial Times estimates that already 200,000 in the leisure and hospitality sectors have been laid off since mid-February.

Airlines and tourism are not included in these figures. Those sectors are in peril. On Wednesday British Airways issued a pre-redundancy consultation notice to unions. It has 30,000 employees.

Demand is naturally collapsing in the retail sector (other than for food), which employs some five million.

On Tuesday Laura Ashley went into liquidation with some 2,600 job losses. Entertainment and arts, which employs one million, is also badly affected.

This country is now largely a service economy, British manufacturing having been largely surrendered to globalisation.

The predicted loss of jobs because of coronavirus advice is, of course, precisely in the service industries.

The impact will therefore quickly reverberate through the rest of the economy.

It must be assumed that the government advice may be justified but the prospect is consequential unemployment on a very large scale.

Some but not all will have a small cushion of redundancy pay. But universal credit is the fate that will otherwise await most, with an initial wait of five weeks of no income.

The foodbanks have been depleted because those financially able to afford to have stockpiled food.

While the government is proposing rate relief for some businesses, it is not proposing to fund a rent, mortgage or energy-cost holiday for those reduced to poverty pay or thrown out of work.

The risk of a massive increase in destitution in the UK, beyond the 14 million already living in poverty (4.6 million of them children) is obvious.

This prospect calls for radical measures.

What the government needs to do is to intervene to restrain redundancies and to maintain the income of those in work.

This is precisely what other developed economies have done in the present crisis.

Sweden has guaranteed laid-off workers 90 per cent of their income. In Denmark a tripartite agreement has been negotiated between the employers, the government and the trade unions whereby the Danish government is underwriting 75 per cent of the wages of workers facing redundancies if firms do not lay off the workers.

In Britain the Bill could be amended to present the opportunity, in agreement with the TUC and the CBI, for the government to underwrite a percentage of full pay for firms to retain workers who would otherwise have to be made redundant because of coronavirus.

But some workers will already have been laid off, permanently. The daily news is of further redundancies.

For them and others who slip through the net, the government needs to introduce universal basic income.

UBI is a controversial subject and was rejected by referendum when proposed in Switzerland last year.

But in the circumstances of the current crisis surely it is a worthwhile temporary expedient, the theory of which as a long-term measure can be discussed at leisure in coming months.

The country cannot afford millions more citizens, unemployed, grappling with universal credit, and with it the grave risk of increased hunger, hypothermia, homelessness, and, ultimately, insurrection.

Indeed, it is in the interests of business that these radical measures be taken. If they are not, the scale of wage cuts and unemployment will suck demand out of the economy to create a crash and depression certainly on the scale of the 1930s.

There will be consequential lawlessness, unrest and social chaos on a scale unprecedented in Britain for a very long time.

First published in the Morning Star March 20th.


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After 46 years the Shrewsbury pickets have a chance to clear their names

The notorious case of the jailing of six striking building workers in 1973 has finally been referred to the Court of Appeal following a long campaign battle.

By Eileen Turnbull, First published in the Morning Star, March 17th

“Some will think this has not been the commission’s finest hour.”

This was the comment of chair of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) Helen Pitcher in its press release on March 4 2020 announcing that, after eight years, it was now referring the Shrewsbury pickets’ case to the Court of Appeal.

Terry Renshaw, convicted picket, was delighted: “I have been campaigning for over 14 years to clear our names. It was the proudest day of my life to be able to speak with my fellow pickets and let them know that we were now going to the Court of Appeal.”

The Morning Star has reported on this case regularly since the applications were submitted in April 2012.

The case began 47 years ago when 24 pickets were picked up by the the police in north Wales, five months after the first national building workers’ strike.

Between them the men were to face 243 charges. After three trials at Shrewsbury Crown Court in 1973-4, six pickets were jailed.

They were given prison sentences ranging from six months to three years. Sixteen received suspended prison sentences.

Des Warren, who led the north Wales strikers when they picketed working sites in Shrewsbury and Telford, was given the longest sentence, of three years.

The trial judge, Hugh Mais, told him when handing down the sentence, that Warren had the power of speech and the power of leadership.

After he was released in August 1976 at the age of 39, he was never to work again due to blacklisting and failing health.

The pickets have always maintained that they were innocent of all charges. After Warren died prematurely in 2004, the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign was launched shortly afterwards to clear their names.

It asked the Labour government for all papers relating to the Shrewsbury trials but was turned down by lord chancellor Jack Straw.

He relied upon section 23 of the Freedom of Information Act, which allows the government to withhold papers on the grounds of national security.

I then travelled to archives and libraries all over the country to obtain the fresh evidence required by the CCRC if it was to refer the convictions to the Court of Appeal.

Over the next 10 years I unearthed the crucial documents that formed the basis for the pickets’ applications.

The campaign worked tirelessly over this time to gain support and raise funds for the legal case.

We decided from the start that the pickets would not be asked to contribute to the legal costs as they had already paid a heavy price for their stand in 1972.

We travelled throughout Britain, to union and Labour Party conferences, branch and trades council meetings, the Durham Miners’ Gala, Tolpuddle, Orgreave and many other events to spread the word.

As a result, we have 21 national unions affiliated to us, hundreds of branches, trades councils and constituency Labour parties.

The chair of the campaign, Harry Chadwick, said: “We have achieved this success against the odds with the commitment of the campaign committee and the support of the trade unions.

“We have always been heartened by the warmth and generosity of the trade unionists and Labour Party members that we have met and I want to thank you all.”

In 2017, five years after the pickets’ applications had been submitted, the CCRC turned them down.

This was a great setback and two of the 10 pickets withdrew from the case, despite the best efforts of their fellow pickets to keep them in.

The campaign challenged the CCRC’s decision through a judicial review on the grounds that its decision and reasoning was legally incorrect and perverse.

At the first hurdle, in March 2018, a judge turned down the case as having “no merit.”

The campaign decided to contest this and went to a full “permission” hearing in the Administrative Court on November 9 2018.

Another judge found that there was an arguable case and gave the pickets the green light to proceed to a full judicial review of the CCRC.

At court on Tuesday April 30 2019, halfway through the submissions by the pickets’ QC, the CCRC conceded the case without presenting any challenge to the evidence.

It agreed that it would withdraw its original decision and reconsider the referral of the pickets’ convictions to the Court of Appeal.

Even though the CCRC was reminded many times of the age and frailty of the surviving pickets, it took it a further 10 months to release its revised decision, on March 4 2020.

This was just two days after the campaign travelled to the CCRC’s Birmingham office to hand in a letter to its CEO Karen Kneller, complaining about the delay and asking her to oversee the matter to ensure that its decision was communicated speedily.

What compounded the anxiety and frustration of the pickets was the CCRC’s final act: publicising its decision on its website before it had been seen by the pickets through their solicitors.

It meant that the pickets only got to hear about it after it was in the public domain.

In its press release the CCRC set out the two grounds for referring the cases:
i) new evidence consisting of a note dated September 17 1973 which revealed that some original statements had been destroyed. Neither this note, nor the fact that statements were destroyed, was disclosed to the defence at the time of the trial or at any time thereafter.

  1. ii) A new legal argument relating to a TV documentary, The Red Under the Bed, which was broadcast during the 1972 trial, and analysis, applying modern standards of fairness, of the way in which the airing of the documentary was handled by the trial judge.

The pickets and the campaign now await a date for the appeal hearing. They hope that the appeals office will list it quickly and that the pickets, who have sought justice for the past 46 years, will at last have an opportunity to clear their names.

The CCRC has indicated that it will accept applications from any of the other convicted pickets.

The campaign has already had contact with several who had initially been reluctant to put their names forward in 2012 due to the stigma caused by their original convictions.

We are grateful for all the support that we have received over the years and ask trade unions to continue to affiliate and donate to the campaign.

It is the intention of the campaign to take all the convicted pickets and their families to London for the appeal hearing.

Eileen Turnbull is researcher and secretary of the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign. The campaign can be contacted via its website,

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European TUC Data On Agreements Involving Trade Unions

See all agreements involving trade unions at national and EU level to tackle #coronavirus and its impact on working people by clicking here

Constantly updated – CTUF will update this message and also sent out tweets when new agreements come in.

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Coronavirus And Campaign For Trade Union Freedom

Due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus disease and the Government’s ineptitude in the face of the crisis the Steering Committee of the Campaign For Trade Union Freedom believes that it would be reckless and foolhardy to proceed with our planned conference Trade Union Laws: Resist, Repeal, Replace scheduled for 6th June. Therefore we have taken the difficult decision to postpone the conference at least until the autumn of this year.

A difficult decision because the Steering Committee is very much aware that the proposals set out in the Tory General Election Manifesto and in the Queen’s Speech represent the opening of another front in the assault on organised labour by the Conservatives and their allies, but the safety of our members and supporters is of course paramount.

We are also very much aware that any emergency powers introduced by this Government to deal with coronavirus will very probably contain anti-worker and anti-union measures that may be difficult to roll back after the crisis has passed.

Currently the Government is casting tens of thousands of low paid hospitality and gig workers adrift as it works to defend its friends in the insurance industry, immediately giving a lie to “one nation” conservatism.

Our AGM should usually take place in June each year; we had not yet set a date but we will also be postponing this until at least the autumn.

Finally, we will be suspending publication of our printed quarterly newsletter until further notice because of distribution problems.

Members and supporters should visit this website regularly and of course follow us on Twitter @UnionFreedom for regular news items and comment.

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Yorkshire premiere of the film ‘Wapping – the Workers’ Story

The Yorkshire premiere of the film “Wapping – the Workers’ Story” – see flyer below. Although the event is free, space is limited, so please do book by clicking here.

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‘Not our finest hour’: CCRC finally refers ‘Shrewsbury 24’

The miscarriage of justice watchdog has finally referred the case of construction workers claiming to have been wrongly jailed following an industrial dispute in the 1970s, 10 months after being forced to change its mind as a result of being challenged through the courts.

As reported on the Justice Gap, the Criminal Cases Review Commission rejected the application on behalf of members of the so called Shrewsbury 24 in December 2018 and the group successfully challenged that refusal last April. Prior to the CCRC rejecting the case, the watchdog had spent five years investigating it.

  • You can read about the Shrewsbury 24 case hereand here– and an interview with Ricky Tomlinson by Nick Bano

The CCRC Chairman Helen Pitcher defended the commission’s original review as ‘detailed and thorough’. ‘When it became clear that the Administrative Court took a different view on two specific points we decided to revisit our decision,’ she continued. ‘We looked long and hard again at the specific issues involved. It was by

no means a foregone conclusion that we would change our original

decision, but in the end we have decided there is now enough to refer

these cases for appeal.’

‘These are complex matters of judgment and not precise calculations. Some will think this has not been the Commission’s finest hour, but it does at least show that we are an organisation that can revisit a decision impartially and where necessary change its mind.’

Helen Pitcher, CCRC Chairman

The eight men whose cases are being referred are John McKinsie Jones, John Malcolm Clee, William Michael Pierce, Terence Renshaw, Patrick Kevin Butcher, and Bernard Williams, and also Kenneth Desmond Francis O’Shea and Dennis Michael Warren both of whom are deceased.

They had been charged under arcane legislation (Conspiracy Act 1875) for offences relating to intimidation and damage to property for picketing during the first nationwide industrial action by the building trade.

Their application to the CCRC in 2012 was based a number of grounds, including recently discovered evidence that original witness statements had been destroyed and that this fact had not been disclosed to the defence counsel. They also argued that the broadcast of an ITV documentary (‘The red under the bed’) during the original trial, content was contributed by a covert agency within the Foreign Office known as the Information Research Department, was highly prejudicial.

The case of actor Ricky Tomlinson (as well as George Arthur Murray) was not part of the judicial review and, consequently, has not been referred. In his 2016 interview with Nick Bano, he said: ‘I’ve got no faith in the judicial system whatsoever. It’s more important to me that the public finds out what has been done to us. It’s an uphill struggle but we won’t give in.’

The CCRC rejected the case in October 2017. At the time the campaign secretary Eileen Turnbull told the Justice Gap that the  case should have been referred back to the Court of Appeal ‘at least three years ago’. ‘The CCRC has dragged its feet for more than five years and then failed to apply the relevant law to the fresh evidence that we provided.’

The legal challenge heard in May last year was when of 30 such challenges in 2018/19 and part way though the CCRC agreed to revisit its decision.

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Conference: Trade Union Laws: Resist, Repeal, Replace

An important event for trade union shop stewards, union reps, union officers, activists:

The Campaign For Trade Union Freedom with the Institute of Employment Rights are holding a one day conference “Trade Union Laws – Resist, Repeal, Replace”.

10:30am to 15:45pm 6th June, 2020

Unite, Ron Todd House, 33-37 Moreland Street, London EC1V 8BB

With the election of a Tory government, the continuation of policies of austerity and the expectation of further attacks on unions, it’s time to step up a gear and renew our defence of trade union freedoms.

Since its establishment in 2013 the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom (CTUF) has argued for the repeal of anti trade union laws and the right of trade unions to democratically determine their own rule books free of state interference.

Labour’s offer on employment rights in 2017 and 2019 represented the most progressive reform of trade union and worker rights in a generation. CTUF is proud of the work we did – alongside the respected Institute of Employment Rights – in developing those ideas for reform

But time has moved on and CTUF believes the most important aspect of our work now is to explain, popularise and campaign for trade union freedoms.We need to set out our agenda, take that message to the public and win the hearts and minds of voters – including those who lent their support to the Tories in 2019.And there is much to fight against.

  • Policies of austerity are still ruining lives and shrinking vital services.
  • Attacks on hard-won employment rights continue, reflected in increased strike activity.
  • Further attacks on trade union freedoms are already in the pipeline via an Employment Bill, an expected Minimum Service Guarantee in the Transport Bill and future trade deals. This conference will start the fight back, mobilising a campaign to resist future attacks, and setting out our proposals for the repeal of anti-union law

Campaign for Trade Union Freedom: 0151 207 5264: office@UnionFreedom

Institute of Employment Rights: 0151 207 5265:

Panel sessions include:

The Employment Bill: Know Your Enemies – Plan your alternatives

Trade Deals, EU Legislation and Free Ports – What About The Workers? 

Striking Issues: Resist – Repeal – Replace

Confirmed speakers and panelists 

Tony Burke ~ Asst General Secretary, UNITE (Chair of CTUF)

Mark Serwotka ~ General Secretary, PCS

Carolyn Jones ~ Director, Institute of Employment Rights

John Hendy QC ~ Chairperson, Institute of Employment Rights

Shavanah Taj ~ General Secretary, Wales TUC

Cathy Cross ~ National Parliamentary & Campaigns Officer, PCS

Adrian Weir ~ Campaign for Trade Union Freedom

Prof Keith Ewing ~ President, Institute of Employment Rights

Andy Green ~ National Secretary, CTUF

Roger McKenzie ~ Assistant General Secretary, Unison

Dave Ward ~ General Secretary, CWU

Other speakers to be announced soon.

To book your place via Eventbrite at this important event please follow this link, where you will be able to find more information. 

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3.3 million Workers Lose Out As EU States Fail To Protect Collective Bargaining

Esther Lynch, Deputy General Secretary of the ETUC.

At least 3.3 million fewer workers are benefiting from a collective bargaining agreement across the European Union today compared to the beginning of the century, the latest figures show.

Collective bargaining coverage is down in 22 of the EU’s 27 member states since 2000 as a result of deliberate policies implemented by member states and endorsed by the European Commission, often because of a mistaken idea that high levels of collective bargaining are bad for the economy.

The facts show that the opposite is true and that strong collective bargaining systems contribute to higher wages and better working conditions, as well as to a fairer society and to better economic performances.

The biggest fall in the percentage of workers covered was in Romania (100% to 23%), Greece (100% to 25%) and Bulgaria (56% to 23%), according to figures from the University of Amsterdam.

The figures also show the number of workers covered has gone down in 9 of the 15 countries for which data is available, including Greece (-1.2m), Germany (-884,000) and Hungary (-439,000).

There is now a huge disparity in coverage between countries across the EU, with just 7% of workers benefiting from collective bargaining in Lithuania compared to 98% in Austria.

Source: Jelle Visser, ICTWSS Data base. version 6.1. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies AIAS. October 2019; OECD Stat.

The data shows falls in coverage in the following countries including coverage between 2016 and 2018.

Source: Jelle Visser, ICTWSS Data base. version 6.1. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies AIAS. October 2019; OECD Stat.

The ETUC is highlighting the figures during the European Commission’s consultation on fair minimum wages.

The Commission’s first stage consultation document stated: “Collective bargaining is an essential element of the social market economy promoted by the EU and a strong foundation for good wage setting.”

The ETUC believes the Commission needs to use its initiative on fair minimum wages to protect collective bargaining where coverage is already high and extend it in countries where it is low, in order to reduce inequalities, improve working conditions and raise productivity.

ETUC Deputy General Secretary Esther Lynch said:

“Raising statutory minimum wages is the bare minimum needed to keep people above the poverty line, but collective bargaining is the best way to ensure workers receive a genuinely fair share of wages, as well as combatting the gender pay gap and providing good conditions for non-standard workers.

“Member States’ failure to act to promote workers right and ability to collective bargaining is holding all wages back. Low collective bargaining means also lower minimum wages: fair minimum wages can only be created in labour markets with effective collective bargaining systems which ensure an adequate coverage.

“It’s positive that the European Commission has recognised that collective bargaining is essential for a fair economy. It’s now logical that they need to promote collective bargaining, in particular where the numbers of workers covered are low. However, the EU should not interfere where there are no problems with collective bargaining.

“This can start with a requirement for the €2 trillion (14% of GDP) a year of public spending on services, works and supplies to go to firms with a collective bargaining agreement.”

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Stop Anti Union Laws In Ukraine

Join the global day of action 25th February urging Ukraine’s government to withdraw draft labour laws which are in contravention of national and international core labour standards.

Ukrainian unions mobilised their members for a “Stop labour slavery” protest action on 15th January in Kiev against the new draft law on labour introduced to parliament without prior consultation with unions.

Together with other drafts submitted in December last year, the latest draft, №2708, only protects employers’ interests and deprives workers of their rights and social guarantees. If adopted, the drafts would abolish union committees at company level, undermine union capacity to protect workers and would eventually lead to the elimination of trade unions in Ukraine.

Close to thousand union members picketed the building of the parliamentary committee for social politics on the day of the review of the draft law on labour.

The draft contradicts national law, including the Constitution of Ukraine, and core international labour standards, including ILO Conventions 87, 131 and 98.

The recent draft consists of 99 articles and is meant to regulate all labour relations.

Both recent and the earlier drafts submitted to parliament in December 2019 are full of anti-worker legal provisions, including: the possibility to set a 12-hour working day instead of the current 8 hour limit; reduction of overtime payments, allowing the payment of 120 per cent instead of the current double time; additional opportunities for easier dismissals, including that of pregnant women and women on maternity leave at the employers’ discretion; abolishment of additional leave for workers employed in hazardous industries, for parents with many children and mothers of disabled children; and the elimination of social guarantees for vulnerable categories of employees.

On 16th January, leaders and representatives from 60,000 local unions that represent 7,000,000 union members in Ukraine gathered in Kiev for an activity by the All-Ukrainian Trade Union Council for the protection of workers’ constitutional, labour and socio-economic rights and unions.

Although invited, neither the president nor prime minister attended the event.

The Council adopted a resolution with the unions’ demands, including:

  • Demand that the state authorities immediately withdraw the draft law On Labour №2708 and invite ILO experts to examine of any new drafts law on labour, trade unions and social security;
  • Demand that the government launch fair labour law reform through tripartite social dialogue in full compliance with national and international law;
  • Propose the adoption of a Labour Code of Ukraine on the basis of two drafts (№ 2410 and 2410-1) previously submitted to the parliament and already examined by the ILO;

After the adoption of the resolution, participants marched to the buildings of the president, parliament and government where they handed over a copy of the resolution.

Please tweet the following message:

Join global day of action 25th Feb urging Ukraine’s government to withdraw draft labour law in contravention of national and international core labour standards #HandsOffUkraineUnions


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CLAIMING DATE: June 6th, CTUF Employment Rights Conference

The Campaign For Trade Union Freedom with the Institute Of Employment Rights are organising a conference on Employment Rights on June 6th,

‘Trade Union Rights: Resist, Repeal , Replace’ Venue: Unite Office Moreland Street, London commencing at 11am – through to 4pm.

More details of speakers and information soon.

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