Archive for the ‘Political Issues’ Category

LSE Cleaners dispute starts

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

As a part of the LSE‘s 3-day ‘Resist’ Festival organised by Lisa McKenzie the United Voices of the World trade union which many of the LSE’s cleaners belong organised a meeting to launch their campaign for decent and equal treatment. The cleaners work in the various buildings around the LSE campus but are not employed by the LSE who use an outside contractor, Noonan, to employ them.

Outsourcing contracts like this are generally awarded to the cheapest bidder, and the companies involved cut costs by providing minimum standards – low wages and statutory benefits – and increasing workloads, employing fewer cleaners to do the same jobs. Workers are also not provided with proper safety equipment and many suffer health problems. Low wages for supervisors and managers also mean they generally get less competent managers – and at the LSE there were allegations of illegal favouritism and discrimination, and of generally being treated like dirt. Outsourcing results in these essential staff working in the LSE under conditions of service far worse than any that the LSE would offer to those directly employed – and also in lower standards of cleaning.

Our large trade unions that have traditionally represented low paid workers such as these have in many organisations failed lower paid staff and particularly out-sourced staff such as these, often being more concerned about maintaining pay differentials than getting better pay and conditions for the lowest paid. Language too has often been a problem, with many of these workers being Spanish speakers. So as at many other workplaces, the cleaners have joined grass roots unions formed and run largely by workers like themselves, often with support from academics and campaigners for social justice, such as the UVW. And because these unions are active and successful, many managements refuse to grant them recognition.

As well as seeking equal conditions of service to workers in similar grades directly employed by the LSE and to be treated with dignity and respect, the campaign at the LSE was also one for union recognition.

I was pleased to be able to attend and photograph the meeting, chaired by the UVW’s General Secretary Petros Elia, which was attended by many of the cleaners as well as their supporters including LSE students and staff, among them a whole group of students from the LSE’s new graduate course on equality issues and LSE Students Union General Secretary Busayo Twins.

All present were shocked when one of the cleaners, Alba, stood up and told us how she had been unfairly sacked that week after 12 years of service at the LSE, and the demand ‘Re-instate Alba‘ was immediately added to the campaign.

I was pleased that several of the photographs I took at this event were used by the UVW in promoting its campaign, and to be able to come back and photograph many of the protests and pickets that were a part of the fight for justice. Even more pleased to read a few days ago the following statement from the UVW:

UVW is proud to announce that the LSE cleaners will be BROUGHT IN-HOUSE and become employees of the LSE from Spring 2018! This will ensure they get, among other things, 41 days annual leave, 6 months full pay sick pay and 6 months half pay sick pay, plus proper employer pension contributions of up to 13% of their salary.

This is the most significant victory for any group of workers in UK higher education today, and will hopefully set a precedent to follow for other degraded outsourced workers across the country.

LSE Cleaners campaign launch


Nanas Tea Party

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Continuing yesterday’s theme (Strong Women) the following Tuesday I made a rare visit to Buckingham Palace, not to see the Queen but to meet with the ‘Nanas from Nanashire‘ who are leading the campaign against fracking the the UK.

At their head is a remarkable woman, Tina Louise Rothery, who as well as leading protests against fracking sites has also stood as a Green Party candidate in elections in Tatton in 2015 (against George Osborne) and in June 2017 for Fylde. Unfortunately JUne 8th wasn’t a good day for the Green Party nationally, and though Fylde is a pretty safe Tory seat, there was a large swing to Labour which probably included many who would have preferred a Green candidate. But until we get a decent proportional representation system, British democracy remains something of a sham.

One of the Green Party’s two co-leaders, Jonathan Bartley came with the Nanas (I think Caroline Lucas was busy in Parliament) but it was very much an occasion for the women. Tina Louise is only one of a number of remarkable Nanas.

Unfortunately, the Queen hadn’t replied to the Nana’s invitation to have tea with them, and hadn’t had the courtesy to invite them in onto her lawns around the back of the palace – probably one of the few sites in the country not under threat from fracking, so they had to have their tea party around the rather hideous Victoria Monument in front of Buck Palace.

Protests are definitely not allowed there, but this, the Nanas assured the police was not a protest but a tea party, and certainly it is a place where many tourists settle down to snacks watching the rather boring building and the daily changing of the guard. The police agreed they could sit there, but told them that they mustn’t display banners or posters.

So we had tea and coffee and scones with strawberry jam and cream and I think some cake I didn’t photograph but ate. And the Nanas being who they are, they did ignore the police orders and held up their banners so they could be seen from the palace and then posed with them for photographers with the palace behind – until a police officer climbed slowly up the steps to tell them to put them away.

With the Nanas was one eco-warrior whose disguise as a Nana was less than convincing – and someone like several of the Nanas I know from various protests over climate and other issues over the years.

I was sorry when I had to leave the group around the monument – where they stayed for over 24 hours. But I had to catch a train and my ticket was only valid before what the rail company designates as the rush hour.

Shortly after I left a man arrived to try to serve to serve a court order on Tina Louise Rothery.  Fracking company Cuadrilla are trying to end protests against their drilling by  bullying her “for camping in a field, doing no damage and exercising a right to protest peacefully”.  As the only named defendant she was ordered to pay an excessive bill for deliberately ramped up legal charges by Cuadrilla after she failed to submit her defence against their injunction by a deadline in what the legal firm who later gave her advice called a legal process many professional lawyers would have struggled with.

After Tina Louise refused to give the court details of her financial circumstances in June she was charged with contempt of court, but when she returned to court 3 months after this protest with details showing she was unable to pay the fees, the contempt charge was purged, with the court apparently showing some annoyance at Cuadrilla for pursuing the case.

And considerable adverse publicity – partly because protests like this one resulted in widespread coverage of the case – were probably behind Cuadrilla’s decision not to further pursue their claim – though they muttered about possibly doing so if her financial circumstances change. I suppose if she were to win the lottery they might get their money, though I suspect she has the sense not to waste her money on a ticket.

Nanas call on Queen to stop Fracking


Strong Women

Monday, June 19th, 2017

I’m not sure how much it reflects on me and the entirely sexist world I was brought up in back in the days of the fifties. Even in the sixties when I became politically involved, many still regarded the role of women to be to darn the socks of the revolutionary man. Though I hope I didn’t share that view, but I’m sure there are still traces of that prehistoric past in my make-up. And it still surprises me a little how many of those that I photograph and admire as political activists are women. I’ve not made any accurate census, but so many of those who first come to mind are women, and many of my favourite images are of women.

But perhaps I just like women. They often seen far more sensible than men. Photographing people isn’t just a technical thing, and it works better at least for me when there is a certain rapport or at least empathy. But perhaps I’m straying into sensitive territory and will find gender police of various sympathies swooping down on me talons outstretched (surely a sexist metaphor but what metaphors aren’t.)

On Saturday 24th September last I photographed three protests which were or seemed to be dominated by women (and the fourth, Release the Craigavon Two would perhaps also at least seem that way from my pictures.) Focus E15 started as a group of unmarried mothers in a council funded hostel under threat of eviction who got together and decided to fight to be rehoused in London, and were celebrating three years working together on a campaign which has widened into one fighting for proper housing for all and an end to social cleansing, particularly in their own entirely Labour borough of Newham, but also more widely.

The celebration took place on the wide pavement at Stratford Broadway where they hold a weekly street stall, and there was music and dancing and it was one of the few protests at which I’ve been handed champagne, which still tasted pretty good from a plastic cup. Almost all of the speakers at the rally were women, and so were most of those taking part.

From Stratford I made my way to Brixton, where Ritzy Cinema workers, men and women, were striking for a living wage. There were rather more women than men visible, and rather more of the men seemed to be hiding behind some large masks.  The picture above was a slight disappointment and would have been better, but as I was carefully framing it, another photographer walked into the frame at the right hand side, spoiling the composition. I’ve cropped him out but had to lose a little more too, and though I still like the picture, I can’t look at it without thinking of the one that I just missed.

Of course I did photograph the men too, and there are one or two decent pictures starring them, but in general it is those with women in the lead that are most interesting. Judge for yourself at The Ritzy’s Back for a Living Wage.

My final protest of the day was at the Polish Embassy, called by Polish Feminists against the introduction of new laws outlawing abortion  proposed for Poland  in solidarity with the 5th annual March for Choice in Ireland against the strict anti-abortion laws there condemned by the UN as ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’.

The colours of the head dress of this woman speaking are of course those of the Polish flag, and I carefully positioned myself to get the Polish eagle on the Embassy frontage  to her right. It wasn’t possible to get enough depth of field for this to be sharp, but I stopped down as much as I could under the lighting conditions.

This was a ‘black protest’ with many of those taking part dressed in black, and the black doors of the embassy made a good background, though careful exposure and a little help in post-processing made the figures stand out better. I wasn’t ‘directing’ the woman holding up this octagonal placard, and it took a little patience and luck to get the framing I wanted.  And although the verticals were quite close to vertical as I took them, a little massaging in Lightroom was needed for the final image. Some agencies would not approve, but this was what I saw and tried to achieve when I was taking the picture and I’ve no qualms about using a little electronic help in this way.

Of course I took other pictures, but given the nature of the protest they too were mainly of women. You can see some of them at Polish Women’s ‘Black Protest for Choice’.

Grenfell is Political

Thursday, June 15th, 2017

I just couldn’t get down to writing yesterday morning. I woke to hear the terrible news of the fire at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, and couldn’t stop thinking about the people who were trapped inside as it burned. News was coming through at a great rate on Facebook, and it was soon evident that this had been a disaster waiting to happen, a result of the managed neglect of social housing over the years under many governments, and in particular of the lack of effective and updated regulations about building safety. I could write more, and already at least one MP has described what happened as murder and called for prosecutions for corporate manslaughter. There are certainly calls for justice, and it will be hard to see it done unless people end up in prison for their deliberate actions in failing to properly address the concerns clearly made by residents of the tower, failing to ensure that their homes were safe.

RCG with their impressive housing banner at the entrance to the London Real Estate Forum

Of course the agencies I send pictures to would have liked pictures, but I decided not to go. Other photographers closer than me to the area were already covering it, and there would be little I could add, and already it was the centre of a huge media storm which certainly would not make life easier for those affected. I don’t criticise individuals who went to report – and some certainly several friends did a fine job – but we do have a problem with far too many people covering major events such as this, while the news media neglect the lies and policies that are behind such tragedies.

Sid Skill of Class War with a poster ‘Regeneration is Killing People’

If I had a particular connection with the area I would have gone, but I don’t. One friend is a former resident of the tower, but now lives miles away, and I used years ago to visit another who had a studio half a mile away, and would sometimes walk around if I had some time to spare. Otherwise, I’ve sometimes walked along the street on my way to Carnival – its only a short distance west of Ladbroke Grove, and in an area many would think of as Notting Hill rather than North Kensington. But later in the day I was attending a protest which had a strong connection with the events there.

What was he doing in the London Real Estate Forum?

Notting Hill is of course one of the wealthiest areas of London – and I’ve been in one or two houses not far from here that are probably now worth £5m or £10m or more. It’s an area that has suffered from gentrification though some individuals have benefited greatly, and there is little doubt that Kensington & Chelsea Council would like to see estates like that containing Grenfell House demolished and sold off for private development, a process they would call ‘regeneration’.

Tory MPs – 39% of them landlords – voted down a proposal to ensure properties are “fit for human habitation”

And I suspect that councillors from K&C where present at the London Real Estate Forum along with those from Southwark, Lambeth, Newham, Barking & Dagenham, Croydon, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey, Enfield, Waltham Forest, Ealing, Westminster and elsewhere, all keen to sell off public land for private development, destroying in the process the homes of many Londoners, and building private flats for the wealthy, including many overseas investors who largely don’t even want to live in them, just watch their value increasing and then sell on to make a profit.

Letting them know what people think of them

Although these councils being in London are largely Labour councils, it is hard to see this event – backed Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and sponsored by Labour’s real estate advisors Savills – as anything other than a class war, part of a wholesale policy of social cleansing of London, making it impossible for those in low paid jobs – and even key workers like teachers and nurses to afford housing in the capital. As one New Labour Mayor told people being evicted who complained about being offered private rented properties in Manchester or Wales rather than housing in his borough “if you can’t afford to live in Newham – you can’t afford to live in Newham!“.  Now that Labour is finally getting behind it’s elected leader, housing is one area where policy needs a total rethink and a new direction. Unfortunately Shadow Housing Minister John Healey’s recent report Housing Innovations inspires little confidence that they are capable of doing so.

London Co-operative Housing Group’s new report ‘Co-operate Not Speculate’

It isn’t surprising that people are angry about this – and about the Grenfell Tower fire – and that Class War and the Revolutionary Communist Group outside the Mayfair venue were calling the architects, developers and councillors going into the event ‘Scum’ and ‘Parasites’ and sometimes worse. There are people making polite and reasonable arguments – including the London Co-operative Housing Group who were there too with their new report ‘Co-operate Not Speculate‘ and others putting forward closely argued rebuttals of the rush for profit at the expense of people – and detailed plans for the real regeneration of council estates – such as Architects for Social Housing, but on the morning of London’s most disastrous fire since the Blitz and with almost certainly more deaths than the 1666 Great Fire of London, anger seemed entirely justifiable.

Standing Rock

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

The brutal suppression of the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline on the orders of President Trump shortly after he came to power will I’m sure have consequences unseen by him in the longer term, both in terms of the US coming to terms with its own history and of course climate change.

The London protest in solidarity with Standing Rock seemed a slightly surreal event, with only a small handful of those present having any native American heritage, or even any great knowledge of their religion and customs taking part in a protest that was also a religious ceremony. It took place in front of the London US Embassy, which has always appeared to me, perhaps appropriately, as a symbol or brutality and mindless force.

My own ideas of what was undoubtedly a lengthy process of genocide in the settling of the USA by European immigrants were formed in my youth by Hollywood and the games of ‘Cowboys and Indians’ that were a part of every child’s growing up in the 1950s. Having two older siblings in games with them and their friends I was always the ‘Indian’, with a brown loose decorated shirt and a rather chunky rubber tomahawk (actually a rather more effective weapon capable of serious bruising than the much flashier shiny plastic six gun I later graduated to wielding on the other side.)

Later too we played with bows and arrows, more serious weapons still, with the green pea sticks that shot at some force could certainly have caused serious eye damage, but our hero then was Robin Hood, and we were champions then of the poor against the dastardly rich and oppressive Sheriff of Nottingham.

But while Robin and his merry men might have been something of a positive role model, back in the day those Indians were clearly losers, shown as cruel and deceitful and little or nothing of their more spiritual and environmental views came across. They stood in the way of progress, and progress slaughtered them – and under Trump still does.

Now of course we are at least beginning to realise (other than Trump and his dinosaur friends) that the world has to change and we need to take account of nature and to live in harmony with it. Natural resources are finite and we have to limit our pollution of the environment to a level that nature can deal with in a way that allows our own lives to continue. Not living as those original Americans did, but embodying some of their spirit.

London Stands with Standing Rock

A few days ago, the New York-based Wallace Global Fund presented the inaugural Henry A. Wallace award to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe for its brave resistance in defending sacred land and water against the Dakota Access Pipeline. In addition to the $250,000 prize, the Tribe will receive up to a $1 million investment from the Wallace Global Fund to support its transition toward fossil fuel independence.


Passing Clouds

Monday, June 12th, 2017

Gentrification is happening in all of what once were the working-class areas of London, and Dalston is no exception. It’s partly a matter of increasing land values – and land and its ownership is at the bottom of most things that are wrong with Britain, as it is land that is the basis of our class system. Although I wouldn’t quite go along with Proudhon and say that all “property is theft”, clearly the current ownership of land comes largely from actions over the centuries which have appropriated what was once a common resource. The enclosures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries notably led to riots even in the more conservative areas of the country.

As the pattern of work in London has changed over the years, with the destruction of the capital’s remaining industries which had long been declining before Thatcher put the axe in, working class jobs have become more and more concentrated at the bottom end of the service sector, with fewer opportunities for the higher pay enjoyed by skilled workers.

At the same time – and again thanks to Thatcher – we saw a decline in social housing, with council homes being sold off under the ‘right to buy’. It gave a nice windfall to those able to enjoy it, though many later found themselves unable to keep up with their newly acquired properties, many of which were bought up by others and are now expensive private lettings.

People in the new jobs that have been created look for areas of London they can afford to buy property. Years ago that included the working class areas of inner-city London, but now they are more and more likely to have to move to the outer suburbs and face long commutes. But those on higher salaries can still afford the £1m plus in the inner boroughs.

Years ago in the 1980s I started to photograph former industrial sites in London, many then derelict and empty. Some had already been demolished and converted into boxy and expensive private flats, particularly those in more favourable locations. Others became artists studios or community facilities for a while, providing a way of maintaining them in at least basic repair while their asset values increased and increased.

Lenthal Works, where the Hackney Gazette was printed from 1890-1958, was refurbished in 1995 as part of a regeneration scheme. In 2006 it became a popular arts centre for cultural and musical events, and Passing Clouds was celebrating its 10th anniversary when it heard that their landlord – had secretly sold the site for development to ‘Landlord Developments’ who were about to evict them, with the loss of around 100 jobs. In its place would be built ‘luxury flats’ many of which will probably never be lived in, simply acting as investments for over-rich foreigners, mainly in the far east, who buy such properties and re-sell them when rising property prices have generated a hefty profit.

Passing Clouds occupied their venue, but were evicted following a court order.  Several months later they were talking to Landlord Developments about buying the venue, but there have been no further announcements, other than that they still hope at some time to re-open, though I think in a different venue.

The protest was a carnival procession from Hoxton Square by many of those who were regular attenders at Passing Clouds, and we arrived there to find a group of African drummers around a glowing fire. The crowd was densely packed and I could feel the heat on my face from the embers, and more so when pouring capfuls of white rum onto them sent a ball of flame up into the air. The 16-35 16mm fisheye enabled me to capture something of the scene and atmosphere, but rather too much of the atmosphere was getting into my lungs and I soon had to move back.

The protest was scheduled to move on for more music and dancing and speeches in Dalston Square, but I decided it was time to go home and have some food.

More at Save Passing Clouds.

Refugees Still Welcome

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

The General Election campaign is back in full swing with less than a week to go before the vote. Like many I’ve been a little surprised at how well Jeremy Corbyn has been succeeding in getting his message across, despite a generally hostile press and media, though I’ve not been letting myself carried away.

Most shocking have been some of the statements made by a few hard-core opponents of him in the Labour Party, and even in the unlikely event of Corbyn being able to form a government it wouldn’t be surprising if there were enough defections from the party of candidates who got elected though a successful campaign that he led to immediately bring it down.

It’s been a disappointing to see too some of the compromises that Corbyn has had to make, presenting policies that he doesn’t believe in because they are Labour policies, voted for by conference. Wasting a small fortune on Trident is of course one of them; there must be ways those workers involved could be employed on something that makes sense, and time the unions involved were clamouring for this rather than supporting a white elephant for the sake of members’ jobs.

I’m sure too that Corbyn would like to be far more positive about the benefits of immigration and of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers than he has been in this campaign, and ending their often heartless and sometimes illegal persecution by the Home Office. Opinion polls show that the British population would give their support to a fairer and more welcoming approach, but one that his political opponents would pounce on. Labour have few promises, though they do state they would end the indefinite detention of migrants, but on refugees there is only the vague statement that Britain would take in its ‘fair share’.

Clearly the Conservative government have been against that – as the handful of Syrian refugees allowed in and the failure to live up to the Dubs Amendment over bringing in refugee children have shown.

I wasn’t in Parliament Square for all of the rally, and missed the Lord Dubs who was the only Labour politician to speak, along with Caroline Lucas MP for the Green Party and a Lib Dem campaigner Shas Sheehan. I did see Vanessa Redgrave (who I’d also photographed earlier) and Jeremy Hardy, but there were very few MPs making themselves known.

More  at Refugees Welcome Here


What Housing Crisis?

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

I was going to write something about the so-called housing crisis in a week or two, when mentioning the appearance at the LSE’s 3-day ‘Resist’ festival of Simon Elmer (above) of Architects for Social Housing (ASH).

Lisa McKenzie who organised ‘Resist’ – one of several reasons for her victimisation by the LSE

On that occasion he gave a passionate and well-argued and evidenced indictment, ‘The Intellectual Bloodstain’ on a report by a group of LSE academics on Kidbrooke Village, a development by Berkeley Homes and Southern Housing, which you can read a little more about at Simon Elmer of ASH indicts LSE. What prompts me to come back to housing earlier is a recent post on the Ash Website, 10 Myths about London’s Housing Crisis.

Housing has of course emerged as an issue, if a relatively minor one, in the election campaign. And what is if not a crisis certainly a disaster is that both main parties have got the issue seriously wrong.

10 Myths…‘ was commissioned by The Guardian, but when they saw it they refused to publish it, one reason why I’m sharing it here. Both Tories and Labour have, possibly for slightly different reasons, delegated their housing policies to the developers and estate agents. The Tories because they and many of their backers are doing very nicely thank you out of the huge boom in property prices, and Labour, or at least New Labour who run many Labour local councils see selling off the council estates – realising their asset values – as a short-term solution to all the squeezes on local authority budgets.

Inhabitants of the Heygate Estate were early victims of Labour-led regeneration

What the Labour left think on the subject is something of a mystery, though possibly if they emerge stronger from the general election they may feel they can speak up for the currently down-trodden and oppressed council tenants rather than stay stum about their problems. But I wouldn’t bank on it even if we do get that unlikely Corbyn victory.

I have some reservations about Elmer’s first point, that rather than a crisis the present housing situation has been “been carefully prepared and legislated for by those who have the most to gain from it.” While he is right to suggest that it is more a scandal than a crisis, it has been one which is only partly down to deliberate plans and has been greatly assisted by unforeseen events.

When New Labour first set out their plans for regeneration they failed to envisage the extremes of inducements that developers would use to bribe councillors and councils, nor the huge gap in bargaining competency between long-practising private sector and naive public servants. Something of course that is also responsible for the huge cash crisis of the NHS – the PFI elephant that seldom seems to merit attention.

But the remaining nine points are I think straight down the line, and its an article that I commend to you – as well as to all politicians. If you really want to contribute to solving the ‘housing crisis’, you need to understand what it rally is. So should we wake up on June 9th with Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister I rather hope he and his colleagues will have time to read this and take appropriate action. It it’s May again then if you are one of the millions affected  by the ‘housing crisis’ you should read it to find out why you are being shafted.

Simon Elmer of ASH indicts LSE
10 Myths about London’s Housing Crisis



Friday, April 28th, 2017

Vedanta is “one of the world’s most ancient spiritual philosophies and one of its broadest, based on the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of India” according to the Vedanta Society of Southern California, which also tells me it is “the philosophical foundation of Hinduism” but that it is “universal in its application and is equally relevant to all countries, all cultures, and all religious backgrounds“. Theirs is a rather more understandable description than in the possibly more rigorous Wikipedia page on the subject.

It goes on to state:

Vedanta affirms:

  • The oneness of existence,
  • The divinity of the soul, and
  • The harmony of all religions

and later that “Vedanta asserts that the goal of life is to realize and to manifest our own divinity.”

Vedanta World puts it slightly differently “Vedanta designs the pursuit of happiness through logical and systematic exposition of eternal truths. Founded on no individual, It is a system of knowledge“.

But Vedanta the company is something quite different. It styles itself as follows:

Vedanta Resources, is one of the world’s largest diversified natural resources companies with interests in Zinc, Lead, Silver, Copper, Iron Ore, Aluminium, Power and Oil & Gas. Vedanta Resource’s operation is located in India, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Liberia, Ireland and Australia.

Its critics would see it more like;

Vedanta designs the pursuit of material profit through the ruthless and systematic destruction of communities, the exploitation of workers, the corruption of governments, creating high levels of pollution through its mining of natural resources. Founded by Anil Agarwal, it is a system of ruthless exploitation.

For some years the group ‘Foil Vedanta‘ (also on Facebook) has organised protests outside the AGM of this London-based multi-national mining giant, bringing along their own inflatable ‘Vedanta Monster‘, as well as some members buying shares in order to attend the meetings and question the companies activities.

Foil Vedanta have also supported other groups on the ground and under threat from Vedanta, including the Dongria Kondh of India’s Niyamgiri Hills who won a court victory against the company who wanted to destroy their sacred mountain for the aluminium ore it contains. Their research showed the Zambian government how Vedanta was cheating them out of huge amounts of tax in their copper mining there. Campaigning  by them and other organisations has resulted in many  organisations around the world, including the Church of England and the Norwegian Government’s Pension Fund divesting from the company.

The entrance to Ironmonger’s Hall is under the walkways on the Barbican estate and is a slightly restricted space  which does concentrate the protesters but also sometimes makes it a little difficult to work.

Again it was a place where a fairly extreme wide-angle is essential, and the Nikon 16-35mm was very useful, though when the Vedanta Monster came into play I needed the wider view of the 16mm fisheye – though even that’s 147 degree horizontal angle wasn’t always sufficient.

Samarendra Das of Foil Vedanta speaking as shareholders walk past the protesters

As usual I also had a telephoto, the 28-200mm on the D810, working in DX mode – great for framing with the area outside the frame greyed but still visible. The picture above was at 80mm (120 equiv), ISO 800, 1/250s, f/8, with my standard -0.3EV setting. Even on DX setting the camera still produces a 4800×3200 pixel file (15Mp), large enough for almost any use.

Wood St final

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

We didn’t know it on the day, but this was to be the final protest in aid of the Wood St cleaners, on the 50th day of their strike. Eight days later, shortly before the next protest it was called off as the UVW had arrived at a satisfactory settlement. The strikers had been there on the picket line for 58 days which says a great deal for the determination of the workers – and for the obduracy of the employers.

Strikes are costly for those taking part, who lose their wages, though it helps that there was a great deal of support and contributions from other trade unionists to the strike fund. This strike was particularly expensive for the UVW union, which was almost bankrupted by being saddled with over £10,000 in legal costs after being taken to court by the employers. Fortunately people came to their aid.

Financially strikes don’t always make sense, but generally they are more about issues such as fairness and being treated with respect by management. Often, as in this case it is unfair sackings which precipitate strikes, which are a demonstration of solidarity with fellow workers.

But the costs were surely higher for the employers, starting with their own legal bill, but more importantly in terms of their reputation and the likely loss of future contracts. Who would want to be associated with a company that led to people protesting outside your offices for 58 days – and during that time delivered an obviously inferior level of service? Rational and well-managed companies seldom suffer from strikes as they realise that their best interests are served by a motivated workforce that is well-managed and given reasonable pay and conditions.

But outsourcing, with contracts being awarded for the short term to the lowest bidder encourage cowboy companies who try to cut costs by overloading the workers, and pay them and the lower levels of management as little as possible. Often when they take over the workforce from a previous contractor they renege on agreements made previously. It’s a recipe for strife and for poor quality performance which I’ve personally seen proved in schools and hospitals.

I don’t know how many pictures I took in all of the protests at Wood St, but it must be several thousand, and the 50 or so I posted on My London Diary for this evening’s protest were probably less than a tenth of those I took on this occasion.

Roughly a quarter of those that made it into My London Diary were taken with the 16mm fisheye, an unusually high percentage for me. It is a lens that comes into its own when working in crowded situations, and the protest outside the back entrance to the CBRE offices involved a large group of people in a very confined space.

But more than any other lens I think it is one that I have to be in a particular state of mind to use – and sometimes it will stay unused in my camera bag for weeks or more. And at times I’ll find myself wondering after covering an event why I didn’t think to use it. It isn’t easy to work with but sometimes it is the only tool for the job.

I do use it with a little reluctance. It adds time to my processing as almost every image made with it needs to be taken into Photoshop so that I can straighten the verticals using the Fisheye-Hemi plugin. As well as taking time, this also uses up a ridiculous amount of hard disk space, as the image needs to be converted into a Tiff file to allow this to happen.

Working with the D750, a typical RAW file is around 22Mb. The Tiff file from this will be around 141Mb giving a total for a single image of 163Mb. I’ll store images on two different hard disks – so that doubles the storage needed to over 320Mb. Add two copies of a full-size high quality jpeg and the full amount is around 350Mb. Even with hard disks now available with 6 or 8Tb of storage these files soon fill them up.

If I work on the D810 with its larger 32Mp files the total gets to over 500Mb per image. I like to do this with landscapes as the camera can provide level indicators in the viewfinder while taking pictures, essential in avoiding converging or diverging verticals in the processed image, but I think these can actually help in pictures of protest such as a couple of those here.