Archive for the ‘Political Issues’ Category

We Are All Alba

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

In a recent statement the United Voices of the World union (UVW) announced that although the cleaners at the LSE recently gained the “historic victory which resulted in them being brought in-house after 7 days of strike action and the largest cleaners strike in UK history, the cleaners will be back out on strike for 3 more days during the LSE students graduation over one remaining issue of dispute: Alba Pasmino.”

People first became aware of Alba’s sacking after she stood up at the meeting which began the dispute at the end of September 2016 and told everyone about it, and the meeting then pledged to support her.

A couple of weeks later on October 14th the first major protest in the UVW campaign made the sacking of Alba its main focus. After a rally outside the LSE student union, cleaners, students and other supporters marched along Kingsway to the building where LSE and the cleaning company Noonan which the LSE had outsourced the cleaning to have offices and held a rally outside.

Alba again spoke, as did others, and there was a great deal of chanting ‘Reinstate Alba!‘ as well as drumming and blowing of vuvuzelas to ensure that everyone around knew what was taking place – and why. It was a demand repeated on many further protests and strike rallies.

Alba was one of the longest serving members of the LSE cleaning team, having worked there for 12 years and had become one of the cleaning supervisors.  Noonan claimed they were making her redundant because they needed fewer supervisors – and the number has halved in the past few years. The UVW have taken her case to an  employment tribunal but that cannot not guarantee her reinstatement even if the judge accepts that she was unlawfully dismissed.

The UVW say that after an agreement has been reached in the dispute, “Noonan’s newly appointed Account Director is keen to see Alba return, but his efforts to bring that about are being blocked, without justification, by the chest-beating director of LSE Facilities, Allan Blair, who is callously using Alba as a political football which is cruelly at the expense of her livelihood and well-being.”

Obviously the UVW as well as Noonan want to see this matter resolved without delay, and the union are now threatening a further 3 day strike during the LSE student graduation which begins next week on Wednesday 12th July.  I sincerely hope the LSE will see sense and settle before then, but otherwise the strike will go ahead, I will be there taking more pictures of the cleaners, and support from others will be welcome – check the Facebook event page for details.

Justice for LSE cleaners


Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

It’s hard not to get depressed when thinking about housing in London, though I’m fortunate enough not to have to worry on my own account. Though even when we bought the house we still live in, back in 1974 we couldn’t afford one in either of the two places we thought about in London, so had to go just outside the Greater London boundary.

We had lived for some years in rented accommodation, at first privately rented, and the first landlord after we were married was decent enough, except for the excessive charges for gas and electric on his slot-meters. We bought a paraffin heater. But the rent for two rooms – the top floor of a small house – was the equivalent of around £2.80 a week, less than a quarter of my income (and around an eighth of our joint income.)

Things were a little less comfortable and more expensive when we moved to Leicester for a year- and the agent for the flat didn’t want to know much about anything except collecting the rent, and it was a relief when I got a job in Bracknell to qualify for housing from the development corporation, a new and spacious two bedroom flat at a lower rent than we had been paying a private landlord for out rather dingy single room.

We were only there four years, but they were four years when the rent more or less doubled, as rents were being brought into line with market rents I think solely for politically doctrinaire reasons. It made it easier to decide to buy a house (though we had other reasons too) as the rent was now very little different to the payments on a mortgage.

Now, many years later, that mortgage is long paid off – and we even made a profit as we had been advised to take out an endowment mortgage so my housing costs are limited to upkeep, though being a property owner isn’t always a good thing. But when I look at the rents that people pay in London now (or even on the edge where I live) I realise that unless I owned the house I would probably have to move elsewhere. It mightn’t be all that bad – I could still afford to live in Hull.

Back when I was small, my father still looked after some of the handful of cottages that his father had built for the men that worked for his various small businesses, none very successful, but these properties were never meant to be a source of income, just somewhere for those who shared in his work and their families to live. Rent control meant that the income from them failed to pay for keeping them in order, and when they were sold with sitting tenants as a part of my grandmother’s estate they were almost worthless (though now they probably fetch approaching half a million.)

Now private landlords are hugely subsided by the government paying housing benefit and are allowed to charge what they can get, with the result that rents have risen through the roof. And the incredible rise of ‘buy to let’ provides a way for those with some capital to exploit others and make money for nothing.

In my ideal world we would have a land tax and the ownership of land and property would be severely limited – sufficient to needs rather than for investment or profit. It’s an assessment that could be reasonably generous rather than unnecessarily punitive. But in the unequal world we have, there does seem an urgent need to do something to make private renting more affordable, as well as ending the taxpayer subsidy of practices which are clearly against the public interest.

I’d also like to see an good supply of socially provided rented housing – council homes, enough for all those who want it, something that would rapidly bring down private rents. But after the election of Mrs Thatcher, social housing figures fell steeply, continuing down to a miserable 13,500 under New Labour in 2003. Corbyn earlier this year promised a Labour government would build and average of 50,000 a year in its five year term (50% of his target for all new homes) – returning to a level last recorded under Thatcher in 1982. But Thatcher’s main contribution was of course the ‘right to buy’ which has removed 1.87 million social housing homes since 1980, a large percentage of which are now ‘buy to let’ private rental properties.

But even more shameful than Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ is New Labour’s ‘Regeneration’ policy which, through the activities of London Labour councils such as Newham, Lambeth and Southwark has led to the wholesale loss of social housing, and a disruption of local communities that even the Luftwaffe failed to achieve.

Southwark’s prime example (though they are currently working on rather more) is of course the architectural award-winning Heygate Estate which was at the Elephant and Castle, an example I’ve mentioned before. In 2007 the council valued the estate at £150m, though they had been employing consultants and PR to demonise it for some years, and deliberately housing difficult tenants there. Despite this, 189 of those living in the 1,212 council homes had liked living there enough to become leaseholders, and the few properties I went in were spacious and in good condition, with the landscape outside coming into maturity as the trees planted when it was built grew. In many respects it was a well-planned and well laid out site and most of the building had been to a high standard, and with relatively minimal care it could have lasted at least another 50 years.

Southwark spent at least £51.4m on clearing that estate, but they sold it to Lendlease for £50m and a promise (very unlikely ever to be fulfilled) that they would eventually get some of the developers excessive profits from the site. To replace those 1,212 (the leaseholders property having been taken back for peanuts) homes, the new Elephant Park will just 74 homes for social rent. This one estate represents over one eighth of the total loss of 8,000 social-rented homes.

The protest on Thursday 6 Oct was outside the Stirling Prize Ceremony where Trafalgar Place, the first phase of Lend Lease’s development on the Heygate had been nominated for the prize. drMM Architects didn’t win that prize, but outside were awarded the Architects for Social Housing ‘O J Simpson Award for getting away with murder’ though they didn’t turn up to accept it.

The following Saturday I was in the neighbouring borough, Lambeth, celebrating the achievement of that council, also Labour, calling on it to stop demolishing council estates, closing libraries and driving out local businesses with the closure of the Brixton Arches. Among the estates being demolished or marked for demolition are Myatts Field North, Cressingham Gardens and Central Hill, the last such fine example of good architectural and community design that it is hard to believe was denied listingon other than political grounds.

ASH protest Stirling Prize
Stand Up to Lambeth Council
Stand Up to Lambeth March
Brixton Arches & More

Cleaners at Mace

Wednesday, June 28th, 2017

There are always a number of things on my mind as I photograph protests by low-paid workers such as the cleaners protesting at a workplace. Obviously there are the reasons for the protest  – and if I didn’t feel they were justified I wouldn’t be there. Often, as on this occasion the workers have a number of greivances. They say the employer, Dall Cleaning Services had promised to pay them the London Living Wage,  and then had sacked two cleaners and increased everyone else’s workload  to keep their costs down, and that these sackings had been without notice or proper procedures.

While these sackings could be taken to a tribunal, where in all probabilty the workers would win their case, going to tribunal takes a long time  and has now been made an expensive process, with costs calculated by the Tory government to be high enough to make it virtually impossible for the ordinary worker. One of the advantages of belonging to a trade union is that they can usually afford to take cases like this to tribunals and also supply trained legal support. But the changes in the law have made it much cheaper and faster to try to settle such matters by protests and strike.

Here the workers were also complaining about the Dall’s management, in the workplace , dominated by members of one family, whose members working there were treated better than the other workers. They want an end to nepotism in the workplace. It’s something that should be policed by Dall’s higher management but the cleaners say their complaints are simply ignored.

But I’m also thinking about my legal rights. On the street there are few if any restrictions on photography and on publishing as news coverage. But it seemed likely that the IWGB would manage to enter the foyer of the Mace offices. The position on private property is less clear, but certainly, unless I was specifically asked to stop taking pictures by a person I was convinced represented the owners of the building I intended to photograph the event.

I hang back slightly as the cleaners rush in, but after the first two or three have gone past any security at the entrance, follow in with the others. It certainly is no part of my job to actually force an entrance in any way, but if there is an open door from the street I’ll happily walk through it.

Fortunately no one asked me to stop taking pictures, and knowing that it was likely they would be going inside the building I’d remembered as we went towards it to increase the ISO  setting on both my cameras. Because there would be less light and there was a possibility of some action taking place I’d set both cameras at ISO2000 or ISO2500.

It’s an important advantage of the D810 that it has an ISO button on the dial at the top right of the body, and pressing it displays the ISO in the top panel, where its a simple matter of turning the command dial to alter it, and the same is true of the D700 with which I took all of the pictures I’ve actually used in this post.

With the D750 I now use you need to go into the menu, though I make things easier by putting the ISO on the user menu, along with other items I’m likely to want while working, and making sure to enter the User Menu before starting taking pictures.

I could rely on auto-ISO, which I actually usually have turned on, but for this to be really effective you have to select a fairly high shutter speed as the minimum speed at which the ISO increases. With a lens like the 28-200 zoom there is really no sensible choice. I’d be quite happy with 1/30th at the wide end, but at the long end I’d want 1/250th or faster. It would be nice if Nikon would allow the camera to apply the 1/focal length rule – and better still if it allowed you to choose from various fractions or multiples of this. All of the pictures in this post were made with the 16-35mm f4, though I was also using the 28-200mm.

Inside occupations such as this it is difficult to work sensibly, in part because you never know how long you are likely to get to take pictures. I try not to simply dash off pictures but to get images that have something to say about the particular protest, looking for elements that identify the company concerned or make clear why the workers are protesting.  I also make a conscious effort to vary my viewpoint and angle of view to provide a variety of images.

An element of farce was introduced when the police finally arrived, a single officer who clearly didn’t really know what to do. After failing to get a great deal of attention from Alberto Durango who was leading the protest, he stepped aside and called for help.

As usual the protesters left in an orderly fashion when they felt they had made their point – and that the police might start to arrest them for aggravated trespass should they remain, and the protest then continued on the pavement.

Protests like this, that make clear how badly the cleaners who clean the Mace offices are treated and embarrass them as they would any respectable company, and usually lead to pressure being put onto cleaning contractors, all of whom seem out to give their staff little or nothing more than the bare legal minimum conditions and to employ management who just aren’t up to the job.

In this case I don’t recall the details, but it wasn’t long before  a further protest was called off as a satisfactory settlement had been reached.

You can see more of the pictures I took at this protest by the IWGB (Indpendent Workers of Great Britain) on My London Diary at Cleaners demand ‘End Nepotism’.


Heathrow Again

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

I don’t like airports and air travel. As someone with a sensible level of concern about the environment I try hard not to fly – and managed to avoid doing so until I was sixty. Since then I’ve flown on I think 8 occasions, mainly when I’ve been invited to talk or exhibit photographs overseas, and where there was no real alternative.

I’m obviously not a great traveller, though I have been to quite a few parts of the United Kingdom over the years, but there is still so much that is new here that I’d like to explore. And even in London I occasionally still find parts I’ve not visited.

Airports like Heathrow seem designed to generate the maximum unease amongst those passing through, and are designed largely to sell goods to those passing through rather than to transfer passengers in an efficient manner from entrance to plane and vice-versa. I’ve travelled through a few smaller airports which do just that, where you can get off a plane and be taking a bus or taxi away in just a few minutes – and you can catch one with only a short queue to go through a security check and just a few minutes waiting. No huge shopping areas and extended periods to wait in them.

Reclaim The Power’s #StayGrounded protest made some of the issues clear, though perhaps not to all the travellers passing through Terminal 2, who probably couldn’t see the speech bubbles with things like “I’m one of the 15% who make 70% of all flights” and probably didn’t see or appreciate the ‘Frequent Fliers’ stepping over the ‘dead’ on the ground to get to the ‘High Polluters Club Frequent Flyer VIP Check-in’. And relatively few would have heard the speeches.

Photography – and of course video – is vital in getting the point of protests, particularly onrd like this which have a narrative across to an audience. And to a wider audience than those few members of the public who actually experience it. Of course the highest numbers see them through TV and newspapers, and this protest did make some of them even on the channels which like to ignore or minimise protest, but many too see them through social media. Even web sites and blogs like this have thousands of readers each day.

Air transport – for goods and people – is expensive and essentially wasteful. It creates pollution and wastes resources and is an important factor in climate change. We need to look not at ways to increase it, but ways to cut it. Some of its popularity is because of huge subsidies that currently encourage it, and those need to be removed.

Our recent election in the UK has perhaps served largely to show that we need a better voting system, that more accurately reflects the views of the British public. I welcome too the fact that it has brought out more young people to vote, and that a significant number of voters have begun to see through the media lies about Corbyn. As someone – not a Labour Party member – who had been saying since he became party leader that he represents Labour’s only chance of being elected to govern in 2020 I think the Labour vote shows I was right. Certainly he is the only Labour leader who could win if there is another election soon (and its highly likely.)

And until we do have another election the good news is that the vote needed for the expansion of Heathrow is unlikely to go ahead in this Parliament, which is good news for those of us who live in and around London, for the nation and for world climate.

I had been worried on my way to the protest that airport security might make photography difficult, but I had no problems as they stood back and watched, stopping the protesters from going into the security area and directing passengers in alternative ways to avoid being held up by the protest. The protesters too had obviously decided against any confrontation here, which was, for example why all the plastic champagne glasses of those ‘high polluting frequent flyers’ were filled only with air to abide with the bylaws.

You can see the whole story of the protest – which ended in singing and dancing – at Heathrow flashmob against airport expansion.

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.