Four More

From the protest at Annington Homes at the end of the previous post, I took a bus to Trafalgar Square to follow up an e-mail I’d had from one of a group of protesters who had occupied the Admiralty Arch, an Edwardian building (1912) by one of the leading architects of the day. Sir Aston Webb’s building – a memorial to Queen Victoria which acts as the entrance to the Mall, leading to Buckingham Palace – shows perhaps the best and the worst of that era, a rather ponderous, over-fussy and grandiose Grade 1 listed white elephant.

It’s also something which rather reflects the state of our nation. Built to demonstrate national pride and as a fitting part of headquarters of the largest and most powerful navy and empire the world has ever seen, the address of the First Sea Lord, it was reported in 2012 as having been sold off on a 125 year lease to a Spanish property developer to become a luxury hotel. Although planning approval was obtained in 2013 and completion expected for 2016, work does not yet appear to have been started on the conversion.

I’d been very surprised earlier that morning to get the e-mail telling me that occupiers had entered the building by the roof in the night, and inviting me to go there. I wasn’t sure if I believed it, and wondered what the guy had been smoking, and hadn’t dropped everything to get there fast. In any case, it would have taken me an hour to get there, and other photographers closer to the spot were likely to be there well before me. So I took my time.

The story turned out to be true, with banners on the upper levels of the building clearly visible as I arrived. I walked around the building with another photographer, taking pictures of the rather odd and surely spurious ‘Notice to Vacate‘ posted “On behalf of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government” at intervals around the outside of the building, wondering what to do. We met only a couple of other journalists there, who told us that they had photographed people putting out the banners earlier on, but nothing else seemed to be happening, with just a few security guards outside some of the doors.

We stood waiting and wondering what to do next, trying a few phone numbers to contact the occupiers inside without success. Then a door opened, and a man emerged, carrying a large torch, and we went to talk to him. He was rather suspicious of us, didn’t want to be photographed, and appeared to have been drinking, but after a while offered to take us inside to take some pictures. Unfortunately when he turned to do so he found that he had locked himself out!

I was just a little disappointed as I’ve never been inside the building and it might have been interesting to see. But I was also just a little worried that I might have got stuck inside as there were other things I was on my way to starting shortly.

When finally he managed to phone other occupiers and get them to let him back in and they told us we could only enter if we brought them some cigarettes and drink, I decided not to bother. More pictures at Admiralty Arch Occupied by A.N.A.L.

We took a bus to our next location, for Free the Palestinian Children outside the London HQ of G4S, the company that helps run the Israeli prisons in which they are held and tortured, and sometimes sexually abused. This was one in a whole series of regular protests against G4S by the Palestinian Prisoners Campaign, but included a speaker I hadn’t seen at previous events. As well as talking about those people, particularly young children such as the boys from Hares, picked up after a story was made up by an Israeli settler, and still held without charge over a year later, she told how while going to visit Palestinian prisoners she had been forced to remove her clothes and stand naked for inspection in public.

After she had finished speaking, another protest came walking towards us along Victoria St, going through the Palestinian protest. This was a peace protest, a Stations of the Cross Pilgrimage led by London Catholic Workers around locations in London connected with the arms trade. I’d hoped to catch up with this at some point on its route, but instead it had caught up with me, and I went with it to its next two prayer points before returning briefly to the Palestinian protest.

It was only a brief visit because I had another engagement in my diary, due to start in a few minutes a short bus journey away – and the bus stop was next to the protest. When the right bus came along the street I jumped on it, and was taken to Piccadilly Circus, close to the Le Meridien hotel in Piccadilly.

I don’t go much to hotels in Mayfair, and had never noticed this one before, and can’t tell you much about it now, except that it is a part of the Sheraton group, who have luxury hotels around the world. The protest was organised by the Hotel workers branch of Unite the Union. Most of the hotel workers in the UK who do the housekeeping, act as porters and work in the kitchens and restuarants are from overseas, and are one of the most marginalised groups of workers in the UK, and many are exploited because their English is poor or non-existent. They may work in luxury hotels, but often their conditions of work – employed by various outsourced contractors – fail to meet even our basic UK standards. Unite is at last having some success in organising them to stand up for their legal rights, although many can still get sacked for joining the union.

This strike was not however about their own conditions, but in solidarity with workers at Sheraton hotels in in Ethiopia and the Maldives who have been sacked for union organising. Pictures from here and outside another Sheraton hotel in Mayfair are at Shame on Sheraton – Hotel Workers.

My day was still not finished, with one more protest to cover. But that I’ll leave for another post.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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