We Are All Alba

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
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Cable St 80 years on.

July 5th, 2017

I wasn’t of course at the ‘Battle of Cable St’, commemorated in a fine mural, as it took place nine years before I was born, but there are still a few who were there around, notably Max Levitas, who not only came to the rally, but spoke at it.

There was such a crush in front of the stage that I couldn’t get close enough to really see him, and was photographing over people’s shoulders and between heads, straining on tip-toe, and even taking some with camera held in the air, though on the D810 where the screen doesn’t tilt the Live View image is hardly visible in bright conditions. It was bright where I was standing, but not particularly on the stage where Max, who I’ve met number of times before, most recently just after his 100th birthday in June 2015, was sitting to speak. If his legs were a little weak at 101, his mind and voice were still strong. I needed ISO 3200 to combat camera shake, working with the lens wide open at 200mm (300 equiv) 1/320 f5.6 – though I found I needed to overexpose a little (+0.7) to get a decent histogram.

This is a fairly extreme crop, even from that 300mm view, taken with the camera in landscape orientation and cropped to portrait and then some. I only went into that rally when Max was speaking and left as he finished, though I had photographed other speakers elsewhere on the day. There were plenty of other speakers, but more interesting things were happening outside.

I’d started the day in ‘Itchy Park’, now Altab Ali Park, where some of those attending did looks rather more like the 1936 originals, and although I photographed as always now in colour, I was pleased to be able to give the image just a little of a hand-coloured look. There were plenty of speeches before the march, including by East End historian David Rosenberg, who I’ve listened to talking about Cable St on various occasions, and TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady who is someone I always enjoy photographing.

The march itself was something of an anti-climax, and disappointing in that for much of its route the march, celebrating an event when people really did show that the streets were ‘Our Streets’ marched along the pavements or cycle path instead. I’d gone on ahead on Cable St and so missed the only real battle of the day, when anarchist groups defied the stewards and police and insisted on marching on the road.

I’d gone ahead of the march to meet up with Class War who I had been told would be at the Cable St mural, setting up there for a rally outside the main rally in the park beyond, where they were joined by other autonomous groups including London and Merseyside Anti-Fascists, 161 On Tour, Hunt Sabs and the Italian Communists for a celebration with rather more panache and colour and better music.

Cable St has become a legend of the Labour movement. It’s perhaps worth pointing out that it wasn’t a fight with the fascists but with the police, that the Labour Party told people not to go, and the fighters were mainly the Jewish population of Whitechapel, Irish dockers and the Communist Party. And that the East End itself was full of fascists, with Bethnal Green just up the road a particular stronghold.

So that party outside in front of the mural really had more right to celebrate than Jeremy Corbyn and the other Labour Party members crowding on to the stage and into the park next door. And although one march was stopped, Mosley’s real defeat was not here but south of the river a year later, the Battle of Bermondsey on 3rd October 1937.

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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
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May 2017 Complete

July 1st, 2017

Railways and canals in Manchester

May was a long month for me, and I’ve only managed to finish putting it on My London Diary (with just a few little things to tidy up) coming up for midnight on June 30th because I had to take something of a rest from work this week – for various reasons.

Too many things have happened recently in London and in the UK – including a general election, terrible attacks at Westminster and London Bridge and the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower. Fortunately I haven’t been directly affected personally by any of these, and have only covered them rather peripherally, but they have taken up a considerable amount of nervous energy and time writing about related issues rather than photography.

As well as photographing as usual in London, I spent a weekend away in Manchester, attending a conference and 50th anniversary celebration of a group I’ve been a part of for over 40 years which I was also asked to photograph. While I was up there I found a few hours to take a walk in Manchester – where I lived for 7 years back in the 1960s, mainly as a student – and also to take the tourist trail around Rochdale, a town I don’t think I ever visited when I lived in Manchester although I taught for two terms a short distance away.

May always starts with a heavy day, as I attend and photograph the May Day celebrations in London – and this year for once May Day was a bank holiday. Long days like that – and the long night afterwards editing and processing images – make me feel my age, and it now takes me several days to recover.

May 2017

End Gross Inequality at the LSE
Keep the Fox Hunting Ban
Picturehouse Strike for Living Wage
Sisters Uncut General Election Rally

Cyclists Tory HQ die-in against pollution
E17 Protest Against School Cuts
Red Cross act for Hunger Strikers
Golden Boat Award for Serota

Vote for decent, secure homes
Lift the Siege of Buenaventura
Grant Assange Safe Passage

LSE Cleaners strike for equality
March Against Monsanto
Focus E15 launch The Newham Nag

End media lies against Venezuela
Teen Voice says votes at 16
End dog and cat meat trade
Stop Deportation Of LGBTI Asylum Seekers
Cleaners protest at HSBC

Shut down Yarl’s Wood Prison

LSE Cleaners strike
LSE Equality Life Not Money protest
DPAC against Tory Hate

May Day F**k Parade
May Day F**k Parade Meets
May Day Rally
May Day March
May Day March Gathers

London Images

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Hugh Edwards

June 30th, 2017

As friends including regular readers of these posts will know, I don’t generally have a very high opinion of curators – except for a few that I’ve known and have worked with. Too many have put on shows that server largely to illustrate their lack of knowledge and real interest in the medium and are clearly concerned only with building their own careers. And far too often money that would be better spent on photography and photographers goes into their pockets and into creating fancy displays which might enhance their reputation but often take away attention from the work presented.

But of course there are exceptions. Actually quite a few of them, including the obvious ones like John Szarkowski. Many of the best have been, like him, photographers and have had a real appreciation of the medium.

Thanks to a recent post Hugh Edwards: Unknown Icon by Kenneth Tanaka on The Online Photographer, I have now been made aware of another fine curator. Edwards (1904–1986) was Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he had already worked for 30 years, for his last 12 years there from 1959-70, during which time he organised 75 exhibitions, as well as regularly showing new acquisitions.

This was an important time in the evolution of photography, and one in which Edwards played an major role, giving Robert Frank his first American museum exhibition in 1961 and promoting many emerging photographers as well as building up a fine study collection of work by nineteenth and twentieth century masters. And his contribution is finely and extensively documented in the web site on him and the photography he championed and bought for the Art Institute collection by photography curator Elizabeth Siegel and a team of researchers.

Photography was one of his many interests; David Travis, Curator and Chair of the Department of Photography from two years after Edwards retired until 2008 writes about him at some length and remembers the rare and memorable evenings at his home when he would show his own colour slides made at “a roller skating rink in Harvey, Illinois”. In in a letter to Frank, Edwards wrote “I ran away from ‘culture’ and accelerated education to spend all my evenings in a large skating rink on the outskirts of Chicago for five whole years. There were many wonders there and I used to wish someone would catch them so they could be kept. Then I found your book and saw you had done it.” Travis comments that having seen Frank’s work “published, Mr. Edwards felt his own mission as a photographer could end.”

Those who can make it to Chicago can see the extensive show at the Art Institute also curated by Seigel, The Photographer’s Curator: Hugh Edwards at the Art Institute of Chicago which runs until October 29th 2017. But otherwise the web site is a fine tribute to an amazing curator and his legacy.

D-Day Wrap

June 29th, 2017

Something which I meant to acknowledge earlier but slipped my mind after I read the post was the announcement by A D Coleman, ‘It’s a Wrap‘ marking the official end of “our team’s deconstruction of the myth of Robert Capa’s D-Day experiences and the subsequent fate of his negatives“.

The end came exactly three years after the investigation began with the publication of photojournalist J. Ross Baughman’s critique of the TIME video celebrating the 70th anniversary of Robert Capa’s D-Day photographs, and included further contributions from Baughman as well as from photo historian Rob McElroy and combat veteran and military historian Charles “Chuck” Herrick as well as Coleman’s own major contribution.

During its course it also referenced the work of others on this and related matters such as Capa’s ‘Falling Soldier’, and included a number of other guest posts, including one by Jim Hughes who in 1986 was the first to publicly challenge the Capa D-Day myth (and his review was quite probably the origin of my own total scepticism about the alleged ‘darkroom disaster’.)

It has been a remarkable series of posts, and quite rightly has received awards and nominations, and has changed entirely our view of one of the best-known events of photographic history, but also shed light on how that history is manufactured and by whom. History isn’t just facts, but a point of view (rather like any photograph) but in this particular case we know also know that much of what was claimed as fact is in fact fiction.

Of course we always knew that Capa was himself an invention, and a great inventor of stories as well as someone who photographed them powerfully. But even when we know more and can dismiss the embroidery the image remains. Of course like all photographers Capa took many weak images, some of which have found their way to gallery walls and books but there certainly remain enough to sustain his reputation.

We will still look at his pictures and be moved by them even when we know that the captions may be unreliable and some events may have been staged. And Capa did certainly put his life at some risk – even if rather less than he made out – on D-Day and probably more so on various other occasions, and of course later paid for the risks with his life, stepping on to a landmine in Indo-China. And his advice “If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” is still worth remembering.

Although officially the end, it certainly isn’t, and Coleman gives a number of areas that he or others will pursue, both about D-Day and Capa’s other work, and more widely in a critical look at the medium’s institutions, particularly the ICP.

Coleman states he considers “the basic research complete and the case effectively proven” and is “developing this material into a book, an exhibition, and a multimedia piece” about which he will give occasional progress reports, but apart from this unless there are some unforeseen discoveries or unpredictable surges of interest there will be no further posts in the series. I hope the exhibition will tour to some of the more prestigious institutions both in the USA and Europe and will perhaps help to end the promulgation of the myth.

Coleman concludes his piece with a comment on a New York Times article by Geoff Dyer, a man who writes about photography and who prides himself on not being a photographer; “I don’t just mean that I’m not a professional or serious photographer; I mean I don’t even own a camera” (in ‘The Ongoing Moment’ a book given me by someone who had probably read on the previous page “I suspect, then, that this book will be a source of irritation to many people, especially those who know more about photography than I do.” It was, though I’ve never managed to read to the end, always throwing it down in disgust at some idiocy within minutes of picking it up.)

Dyer’s ignorance clearly extended to never having heard of the doubts about Capa’s D-Day legend (despite a previous feature in the newspaper for which he was writing) and he writes “we know the precise historical moment they depict, what happened before and after, the reasons the pictures are so blurred” a statement untrue in every detail.

As Coleman comments “This uninformed balderdash of Dyer’s exemplifies the lamentable condition of writing about photography today. If you wonder why I have persisted with this investigation, consider Dyer’s elegantly phrased but fact-free nonsense a sufficient answer.”

It’s a Wrap

Cleaners at Mace

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’.

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Heathrow Again

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.
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Hull Photos: 8/6/17-14/6/17

June 23rd, 2017

8th June 2017

An oil products tanker, empty and high in the water, speeds up the River Hull as the Drypool bridge begins to lift – when fully raised it is only a little short of vertical. Drypool Bridge, built in 1961 to replace an earlier swing bridge, is a Scherzer rolling lift bridge. Patented by William Scherzer in the US in 1893, two months before his early death at only 35, US Patent 511,713 describes the principle clearly:

“A lift-bridge having a moveable span provided at one end with a curved part adapted to rest and roll upon a stationary supporting surface. Other characteristics noted in the patent include: teeth or projections on the said curved part adapted to interlock with projections on the supporting surface to hold the said curved part from moving or slipping on said surface; and means for moving the span, comprising a horizontally moving part connected with the span at or near the central point of said segmental or sector-shaped part.”

This design takes up little space and by rolling backwards away from the river it leaves this entirely clear for navigation. With the weight of the bridge being balanced by a heavy counterweight at its rear, relatively little energy is needed to raise the bridge. It was a remarkably simple and elegant invention.

As a part of the celebrations in Hull’s year as City of Culture, Drypool Bridge has recently been repainted from its rather plain blue (enlivened by a little rust) to a pattern celebrating Victorian mathematician John Venn (1834-1923), born in Drypool where his father was rector. He moved away from Hull when he was seven and attended schools in north London before going to Cambridge. So far as I’m aware he had no further connection with Hull. But the bridge does look quite pretty in the pictures I’ve seen of it.

I’ve not been able to find any information about MV Mister Humber moored in the foreground. The two barges in the distance are Poem24 and Kago.

33h13: Drypool Bridge raised for traffic on the River Hull, 1982 – River Hull

9th June 2017

The shadow on the wall at the right of this picture is of the gate into Mandela Gardens, leading now to the StreetLife Museum. The warehouses at left, 172 High St, have been converted into flats but still look rather run down. It’s a little difficult to recognise them as the bricks have been covered, but the large central blocked doorways at ground and second floor level are still there, though windows have been added on the first and second floors.

George Yard, then a pedestrian way only, marked by a post to stop vehicles has now been widened and renamed Gandhi Way, and there is a bust of him in Mandela Gardens, unveiled in 2004, donated by Hull’s Indian community, behind the wall on the right of the picture.

John Wesley preached at the new Methodist Chapel in George Yard in 1788 on one of his many visits to Hull (the first in 1752 ended in a riot) more or less opposite Wilberforce House on the other side of High St. But by that date William Wilberforce had left Hull to live in London, and it is unlikely that the young Wilberforce had been allowed to go and hear this powerful preacher against slavery on any of his earlier visits as his mother was strongly opposed to Methodism – and brought him back to Hull from London when he was 12 in 1771 fearing he might be influenced by Methodist friends of the relatives he was living with, and sent him to school in Pocklington to avoid Hull Grammar’s Methodist headmaster.

33h23: Dereliect warehouse, High St, 1982 – Old Town

10th June 2017

E E Sharp & Sons Ltd at 158/9 High St, were, according to the notice on their doorpost, ‘Dealers in Ships Bonded Stores, Ship Chandlers, Sail Makers etc’.

The business was founded here in 1868. Mr William Rayment, born in 1829 was from 1875 a member of Hull council and an Alderman for Coltman St Ward from 1886 and Mr E T Sharp died in 1921. As well as the High Street premises, they also had offices in Bond St. The High Street premises were reported as being badly damaged by a fire in 1907. In 1911 they are listed as General Agricultural Merchants and Manufacturers. In 1932 the Hull Daily Mail published a notice of the voluntary liquidation of Rayment Sharp Ltd, and its purchase from the Receiver in 1932 by EE Sharp Ltd.

The window and door and the names from the ground floor have gone, and the front of the building is now a solicitors, with a wide entry through the centre to ‘The Sailmakers Arms’ pub. I can’t vouch for it but it is supposed to serve good pies and decent beer. Rather surprisingly it was selected as one of five ‘historic’ Hull pubs by the community arts group, Cascade, who got a £40,300 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund for an oral history project in 2011, despite only being around 20 years old.

33h32: E E Sharp & Sons Ltd, Sail Makers & Ship Chandlers, High St, 1982 – Old Town

and a second picture taken at the same time:

33h33: E E Sharp & Sons Ltd, Sail Makers & Ship Chandlers, High St, 1982 – Old Town

Four months later, in April 1983 I took a further picture of the same shop. The only apparent change was that the doors were now both closed.

11th June 2017

A pile of odds and ends from ship maintenance near the entrance to the Union Dry Dock was topped by a boat. Behind it the towers are those of Rank’s Blue Cross Animals Feed and others to the north of the main Clarence Mill buildings.

34g22: Union Dry Dock, Great Union St, 1983 – River Hull

12th June 2017

The Union Dry Dock on the east bank of the River Hull was full of water with no ship being worked on, its gates open to the River Hull and a rather solid looking bridge taking the riverside path across, though I think the path was still closed by various obstructions at this time.

On the other side of the river are buildings on Dock Office Row, as well as the large bulk of Hull College beyond. Past the chimney on the right is the crane, a Scotch Derrick, now one of Hull’s listed buildings and the shed of the Yorkshire Dry Dock Company on the west bank of the River Hull.

This dry dock is still there, though silted up, and with a rather fancier bridge across its entrance. The factory and chimney and the Yorkshire Dry Dock shed have gone, and the riverside between Drypool Bridge and Charlotte St stands empty and deserted, as if Hull has not found a way to incorporate its heritage into the city.

34g26: Union Dry Dock, Great Union St, 1983 – River Hull

13th June 2017

Chambers & Fargus, an edible oil refiner and seed crushing company, was founded in 1854 by Henry Waudby Chambers and James Fargus and was at High Flags Mill at 200 Wincolmlee few hundred yards upstream on the opposite side of the river from their factory on the left of this picture.

The High Flags area had formerly been part of Hull’s whale oil industry according to an article in the Hull Daily Mail about the possibility of their former mill there being converted in to riverside flats and High Flags Wharf got its name from large flagstones there to make it easier to handle the large barrels of whale oil landed there.

Chambers & Fargus imported linseed and rape from the Baltic to crush in hydraulic presses, producing oils for use in paint, linoleum, and other products and leaving ‘C & F Super Cake’ animal feed. Later soya became an important product for them.

In 1905 the firm was incorporated under the Companies Act 1862 as a private limited company. In 1907, two years later it purchased the former Anglo-Egyptian Oil Mills and Refinery in Lime street on the left of this picture, though most of this factory was rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1937. The company went public in 1947 and was sold to the Swedish Karlshamns group in 1989. The factory is still there now, looking much the same as in 1983, and there were clouds of steam coming from it when I last went past.

The site is now owned by Finlays, part of an international company founded in Glasgow in 1750 trading with the British empire, particularly in cotton. It is now principally focused on tea but also coffee and other beverages, with “tea estates, extraction facilities for tea, coffee and plant extracts, packing facilities and R&D labs across four continents.”

The Humber Star was built in 1969 and was owned by John H Whittaker (Tankers) Ltd of Hull, an Oil Products Tanker of 274 tons gross, built at Harkers of Hull. In 2009 she was an effluent carrier owned by Oran Environmental Services and sank at her berth in Southampton. Later with name changed to Wade Stone she was detained elsewhere in Southampton in 2011 for multiple breaches of safety and was arrested in Malta in 2013 as Kara. This vessel appears now to have been scrapped.

34g42: Humber Star on the River Hull from Scott St, 1983 – River Hull

14th June 2017

Two men share a few words with a member of crew as the Humber Star goes through Scott St Bridge, the flag of John H Whittaker (Tankers) Ltd clear on its funnel. The two men on the bridge are I think the bridge operators, with a small panel behind them with electrical cables leading off left. The two bascules of Scott St were raised by an electrically powered hydraulic system, which when first built was presumably linked to the nearby hydraulic power station, the first such public utility in the UK. The Grade II listed bridge has been held in raised position to road traffic for years and allowed to decay by Hull Council.

The vessel was actually going backwards upstream slowly on the tide, and I took four pictures as it approached and came through the bridge (this was the last), as well as one of the bridge opening before it arrived. The river here is too narrow for a vessel of this size to turn around.

At the wharf beyond is Bonby, empty and high in the water and waiting to be loaded with sand or gravel. Bonby is a village in North Lincolnshire a few miles south of Barton upon Humber.

34g44: The Humber Star goes through Scott Street Bridge, 1983 – River Hull

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LSE Cleaners dispute starts

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

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