Posts Tagged ‘Polly Higgins’

Cake, Yacht and Dodo

Thursday, July 15th, 2021

The cake came outside the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) where PCS members who work as cleaners and catering workers were beginning the first ever indefinite strike at a government ministry, demanding they be paid the London Living Wage, and get decent conditions of employment.

It was the third anniversary of the founding of the BEIS, and also the third anniversary of the campaign to get the workers there decent pay and to be employed directly by the BEIS, rather than outsourcing companies ISS and Aramark whose only concern is cutting costs to the bone by exploiting the workers so they can undercut competitors for the contracts and make profits at the workers’ expense.

A crowd of around a hundred supporters was there to cheer the strikers when they came out of the BEIS to begin their strike and there were speeches from trade unionists including PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka, RMT General Secretary Mick Cash, and UCU’s Jo Grady as well as then Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP and some of the BEIS workers. I did manage to get a piece of the cake before I had to leave for the Royal Courts of Justice.

Extinction Rebellion had brought the yacht to to court to begin their ‘Summer Uprising’, another series of protests in five major cities against the criminal inaction by the government on climate and ecological collapse. The yacht was named Polly Higgins after the Scottish barrister who fought for years for an Ecocide Law and had died of cancer 3 months earlier, only 50.

When I arrived some kind of new age ceremony was taking place with people bringing water from across the country to pour into a large bowl and a Druid celebrant in long white robes. It’s one of the kind of things that makes it hard for many to take XR seriously as a movement.

But of course it is serious and the crisis that we face is existential. An ecocide law would be a powerful way to restrain some of the worst excesses of companies that are driving us to extinction. There were some good speeches at the event, with some very clear thinking, but also a few which made me cringe a little.

Eventually it was time to march, with the pink Dodo and the yacht, making our way across the river towards Waterloo where XR was to set up a camp on Waterloo Millenium Green.

There really is a climate and ecological emergency, with too many species going the way of the dodo, and we do need governments to tell the truth and make real and difficult actions to halt what seems an inevitable slide into irreversible heating which will make the world uninhabitable for many species, probably including our own. It’s time to end the kind of lip-service which has our government setting targets long into the future while ramping up disastrous policies like Heathrow expansion, road-building and coal mines.

The yacht went with them at the back of the procession, which halted for some time to block Waterloo Bridge, remembering the many arrests there in the previous XR protests, before continuing. It was then stopped by police on Waterloo Rd, causing far more rush hour traffic chaos than necessary by completely blocking the Waterloo roundabout. Eventually they were allowed to continue and occupy the green space they were heading for, but by that time I had left and walked into Waterloo station to catch my train home.

XR Summer Uprising procession
XR call for Ecocide Law
BEIS workers begin indefinite strike


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.


We need an Ecocide Law

Sunday, December 8th, 2019

Though I fully support the aims of Extinction Rebellion I do have some issues about the way they go about things. I’ve mentioned before some of the odder ‘New Age’ baggage, and that was very much to the fore when I arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice with some kind of druid presiding over a ceremony with people bringing water from rivers around the country (and some overseas) to tip into a large cauldron.

And then there’s the yachts. I just don’t inhabit the kind of milieu where people have yachts, though I did once own a canoe, or rather a kayak. I built it myself as a teenager in the pre-glass fibre era, a wooden framework over which some kind of rubberised canvas was fixed. It’s construction took several years,mainly because I had to save up the cash to buy every next step of the construction, first the plans, then the wood and ply and the canvas.

I was proud when I had it finished, built in my father’s large shed – where he and his father had made carts and other horse-drawn vehicles. But I’d run out of money and couldn’t afford a paddle and it was a long way to any water and I had no means to transport the canoe even to the nearest stream where it could be floated.

It was I think around 18 months later that a relative kindly strapped it to the roof of his car and we made our way the the Thames at Runnymede, along with single paddle handmade from a couple of pieces of wood (again from my father’s shed.) Although I’d been in rowing boats and possibly larger Canadian canoes as a Sea Scout, I’d never been in a kayak before, and it wasn’t longer before I wasn’t in it any more, but looking up at it through perhaps ten feet of murky Thames water from the bottom of the river. I think that was the end of my canoeing project, and after that I stayed on dry land and rode my bike.

So my relationship to water was not perhaps the most sympathetic as I watched those people coming towards the cauldron to add their half pint, and things got worse when people were invited to stir the water and make wishes and then to add flowers and other stuff before the cauldron was carried towards the court and then a token libation poured on the ground.

Of course there were other things going on, including speeches (some very sensible and to the point), music etc. But when a man came to speak about how uplifting his experience of being arrested had been and to encourage us all to do it, again I was rather turned off. Too many of my friends over the years have been harassed by police, fitted up and assaulted; arrest isn’t generally a very positive experience, particularly if you are poor and or from an ethnic minority. Like much about XR I think it is very much a class thing.

But of course we should have strong laws that protect the environment – including the Ecocide Law that Polly Higgins, after whom the pink yacht here was name, fought to get accepted for many years. More generally we need laws that get away from the idea of the land as private property and recognise it as a community resource with which we are entrusted rather than we own.

XR call for Ecocide Law


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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