Posts Tagged ‘Royal Opera House’

XR Carmen’s Carbon Procession

Saturday, July 2nd, 2022

Carmen leads the XR Carbon Procession at Hyde Park Corner

Extinction Rebellion had obviously put in a lot of thought and effort into their Carmen’s Carbon Procession on July 2nd, 2019, and there were quite a few photographers and videographers who came to photograph it. Doubtless all of us filed our pictures with the agencies or publications, but I don’t know how many got published. Probably the only pictures used came from later in the day when they ended the event with a protest in Trafalgar Square close to where a large audience had gathered to watch the opera.

Protests in the UK seldom get reported, unless they result in considerable disruption, violence or involve celebrities behaving badly. So far as most editors are concerned they are not ‘news’. Of course much of the press and media is owned by a small group of billionaires whose interests those editors have to bear in mind even where there is not explicit direction. But more generally they operate under a general restraint of upholding the status quo and from their personal position as part of the well paid middle class – something which has been very apparent in the coverage of the recent RMT strikes.

But overall Extinction Rebellion have done much to bring the climate crisis into a wider public consciousness, and I applaude them for this even if I agree with some of their left and anarchist critics. And perhaps an opera-based protest exemplifies the middle-class nature of the organisation. But mobilising such a large middle-class movement is certainly an acheivement, and many of their harshest critics are those who have failed to mobilise more than a tiny fraction of the working class. Though nothing at the moment suggests that XR’s efforts will result in any of the decisive action needed to be anything but too little too late.

Relatively few people actually see protests on the streets, and most who do are too intent on getting on with their life, shopping or hurrying to meetings or to catch trains to take much notice. Much of XR Carmen’s Carbon Procession in any case took part on fairly empty back streets and it was more an event staged for the media than a protest.

The protest took place on the day that BP, a company which began life in 1909 as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, Ltd, a part of our imperial exploitation of Iran’s vast oil reserves was greenwashing its polluting and climate-damaging activities through sponsorship of a Royal Opera House performance of Carmen to be relayed to 13 BP giant screens in major cities across the UK.

An opera singer performs a little from Carmen

It toured the offices of oil companies belonging to the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) urging them to abandon the pretence they can combat global warming without a huge cut in oil production and delivering copies of the Extinction Rebellion Handbook ‘This is Not A Drill’.

As well as Carmen in costume, there was a fine opera singer and a group of musicians, XR drummers to draw attention to the event and a team who marked out the company offices as crime scenes.

The procession found a floral arch in Grosvenor Square

The event met on Ebury Bridge before marking to perform in front of the nearby offices of Italian petroleum company ENI, on an otherwise rather empty street in Pimlico. They then moved on for another performance on a busy lunchtime street corner in Eccleston Square and then the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) close to Victoria Station. By then they needed a rest in Hyde Park before going through Mayfair to the offices of Saudi Aramco at 10 Portman Square.

And an illegally parked symbol of the kind of extreme wasteful consumption that has got the planet in such a mess

It had taken them around three and a half hours to get there, and I decided I’d taken enough pictures and was getting tired. But probably the parts of the event more likely to be featured as news in the UK were to come. Their next planned performance was outside BP in St James’s Square, from where they were going on to protest close to the giant screen in Trafalgar Square, hoping to make clear to the audience there that the Royal Opera House should end their greenwashing sponsorship by BP.

Security at Saudi Aramco take a copy of the XR Handbook ‘This is not a Drill’

More at XR Carmen’s Carbon Procession


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All photographs on this page are copyright © Peter Marshall. Contact me to buy prints or licence to reproduce.


University of London 3 Cosas Strike

Friday, January 28th, 2022
On the IWGB battlebus

Eight years ago on Tuesday 28th January 2014 low paid workers at the University of London were on the second day of their 3 day strike. Their union had organised a day of action around London and I had been invited to come and photograph it, having photographed a number of their previous protests.

University cleaners, maintenance and security staff were demanding that the University recognise their trade union, the IWGB (Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain) and give them better pay and conditions, comparable with other university staff they work alongside. The ‘3 Cosas’ were sick pay, paid holidays and pensions – all areas where these staff were only being given the legal minimum (and sometime not even that.)

As I wrote in 2014:

“although these workers work at the university and carry out work essential for the running of the university, the university does not employ them. Most low paid workers – cleaners, maintenance and security staff, catering works and others – at the University of London are no longer directly employed by the University, but work in the University on contracts from contractors Cofely GDF-Suez (who took over the former contractor Balfour Beatty Workplace at the end of last year.) The policy of outsourcing these workers seems largely intended to evade the responsibilities of London University towards an essential part of their workforce.”

3 Cosas’ Strike Picket and Battle Bus

It meant an early start for me, although the pickets had been outside Senate House for four hours when I arrived at 9am. Living outside London though on its edge I seldom arrive before 10am as it doubles my travel costs and I’ve never been a happy early riser. Fortunately the weather was good, a bright winter day and I’d dressed for the weather with thermal underwear, thick socks and a woolly hat, though it was still pretty chilly on top of the open-top bus.

The bus turned out to be a 1960 Routemaster which was sold by London Transport in 1986 but only converted to open-top in 2001. (I’d long thought that there was a plentiful supply of such vehicles after drivers attempted routes under low bridges, but apparently not, although a couple of bridges near where I live have had quite a few victims over the years.) Compared to modern buses, Routemasters offered a very bumpy ride with considerable vibration, and taking pictures on the upper deck required some faster than normal shutter speeds and most of the time working one-handed while clinging on with the other.

Space on bus tops is also quite small and moving around impeded both by the seats and the other riders (I think it’s a more appropriate term than passengers) and though they were very cooperative the top of the bus was pretty full. Most of the pictures I made were taken when the bus was stopped either at junctions or for short protests and my fisheye lens proved really useful.

The bus trip began at Senate House, and then began an extensive tour around central London, making a tour of various university sites where IWGB members were striking. There was a great deal of booing as we passed the Unison headquarters on Euston Road, as many of the workers had left Unison in disgust as they felt the were not supporting the demands of low-paid workers. The IWGB had intended to stop outside the offices of The Guardian newspaper, but had been held up too much by London’s traffic and drove past and on to Parliament Square.

Here we jumped off the bus and marched to Parliament where the IWGB had arranged to meet Labour MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn for a short rally (and Andy Burnham sent a short message of support.)

There was a short shower before the bus came to pick us up on the Embankment, taking us to a side street near the Royal Opera House. Everyone kept quiet as we got off, then rushed around the corner and into the foyer. IWGB members there had voted for a strike the following month for union recognition and the London Living Wage.

In the foyer we were met by a man who introduced himself as the Unison Health & Safety rep and told the IWGB President and the other protesters that the ROH had already agreed that the cleaners will get the Living Wage, but had not yet told them. The Opera House recognises Unison, despite the workers almost entirely being IWGB members. It’s a ridiculous situation but one which is allowed under our poor trade union laws, though not one that makes sense for either workers or employers.

After making their views clear the IWGB members left quietly and got back onto the bus for the final visit of the day, to the Angel Islington, where Cofely GDF-Suez (who took over employing the workers at the University of London from the former contractor Balfour Beatty Workplace in December) has its offices. As at the Royal Opera House, there were plenty of police present and waiting for the protesters, but here they managed to lock the metal gates on the two entrances to Angel Square as the bus arrived, leaving the protest to take place in front of one of them in Torrens Place.

From here the bus was going on to the union offices at the Elephant and Castle and I was invited to join them for a very late mid-afternoon lunch but unfortunately I had work to do on the many pictures I had taken and had to leave them and make my way home.

IWGB at Cofely GDF-Suez
IWGB in Royal Opera House
IWGB at Parliament
‘3 Cosas’ Strike Picket and Battle Bus


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A Mixed Day – May 3rd, 2014

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

Saturday May 3rd 2014 provided me with quite a range of events to photograph around London, finishing with a protest against the abuse of staff employed by MITIE at the Royal Opera House. IWGB members including the workplace rep have been sacked or lost work, with others being brought in to take their places.

This protest was one of the “noisy” events that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 being pushed through parliament would criminalise, a very successful non-violent tactic used by smaller unions such as the IWGB (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain) to shame managements into talking with them. MITIE and the Royal Opera House had been refusing to talk with the union to which the majority of the cleaners belong, and instead recognise a large union with few members at the ROH which has come to an agreement with them which fails to address any of the workers grievances.

There were angry scenes with some of the opera goers who seemed to feel that the workers had no right to protest, and ROH security staff intervened when one man began assaulting union organiser Alberto Durango. When a large group of police arrived there was an ugly scene when they tried to grab one of the protesters, but she was pulled away by her colleagues, and the police then withdrew to form a line around the opera house. After an hour there were some short speeches, including one by another woman protester complaining that she and others had been assaulted by the police officer in charge, Inspector Rowe, and other officers.

My first event had been to cover a march to Parliament by Families fighting to abolish the 300 year old law of ‘Joint Enterprise’ that has wrongfully imprisoned family members in a gross breach of human rights. Under this people are convicted of crimes they took no part in for having almost any connection with those who actually committed the criminal act – without any real evidence being required or given. Originally intended to enable doctors and seconds who attended duels to be arrested as well as the actual duellists, it is now disproportionately used against Afro-Caribbean young men following stabbings and other street violence. As well as its inherent injustice, the sentences can be extremely long, in some cases up to 30 years in jail. In 2015 police attempted to use it against a protester after they could find no evidence of her committing the ‘criminal damage’ she had been accused of, but the court sensibly refused to consider the charge.

Next I went to the Ethiopian Embassy in Kensington, where Rastafarians from the Church of Haile Selassie I in Cricklewood were holding their annual protest calling for the restoration of the Dynasty of Emperor Haile Selassie 1st to bring about economic liberation of the country. Selassie died following an economic crisis which led to a coup in 1974 at the age of 83. Under his leadership Ethiopia, the only African country to defeat the European colonialists, was the first independent African state to become a member of the League of Nations and the UN.

I stopped off on my way back to the centre of London at Knightsbridge to photograph the weekly vigil outside fashion store Harvey Nichols calling on shoppers to boycott them for selling animal fur products, which come almost entirely from farms with exceedingly cruel practices banned in the UK. It is hard to see why using fur from these farms is not also banned here.

The largest event taking place was the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the first women to be ordained by the Church of England, and a thousand or more women priests went to a rally in Dean’s Yard before marching to St Paul’s Cathedral for a service.

I was brought up in the Congregational tradition, and the Congregational Church had its first women minister in 1919, but it took the Church of England another 75 years before they caught up. They ordained their first women as priests in 1994, and women now make up a large proportion of the church. Among those on the march was the Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Jamaican-born vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Dalston and All Saints Church, Haggerston (and also finding time to be Speaker’s chaplain at the House of Commons, priest vicar at Westminster Abbey and chaplain to the Queen.) She marched with the same placard she carried when the church was making its decision to ordain women in 1994, with the message “Women – beautifully & wonderfully made in the image of God!” and became Britain’s first black female bishop in 2019.

I left the women priests marching along Whitehall to photograph a protest opposite Downing St, where Balochs were staging a token hunger strike on Whitehall calling for the immediate release of all those forcefully disappeared by Pakistani forces. The action was in solidarity with the hunger strike by student activist Latif Johar of the Baloch Students Organisation-Azad (BSO-A) who began a hunger strike outside the Karachi Press Club on April 22 in protest at the disappearance by Pakistan security forces of the BSO-A chair Zahid Baloch in March.

From Westminster I walked to Covent Garden where I was to meet the IWGB for their protest at the Royal Opera House, and sat and waited for them to arrive. To my surprise as I sat reading I heard the sound of hooves clattering on the road, and looked up to see half a dozen horse-drawn traps coming towards me up the street. They stopped briefly and appropriately at the Nags Head, where some of the drivers went in to refresh themselves, and I talked with those left holding the horses outside, and they told me the ride had started at Forest Gate and they had already visited Borough Market on their route around London.

More on all these events:
IWGB Cleaners at Royal Opera
Horse Traps at the Nag’s Head
Baloch Hunger Strike
20 years of Women Vicars
Anti-Fur Picket at Harvey Nichols
Restore the Ethiopian Monarchy
Joint Enterprise – NOT Guilty By Association


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.


3 Cosas – 28 Jan 2014

Thursday, January 28th, 2021

It was the second day of the 3 day strike by the IWGB for union recognition and better conditions for outsourced workers at the University of London, and the union had hired an open-top bus to take their campaigners around London to protest.

The ‘3 Cosas’ campaign was calling for Sick Pay, Holdidays and Pensions for the workers, who were only getting the minimal statutory provisions from the cost-cutting contracting companies who employed them. They worked alongside people who were employed directly by the University who enjoyed considerably better conditions of service.

Although the majority of the workers were members of the IWGB, the University and the contractors refuse to talk with this union. The University management instead recognises a union that has few if any members, using this as an excuse not to recognise the union the workers belong to.

After a lengthy tour of London, stopping at some of the workplaces and elsewhere for speeches from the top of the bus, we came to Parliament Square, where there was a short rally and MPs John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham came to show their support.

I’ve written about the day at some length on My London Diary so I won’t go into much detail and repeat myself here. There are of course many more pictures, rather too many, as I got a little carried away and there was so much to photograph.

While the idea through the morning had been to draw as much attention to the strike and protest noisily, the next event was a suprise protest at another location where the IWGB were campaigning for union recognition and a living wage, the Royal Opera House. The bus stopped a short distance away and then members rushed into the foyer to hold a noisy protest there.

We then left and went for a final protest outside the offices of the contractor who employ many of the workers at the University, Cofely GDF-Suez. There the gates were locked and the protest took place on the street outside.

More pictures and text from the day:
‘3 Cosas’ Strike Picket and Battle Bus
IWGB at Parliament
IWGB in Royal Opera House
IWGB at Cofely GDF-Suez


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.


More From May Days: 2018

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

My May Day in 2018 was rather more varied than usual, taking in several other events as well as the traditional May Day march and rally where I started as usual at Clerkenwell Green, along with the Kurdish and Turkish communists and others. Without our various migrant communities it would have been a very much smaller and less colourful event.

Rather than photograph the actual march I left a few minutes before it started to take the underground to Westminster, where the Chronic Lyme Disease Support Group UK was holding a protest to raise awareness of the hidden epidemic of the disease here. Carried by ticks, the disease is hard to diagnose and the NHS has failed to introduce proper tests and make doctors aware of its prevalence and proper treatment.

The general public need to know about the dangers and in particular to take precautions against tick bites and to be ready to remove ticks promptly and safely from their skin. I was fortunate to have met this group shortly before a holiday with friends a couple of years earlier so carried a small bent plastic tick remover for when we got bitten. If you ever walk through tall grass or woods you should have one ready.

From outside Parliament it was a short walk to the Home Office, where Movement for Justice were protesting against a planned charter flight later in the week for a mass deportation to Jamaica. This was in the middle of the Windrush scandal and the flight would include members of the Windrush generation. The Home Office, particularly under Theresa May, has been guilty of enforcing an unjust, scandalous and racist immigration policy which is still continuing.

I rushed away from the Home Office and up Whitehall to the Strand, where I was just in time to meet the May Day march from Clerkenwell Green. I was almost certainly more out of breath than the members of the Musician’s Union whose band were leading it.

The rally was, as I noted, a rather humdrum event dominated by trade union speakers which failed to represent the make-up of the march, dominated by our migrant communities.

It seemed rather curious that speakers apparently were supposed to be ‘non-political’ in their speeches because of the elections later in the week. If you can’t be political at a May Day Rally why bother?

May Day Rally

The rally was enlivened a little by the final contribution which was from a victimised union rep from the Brixton Ritzy, but by the time she spoke most had left either to go home or to the local pubs. Those left were getting ready to continue the day with a protest organised by the IWGB (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain), United Voices of the World the union, staff from Picturehouse Cinemas, the Women’s Strike Assembly – UK, London Wobblies, Another Europe Is Possible, Plan C London, Labour Campaign for Free Movement and the Precarious Workers Brigade representing precarious workers, people on poverty pay and exploitative contracts whose largely unskilled work is essential to keeping society running.

They marched to protest outside a number of exploitative workplaces where disputes were currently taking place, demanding guaranteed hours of work, a living wage, the decriminalisation of sex work, an end to trade union victimisation and repeal of the anti-union laws.

After their first protest at the Ministry of Justice where cleaners are demanding a living wage, they went on to further protests at King’s College, where cleaners demand to be directly employed with proper terms of employment and a living wage.

I left the protest at King’s to join the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union CAIWU who had been celebratingd International Workers’ Day with an open-topped bus tour stopping to protest outside some of London’s most notorious employers. Their final protest of the day was at the Royal Opera House, where they were in dispute over the victimisation of five members for their trade union activities.

By now I was getting rather tired, but made a short detour on my way home taking the tube to Brixton, where an emergency demonstration outside Lambeth Town Hall before Thursday’s council elections was calling for a public inquiry into Lambeth Labour’s housing policy, an immediate halt to estate demolitions and a call to stop the privatisation via Homes for Lambeth which is leading to social cleansing.  

Lambeth Labour’s election manifesto had a proud claim that it was well on the way to “complete our ambitious programme of building 1,000 extra homes at council rent for local families“, while the actual number of council homes with with secure council tenancies built was – according to a Freedom of Information request – only 17. The protesters say that even than figure was around double the actual number.

Lambeth Housing Tell Us the Truth
CAIWU Mayday Mayhem at Royal Opera
Precarious Workers – King’s College
Precarious Workers – Ministry of Justice
May Day Rally
May Day March on the Strand
Against Deportation Charter Flights
Lyme Disease epidemic
London May Day March meets


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.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.


XR Carmen says cut Carbon

Saturday, November 23rd, 2019

On the day that BP were sponsoring a Royal Opera House performance of Carmen to be relayed to 13 BP big screens in UK cities, including Trafalgar Square in London, Extinction Rebellion put on their ‘Carbon Procession’.

This procession, led by a woman dressed as carbon with a long black train to resemble an oil slick and followed by people with XR flags and a samba band made its way around the London offices of oil companies in the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) urging them to abandon the pretence they can combat global warming without a huge cut in oil production.

Although the Carmen leading the procession only spoke rather than sang, the protesters were joined by a woman with an incredible voice who performed some of the arias, accompanied by an unusual but effective orchestra of bassoon and piano accordian at the stops in front of the company offices.

The protesters also delivered copies of the XR handbook published by Penguin, ‘This Is Not A Drill’ to the offices, although they were not allowed to go inside to present it. Some of the activists also used bright yellow ‘Crime Tape’ with the message ‘Crime Scene – Do Not Cross’ to make the hour-glass X from the middle of the XR symbol on the pavement outside each of the offices.

The procession had obviously taken a great deal of preparation and attracted some attention. The lengthy walk was soon well behind schedule and after performances outside multinational oil and gas company ENI, on a street corner near Victoria and the China National Petroleum Corporation took a long rest in Hyde Park, which though necessary for some, didn’t help. It missed the next planned stop, I think walking past by accident, and by the time it had protested outside Saudi Aramco it was time for me to leave. The protesters still had two more oil companies to visit and were ending the procession at BP head office in St James’s Square before going on to protest at the screening in Trafalgar Square.

More at XR Carmen’s Carbon Procession


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.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.