Posts Tagged ‘solidarity’

Sick Pay, Holidays And Pensions – End Outsourcing

Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

Sick Pay, Holidays And Pensions – End Outsourcing – Nine years ago on Friday 28th June 2013 I photographed a protest by low-paid workers at the University of London who with their supporters ran into the Senate House and protested noisily inside the building for sick pay, holidays and pensions for all workers at the University.


I’ve spent some time over the past few days thinking about strikes and industrial actions, partly because of the rail strikes. My local station is one of the few that still has a train service, but out of solidarity with the workers I won’t be using it on strike days, and on the days in between it is still likely to be unreliable.

The campaigners met up at SOAS before the protest

Of course I support the strikers, many of them low paid workers and all of whom have seen the value of their wages cut over the last few years. And these have been years when for all the problems that politicians and media state many of the wealthy have got considerably wealthier – and some made huge fortunes over Brexit and profited greatly (and not always legally) over Covid. We are living in an increasingly unfair society, and with a government which despite claims about levelling up is doing its damnedest to make the rich richer while making the poor poorer.

After marching quietly past university buildings they dashed towards Senate House

The government and train operating companies make much of the need to modernise the railways and I can only agree with them. We desperately need to get back to a sensible structure for running railways, to reverse the breakup of the system into small pieces, each with its highly paid management, caused by the doctrinaire privatisation of the 1990s. And yes, there are other changes which could greatly improve the system, but what the companies mean by modernisation is largely slashing the additional rates for overtime, weekend and night work. It’s ‘we’ll give you more pay if we can cut your wages at the same time’.

and were all inside the building before security noticed

June 28th is said to be the date on which new restrictions on the right to protest pushed through parliament in the last session come into effect. I think the protest by the IWGB on behalf of low paid workers employed by contract companies at London University on Friday 28th January 2013 would clearly have been illegal in several ways had this law been in place then. And it would be precisely those aspects that made this and most other protests over low pay effective that could have resulted in arrests.

They swarmed up the stairs towards the Vice-Chancellor’s office

I don’t know how (or even if) the police will enforce the new laws. Although I think they will have little appetite to do so, there will be considerably political pressure on them. And while the large unions will worry about the huge impact legal measures would have on their funds and largely play safe, perhaps the small grass-roots unions who have been so much more effective for low paid workers will feel they have less to lose.

They held a noisy protest outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office

Back in 2013, the low paid workers who keep London University running were taking part in a ‘Summer of Action’, supported by the grass roots IWGB union (Independent Workers of Great Britain) and the students of the ULU (University of London Union.)

making sure he and his staff could hear why they were protesting


Many of the the cleaners, security guards and catering staff who work in the same buildings as other service staff employed by the university have brutally inferior conditions of service as they employed on behalf of the university by contracting companies who give them none of the kind or working conditions that any considerate employer would provide.

They then returned to the large lobby below to tell those attending conferences why workers were protesting.

Often they are not provided with proper safety equipment and expected to work in unsafe ways to get the job done, and may have to put up with harsh and unreasonable demands over workload, derogatory treatment and even racism from the managers employed by contract companies.

But this ‘3 Cosas’ protest was largely about three things, sick pay, holidays and pensions, on which these outsourced staff often have to fight even to get the rock-bottom statutory minimum provisions. Statutory sick pay is so low that few workers can afford to take time off when they are sick. Even at the height of Covid, many who were unwell had to drag themselves into work, putting their own health and that of others at risk to pay their rent and feed their families.

They continued a noisy protest in the lobby and its balconies for a few minutes

It took many protests such as this to persuade the University and other bodies to end the unfair outsourcing – even when studies showed there were considerable advantages in having a properly employed workforce and little if any financial loss. At SOAS, where the protesters met before the protest the Justice for Workers Campaign led by SOAS Unison branch began in 2006 and was only finally successful in 2018.

and then decided it was time to leave, pleased that the protest had gone so well.

The IWGB is still campaigning against outsourcing at University College London (UCL) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) as well as other campaigns. A few days ago I photographed them outside the London offices of the world’s largest healthcare multinational Health Corporation of America (HCA) Healthcare, who run the private London Bridge Hospital, and they also support other groups of low-paid workers, including foster carers, delivery drivers, minicab drivers and cycling instructors.

More about the 3 Cosas protest at Cleaners Surprise Senate House Invasion.


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May Day – International Workers Day

Sunday, May 1st, 2022

May Day – International Workers Day – May 1st was chosen as the date for International Workers’ Day in 1889 by the Second International socialists and communists, and adopted by anarchists, labor activists, and leftists in general around the world, to commemorate the 1886 Chicago Haymarket affair and the struggle for an eight-hour working day. It continues to be celebrated in many countries around the world.

May Day - International Workers Day
Space Hijackers Anarchist Cricket, Parliament Square, London, May 1, 2005

Although I tested negative for Covid on Wednesday I’m still short of breath and short of energy, with still a little of a cough and have been strongly advised to take things easy for the next week or two. So I’m not sure if I’ll be out celebrating May Day today, much as I yearn to be.

May Day - International Workers Day
Justice for Cleaners, Westminster Cathedral, London, May 1, 2006

Before 2000 I was usually unable to celebrate May Day properly as May 1st was usually a normal working day and I went out around 8am and arrived home from work around 5.30pm, usually with more to do at home after an evening meal. Not much time to celebrate International Workers Day!

May Day - International Workers Day
Space Hijackers Police Victory Party – Bank, May 1, 2006

Of course, May Day sometimes fell at the weekend, so I would have been free to take part in events that were taking place, but even in 1999 when it was a Saturday I think I had other things on.

May Day - International Workers Day
Space Hijackers Mayfair Mayfayre – May 1st 2008

There were of course May Day related events that I went to most years, but usually these were on the Saturday or Sunday before the early May bank holiday Monday which was introduced by a Labour government in 1978, when they lacked the nerve to make May Day itself a public holiday. We still have that bank holiday despite plans made by Conservative governments under both John Major and David Cameron to replace it by a Trafalgar Day holiday in late October.

May Day - International Workers Day
Rave Against The Machine – Leake St, Waterloo, London. Saturday 1 May 2010

By 2003 I was getting rather blasé about the London May Day march, writing “May Day Has perhaps settled into a rather predictable event now. The socialist left – and what is left seems to be a few unions and a number of ethnic communist party groups – march from Clerkenwell to Trafalgar square, while anti-capitalist protesters do not a lot around town“, but that didn’t stop me going again to photograph it that year or in 2004, 2005, 2006, and every year until 2019. Covid put an end to the sequence in 2020, but I came out of seclusion for May Day 2021, though perhaps I’ll miss it again today.

May Day - International Workers Day
Anti-Capitalists block Tower Bridge – Tower Bridge, London. Fri 1 May 2015

And I will miss it. Miss the sense of solidarity on the streets. And most of my life I’ve been feeling a loss of what might have been had we ever had a socialist government since my first few years growing up in a welfare state. Tory governments largely did what was expected of them but the various Labour administrations largely failed the people. Perhaps the final straw came in 2017, when people inside Labour actively worked against a Labour election victory.

May Day - International Workers Day
Anti-Capitalist May Day Street Party Starts – One Commercial St, Aldgate, London. Sun 1 May 2016

The pictures here come from some of the other May Day events I’ve photographed in the last 20 years or so. You can find other May Day pictures on My London Diary simply by choosing a year at the top of the page and then the month of May at the left of the year page.

May Day - International Workers Day
May Day F**k Parade – London. Mon 1 May 2017

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Al-Bashir & the Sultan of Brunei

Wednesday, April 6th, 2022

Al-Bashir & the Sultan of Brunei – On April 6th 2019 I photographed two protests in London both linked with the brutal excesses of Sharia law, in the Sudan and in Brunei.

Al-Bashir & the Sultan of Brunei

Sudanese for Freedom, Peace and Justice – Sudan Embassy, St James’s

Al-Bashir & the Sultan of Brunei

Sudan became united under Egyptian conquest in the 19th century and then coming under British rule in the 1880s after the British occupied Egypt in the 1880s, though since 1899 its governance was nominally shared by Britain and Egypt. After the 1952 Egyptian revolution Britain was forced to end its shared sovereignty and Sudan became independent in 1956.

Al-Bashir & the Sultan of Brunei

Independence led to a civil war which eventually resulted in the independence of South Sudan in 2011. There was a military coup in 1958, then a return to civilian rule from 1964-9 with another military coup in 1969 and yet another in 1985 that overthrew dictator Jaafar Nimeiri. But in 1989 came the military coup led by Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, who became its dictator under various titles from 1989 until 2019 when the large-scale protests in Sudan which this London protest supported led to him being deposed by the military on 11th April. Later in the year power was transferred to a mixed civilian-military Sovereignty Council.

Al-Bashir & the Sultan of Brunei

Under al-Bashir the country had been run under a severe implementation of Sharia law, with stoning, flogging, hanging and crucifixion. In 2020 Sudan ended the rule under Islamic law and agreed there should be no state religion. It abolished the apostasy law, public flogging and the alcohol ban for non-Muslims, and criminalised female genital mutilation with a punishment of up to 3 years in jail.

The protest was large and high energy, and called for an end to the violent and corrupt Sudanese regime and for president Omar al-Bashir to ‘Just Fall’ and stand trial by the ICC for genocide in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and South Blue Nile.

Sudanese for Freedom, Peace and Justice

Brunei Sultan gay sex stoning protest, Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane

I arrived rather late at the protest outside the Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane, a short walk away (though I ran much of it) from St James’s to find a rather staid protest taking place against its multi-billionaire Sultan of Brunei who has announced death by stoning as a punishment for gay sex, adultery and blasphemy. The hotel was bought by him in 1985.

Although it was a colourful crowd, with a number of people in rainbow clothing and a few in drag, along with several well-known figures who spoke, including Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Emily Thornberry MP and Peter Tatchell, the protesters kept outside the hotel yard with police harassing them to keep the road clear despite there not being enough room on the pavements, and to allow cars and taxis to take and collect hotel guests to the main entrance.

It took Class War to liven up proceedings, pushing aside the barriers in front of the hotel entrance and running inside the hotel yard with their Women’s Death Brigade and Lucy Parsons banners, ignoring the attempts of security and police to stop them. They stood on the steps of the hotel entrance, stopping guests entering or leaving and after a short delay many of the other protesters joined them, bringing placards and rainbow flags.

The protesters ignored the hotel staff who told them to leave and the police who came and threatened them with arrest, and were still blocking the entrance when I left 50 minutes later.

Brunei Sultan gay sex stoning protest


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Snow, Pensions & Jobs, Hunger Strikers – 2018

Monday, February 28th, 2022

Snow, Pensions & Jobs, Hunger Strikers – 2018. On Wednesday 28th February 2018 there was a blizzard in London. University and FE teachers marched through it to a rally about pay and pensions and people came to the Home Office to support hunger strikers in the immigration prison at Yarl’s Wood.

London Snow

The snow slacked off a little when I was on the bus but got worse as I walked to Malet St for the start of a march. Most of the pictures I tried to take were ruined by snow flakes landing on the front of the lens faster than I could wipe them off.

London Snow

HE and FE march for pensions and jobs

UCU members were on the the fifth day of their strike to get the universities to talk with them about pensions and pay, and marched from Malet St to Methodist Central Hall close to Parliament for a rally.

They were joined by staff from London FE colleges on the first day of a two-day strike over pay and conditions, and both groups were supported by large numbers of students. The snow made it difficult to take pictures, and at times it was hard to stop from slipping over on compacted snow. Fortunately it eased off a little after the march started, with just occasional showers as we walked through London.

HE and FE march for pensions and jobs

HE & FE rally for pensions and jobs

Sally Hunt of UCU speaks and Kevin Courtney NEU listens at right

Despite the terrible weather there were more marchers than expected and many were left outside the hall. I don’t usually bother to photograph at indoor rallies and haven’t really got the best equipment for it, but on this occasion I was glad to be able to get inside and warm up a little. My camera lenses were also getting a little steamed up and needed to dry out.

Frances O’Grady praises the way that Sally Hunt and the UCU are fighting to keep the pension scheme

I’ve written more about the reasons for the strikes and a little about the rally on My London Diary and won’t repeat that here. Click the link to find more.

HE & FE rally for pensions and jobs


Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers

I stayed longer inside the rally than intended, partly because I was reluctant to leave t he warm hall, but as it came to an end I left to walk to the Home Office, where a protest was taking place in solidarity with the 120 women and men in immigration detention at Yarl’s Wood who were refusing to work and had gone on a hunger strike.

Their action in Yarl’s Wood had started a week earlier and was demanding the Home Office respect the European Convention of Human Rights, end the separation of families, end indefinite detention, with a 28 day maximum detention period, end charter flights which deport people without notice, and end to re-detention of those released from detention.

The also called for an amnesty for those who have been in the country for over 10 years, a stop to deportations before cases are decided and any appeals heard, the proper disclosure of all evidence to the immigration tribunals, adequate health care, an end to detaining of highly vulnerable people, an end to employment at £1 per hour and to be treated with the dignity and respect due to all human beings.

It was a fairly large protest, supported by many groups including Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, Detained Voices, Black Women’s Rape Action Project, All African Women’s Group, The London Latinxs, Right to Remain, Docs Not Cops and End Deportations as well as Movement for Justice who have organised many protests outside Yarl’s Wood as well as those at other detention centres and led campaigns to close detention centres and support detainees.

Solidarity with Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers


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Women March, Bolivians Protest, Antifa Solidarity

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

Women March, Bolivians Protest, Antifa Solidarity
Saturday 19th January 2019 was another day of protests in London.

Women’s Bread & Roses protest

Inspired by the Bread & Roses protests which revolutionised workers’ rights for women in 1912, Women’s March London marched from the BBC to a rally in Trafalgar Square. The march was a part of an international day with women marching in many countries across the world and particularly in the USA.

Women were marching against economic oppression, violence against women, gender pay gap, racism, fascism, institutional sexual harassment and hostile environment in the UK, and they called for a government dedicated to equality and working for all of us rather than the few.

It began rather oddly outside the BBC with a carefully organised and scripted rally by a TV crew working for the BBC to produce what they called a documentary, though it seemed to have little real connection with the event that was taking place.

I walked with the women photographing them as they marched to another hopefully less scripted rally in Trafalgar Square where I left them to go to another event.

Bolivians protest against Morales

While in Trafalgar Square I photographed another protest taking place on the North Terrace, where Bolivians from the 21F movement had gathered against the ruling by Bolivia’s Electoral Tribunal that President Evo Morales could stand for a fourth term in office. Morales was first elected president in 2005, and supported the 2009 constitution which only allowed two consecutive terms in office. But later he tried to change this and the matter was put to a national referendum on 21st February 2016 which narrowly rejected the change.

Morales then went to the courts and they ruled that the limitation to two terms was an infringement on human rights and allowed him to stand again,, and he won a third term in office. The protesters were from the 21F movement, named from the referendum debate who accused him of corruption and interfering with the court system and say he is behaving as a dictator by trying to remain in power for a fourth term. He stood and won in October 2019, but a coup attempt in November 2019 forced him to flee the country, though he was able to return after MAS candidate Luis Arce won a clear victory in the 2020 general election and was sworn in as President.

Morales, the head of the Movement for Socialism party (MAS) while in office implemented leftist policies, reducing poverty and illiteracy and combating the influence of the United States and multinational corporations in Bolivia which has made him very unpopular with many of the middle class who were used to running the country – as well as the USA who have encouraged and financed opposition to him. Perhaps the 21F protest was really more about his policies than a concern for the integrity of the constitution.

Solidarity with Russian anti-fascists

From Trafalgar Square I made my way to the Cable Street Mural on the former Stepney Town Hall in St George’s Gardens Shadwell, where Anarchist and Anti-fascists were gathering to march to oppose racism, xenophobia, fascism and the upsurge of far-right populism and to show solidarity with Russian anti-fascists who have been arrested, framed and tortured in a brutal wave of repression.

There were speeches by Russian and Ukrainian comrades and a message from some of those under arrest in Russia. Six were arrested in 2017 by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and charged with belonging to a non-existent organisation, ‘The Network’. They have been and beaten and tortured in the pre-trial detention facility using electrical torture and hanging them upside down to get them to sign confessions, which they were forced to memorise.

Five more anti-fascists have been arrested since and also tortured to admit they were members of ‘The Network’, which the FSB claims were planning explosions during the Russian presidential elections and the World Cup. They could be jailed for up to 20 years for membership of the fictional group.

Stanislav Markelov, murdered by fascists in broad daylight on January 19th 2009.

January 19th was the 10th anniversary of the brutal murder on a Moscow street in broad daylight of two Russian anti-fascists, journalist Anastasia Baburova and lawyer Stanislav Markelov. Russian anarchists and anti-fascists hold events to remember them on this day every year.

From the fine mural celebrating the 1936 Battle of Cable Street, when the East End rose up to fight the police who tried to force a way for Mosley’s Blackshirts to march through the Jewish East End, the protesters marched to Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel, re-named after a young Bengali textile worker, 24 year old Altab Ali, who was murdered here on May 4th 1978 in a brutal unprovoked racist attack by three teenage boys as he walked home from work.

More on all three protests on My London Diary:
Solidarity with Russian anti-fascists
Bolivians protest against Morales
Women’s Bread & Roses protest


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A Table, Climate Red Lines, Refugees & Santas

Sunday, December 12th, 2021

Free the Focus E15 Table

Housing activists Focus E15 had been an irritant to Newham Council and its mayor Robin Wales ever since the group of young mothers fought the threat to close their hostel and scatter them across the country away from family and friends. Their high profile campaign with direct actions gained national coverage and admiration and after their succesful fight they continued as a ‘Housing For All’ campaign giving support to others with housing problems, particularly in their London borough of Newham.

Every Saturday the group hold a street stall on Stratford Broadway on a wide area of pavement outside Wilko every Saturday for over 2 years offering advice to those with housing problems and drawing attention to the failure of Newham Council to sensibly address the acute housing problem in the borough.

In 2015 there were around 5,000 people living in temporary accommodation despite 400 homes in good condition empty on the Carpenters Estate close to the centre of Stratford which the council began clearing around ten years previously in the hope of selling the site for development. They continue to oppose the council policy of attempting to force those needing housing out of London and into private rented property in towns and cities across the country- Hastings, Birmingham, Manchester etc – and even in Wales, socially cleansing the borough which now has large new developments of expensive high rise flats.

A week earlier, Newham Council’s Law Enforcement officer came with police to continue their harassment of the street stall, telling them they were not allowed to protest and threatening to seize their stall, sound system, banners and other gear. Focus E15 resisted but police seized the table and threw it into the back of their van. A few days later, the council having realised the seizure was illegal wrote to the campaign asking them to reclaim their table. Focus E15 asked for it to be delivered back to where it had been taken, and had already organised this ‘Free The Table’ rally with people coming to defend the right to protest. That table didn’t arrive but others had come with them for a ‘tablegate’ protest.

Free the Focus E15 Table

Climate Activists Red Line protest

Back in Westminster, the Campaign Against Climate Change was protesting against the inadequacy of the COP21 Paris deal, which sets the target temperature rise too high and has no way to enforce the measures needed by carrying a ‘red line’ banner across Westminster Bridge.

The protest with a 300 metre length of red cloth and the short rally beforehand emphasized that “the world needs to take urgent action to keep fossil fuels – including shale oil, with fracking now shown to be as dirty as coal – in the ground, or at least only to be extracted as chemical feedstock rather than fuel, and an increased urgency in the transition to renewable energy. While a few years ago that might have seemed expensive and not feasible, the economics of energy generation have changed rapidly with green energy rapidly becoming the cheaper source. But huge vested interests still lie behind the dirty fuel lobby.”

Climate Activists Red Line protest

Christmas Solidarity Vigil for Refugees

As darkness fell, refugees, solidarity campaigners and Syrian activists at a Downing St vigil demanded justice for refugees, opening of EU borders to those fleeing war and terrorism and a much more generous response from the UK government. Six years later many of us remain ashamed and disgusted at the miserable response of the Tory government to refugees from Syria and more recently from Afghanistan. The UK has been so much less generous than many other countries and is increasingly adopting a more hostile attitude to asylum seekers, particularly now those attempting to cross the English Channel.

A strong wind made it difficult to keep the candles for this vigil alight, and though eventually this was solved by using plastic cups as wind shields it made the candles less photogenic.

Christmas Solidarity Vigil for Refugees

Santas in London

While I was photographing the climate protest on Westminster Bridge, a large group of Santas on BMX bikes rode across and I rushed to photograph them. Later I found this was an annual BMX Life Christmas ‘Santa Cruise’ in aid of ECHO, a small charity helping kids with heart conditions.

Later as I walked through Trafalgar Square on my way to catch a bus I came across more Santas, coming to the end of the their ‘Santacon’ which I described a few posts back as a “day-long alcohol-fuelled crawl through London”. I’d been too busy to bother with going to photograph the event earlier in the day, but spent a few minutes taking pictures before seeing my bus approach and running to the stop.

Santas in London


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16th January 2013

Saturday, January 16th, 2021

Probably the best way to describe my work on Wednesday 16th January would be varied, and that’s one of the things that attracts me to photographing protests on the streets of London. I was never quite sure what I would find or what would happen, and every protest brought its own problems in terms of photography, and also sometimes in how to write about them.

I started the day with Pussy Riot, or rather with protesters in solidarity with them on an International Day of Solidarity with Maria Alyokhina, attending a court hearing today over her plea for her sentence to be suspended so she can raise her son until he is 14. She was one of three members of Russian punk band Pussy Riot sentenced for their performance of an anti-Putin “punk anthem” in a Moscow Orthodox cathedral in February, and was sent to a prison camp in Siberia for two years.

I had expected rather more protesters than the small group I found there, as the case had attracted considerable publicity, but perhaps it was too early on a cold January morning to attract many. It isn’t either a very good place to protest, as the actual embassy is hidden away a few yards down a private road roughly opposite where protests (and photographer) are strictly forbidden. But I also left fairly promptly after the time set for the start of a protest, and numbers may have grown later.

Pussy Riot London Solidarity Demonstration


There were more people, including quite a few that I knew, at a rally outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand. Many were disabled, with a few in wheelchairs, but more who have mental health conditions, along with a number of pensioners, trade unionists from the court branch of the PCS and other supporters and the protest was organised by disabled activist groups including DPAC and the Mental Health Resistance Network.

Inside the court a tribunal was hearing a judicial review into Work Capablility Assessments on the grounds they violate the Equality Act, not being accessible for those with mental health conditions, and several of those speaking at the rally had personal stories to tell of how they had suffered as a result.

Mental health conditions are often spasmodic, which may result in claimants on a good day not seeming very ill and on a bad day being unable to attend an assessment – which results in them being automatically judged fit for work. Few of those carrying out the tests had sufficient knowledge and experience in the area of mental health to be able to sensibly conduct the assessment, and medical records were often not taken into consideration.

It seems totally ridiculous for benefits which people need because of their medical conditions not to be assessed on the basis of reports by the doctors who have examined and know their patients, but we have a system that instead tries to deny benefits on the basis of often arbitrary ‘tests’ by unqualified staff.

Equality Protest Against ATOS Work Assessments


Another protest was taking place outside the courts, which I hadn’t been aware of, and it had a very different atmosphere which I found rather chilling.

There was something very organised about it, with people dressed in red and all the placards carefully printed and it lacked the kind of spontaneity. Although it was a protest against the use of drugs to treat mental illness, some of those taking part gave the impression that they had been drugged.

Drugs are certainly misused in the treatment of people with mental health issues, though I think there are occasions when they are an important part in improving people’s health. And certainly they are over-used as a way to avoid treating the real causes of some people’s problems which come largely from poverty, lousy housing and terrible jobs. But there seemed to be something very wrong in some of the assertions that were being made.

I hadn’t heard of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, and was not really surprised when I looked it up on the web and found it described on Wikipedia as ‘a Scientology front group which campaigns against psychiatry and psychiatrists‘ established in 1969 by the Church of Scientology.

And as I wrote when I put these pictures on line:

it seems unfair to dismiss all of psychiatry as their banner did as ‘Junk Science and Dangerous Drugs‘ and I find it impossible from personal experience to deny the existence of medical conditions such as depression – or to dismiss the utility of some drugs in the treatment of mental conditions.

Stop Psychiatry Drugging Kids

Grenfell Solidarity March

Saturday, November 2nd, 2019

Grenfell was very much on our minds in the middle of June, around the second anniversary of the fire in which at least 72 people died, as it is now with the publication of the first part of the Grenfell Inquiry report. As well as the monthly silent march close to the tower on the actual anniversary, there was also a solidarity march the following day in Westminster.

Grenfell tower was built to resist the spread of fire. A fire in any single flat should have been confined to that flat for two hours, with a door designed to resist fire for at least an hour and a half. It had a single staircase that should have remained smoke free for two hours, allowing the safe exit of residents and for firefighters to climb up to fight the fire and rescue those living there.

Had Grenfell been properly maintained and kept as designed there would have been no deaths. The tower was designed so that the ‘Stay Put’ policy was safe, but the building had been altered in various ways – including but not only the addition of highly flammable and incorrectly installed cladding – which made it a death trap. Residents had pointed this out to before the fire, but their complaints had been ignored and those making them threatened.

Had the building been properly inspected these faults would almost certainly have become clear. But we had a government that considered safety regulations as “red tape” and saw inspections as an opportunity for private enterprise rather than public good. And the owners and managers of the building were interested in cutting costs and making it look more attractive to people on the outside rather than any concern about the safety of the residents.

The fire at Grenfell should have been a minor incident, quickly dealt with and causing no injuries of death, rather than the inferno we saw which killed so many. The inquiry suggestion that more could have been saved had the ‘stay put’ policy been abandoned earlier appears unsound. Had there been no such policy in place at the start of the fire more might well have escaped, but it is a general policy in place across all high rise residential buildings designed and built to the same standards as Grenfell and for good reason.

It’s failure at Grenfell was not the fault of the fire brigade, and by the time it was clear to firefighters that the building had failed the staircase, the only means of escape was filled with dense toxic smoke. Firefighters needed breathing apparatus and risked their lives to try and rescue those trapped inside. The inquiry report seems to deliberately contradict the evidence of experts including those who were actually there fighting the fire.

Many firefighters were at this march, including some who had risked their lives to save those inside Grenfell, but many more from around Britain. There are legitimate criticisms in the report about the equipment they had, though these are largely down to cuts made by the government and London Mayor Boris Johnson rather than the fire chiefs. The FBU had certainly warned that the cuts would mean more people dying and this event proved them right. Firefighters going into the building knew they were risking their lives – and as they went in were instructed to write their names on their helmets to make their dead or unconscious bodies recognisable. Thanks to their skill and training – and luck – no firefighters died and they rescued many.


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Solidarity with Palestine

Saturday, September 21st, 2019

As someone born as World War II was finishing it isn’t surprising that I grew up with with a great deal of sympathy and support for the young state of Israel, which had won its freedom from the British mandate by a number of terrorist attacks, most notably the King David Hotel Bombing, a massacre which killed 91 people and left around 50 badly wounded.

I was too young to know anything about it at the time of the attack, but in later years the Zionist underground organization the Irgun  was the first which I heard some call terrorists and others freedom fighters. Around 15 years later when I started a real interest in politics and free cigarettes at the local young socialist meetings in the Co-op Hallit was certainly the latter view that prevailed, not least because many of those in the Labour movement were Jewish.

Then we believed the lies that were told about Israel occupying a largely empty land and making the deserts bloom. Since then we have become aware of the properties and land stolen from the Palestinians, many of whom were forced out as refugees, and of the shrinking map of Palestine and the attacks on Gaza. The Zionist Israeli government has become increasing right-wing, violating the human rights of the Palestinians and international law over the years, setting up an apartheid system in Israel, making it impossible now not to support the Palestinian cause.

The protest on 11th May came at the start of the week remembering the Nakba and called for an end to Israeli oppression and the siege of Gaza and for a just peace that recognises Palestinian rights including the right of return. It urged everyone to boycott and divest from Israel and donate to medical aid for Palestine. Many of those on the march carried keys, some those of properties they had been forced to leave back in 1948, others simply as a reminder of the dispossession.

Among those marching was Palestinian teenage activist Ahed Tamimi, arrested after slapping an Israeli soldier in December 2017 after soldiers had entered her home and severely injured her 15-year-old cousin Mohammed. It wasn’t easy to photograph her on the march as stewards kept photographers outside the area in front of where she was marching holding the banner at the head of the march.

I wasn’t able to get close to her, but had to photograph with a long lens from a distance. With the 14-150mm lens on the Olympus E-M5 Mk II I managed to get a decent image with her filling much of the frame. The lens is equivalent to a 28-300mm, and for this picture I was using it at its extreme and at f5.6 and 1/250th at ISO 1250.

I think the result is rather better than I would have expected using a Nikon, thanks to the stabilisation of the OM body. And I would probably only have been carrying a lens with a maximum focal length of 200mm, so would have had to crop to get a similar image, thus losing some of the advantage of the larger sensor. I think the autofocus is almost as good as the Nikon, close enough to show no real difference in speed, and face detection is sometimes a help. And as a final point, despite weighing half as much, the Olympus lens is I think a better performer.

As well as the Olympus, my second camera was a Fuji X-T1, with a 10-24mm lens (15-36 equiv) that is also a fine performer. It doesn’t have quite the advantage in size and weight over Nikon that the Olympus has, and the camera somehow feels a little less responsive. I bought it when I was hoping that a Fuji system could replace my Nikons, but now I’m more likely to move to Olympus, keeping a Nikon only for the larger file size when used with bellows and a macro lens for digitising negatives and slides.

As with most events showing solidarity with Palestine it was joined by several Jewish groups, including the ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta  and also opposed by a small group of Zionists. You can see pictures of both on My London Diary, along with coverage of the rally close to the BBC before the march. I left and went home before the rally at the end.

More pictures at National Demonstration for Palestine.