Posts Tagged ‘Unite’

Sparks And Students – 2011

Thursday, November 9th, 2023

Sparks And Students – On Wednesday 9th November there were protests by electricians in Southwark and police shut down most of central London to harass students as they marched to the Moorgate building of London Metropolitan University.


Sparks At The Shard – London Bridge

Sparks And Students

Around a thousand electricians – ‘sparks ‘ – marched to a protest rally at the building site for the Shard in a protest led by Unite against plans by 7 major employers to tear up national agreements and impose worse conditions and pay cuts of at least 26 %.

Sparks And Students

In 1968 major employers and the trade union had come together to set up the Electrotechnical Joint Industry Board (JIB) to set standards for the electrical industry and to provide a means of resolving the frequent disputes which were then taking place by bringing together both sides in committees with equal representation. JIB has also developed to set the standards for employment, welfare, grading and apprentice training in the electrical contracting industry.

Sparks And Students

In May 2011 seven major companies – Bailey Building Services, Balfour Beatty, Tommy Clarke, Crown House Technologies, Gratte Brothers, SES and SPIE Matthew Hall – announced that they would withdraw from the JIB pay and conditions deal and impose their own agreement known as BESNA (Building and Engineering Services National Agreement) which would enable them to replace skilled workers by those on lower grades.

Sparks And Students

Unite targeted Balfour Beatty for action as the largest company and ring-leader in the employers group and at the rally Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey announced that the union had given notice today of a strike ballot for its members employed by them. The Shard was one of Balfour Beatty’s major projects at the time, along with Crossrail.

Several hundred of the electricians had earlier held a protest in Bishopsgate and visited the Occupy London site at St Paul’s Cathedral before marching to the rally at the Shard. Police had tried to stop them at various points on their march and they arrived with a large police escort.

Before the official rally started there were speeches by rank and file trade unionist. They were followed by several Unite speakers with a final address by McClusky. Around 600 of the sparks then marched off to support the students who were protesting in London but police closed both London Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge and stopped them.

Following this and further actions by rank and file electricians Balfour Beatty, the largest of the firms in Febraury 2012 announced it was going into further talks with Unite on updating the JIB agreements and this was the end for BESNA.

More pictures on My London Diary at Sparks At The Shard.


Students March Against Cuts & Fees – Bloomsbury to Moorgate

Despite police attempts to provoke them, more than 5000 student protesters marched largely peacefully against fees increases and cuts in services. Most kept to the agreed route, from London University in Bloomsbury to London Metropolitan University in Moorgate, which was lined by thousands of police.

Students are angry about the high fees and the cuts in education – particularly the loss of the Educational Maintenace Allowances and various cuts in service, but in the early stages of the march the protesters were in a relaxed and positive mood, many talking to and joking with the police who were accompanying them.

After the police failure to stop some student fees protesters who had stormed the Tory HQ at Millbank in 2010, the police this year were determined to control events. To do so they closed all major roads in central London for hours before the march began, making it hard for many to get to the protest. There were no buses and I had to walk two miles from London Bridge and so arrived after the march started.

I could hardly see the marchers as they came down towards me on Shaftesbury Avenue, with a line of mounted police in front, followed by several lines of police on foot. Behind them were march stewards and then the main banner, behind which was a vast crowd of students and supporters carrying placards.

The march continued but with sporadic stoppages by the police for no apparent reason. But after it had come up Strand to Aldwych a snatch squad of police ran into the centre of the march, grabbed several of the many black-clad protesters, and dragged them across to the side of the road. Many around them, including me, were roughly pushed aside and I received a painful kick in my leg from one officer.

The crowd were angered and gathered around the police for some time but were persuaded by stewards to move on. People were further angered when they heard that the group of 600 electricians had been prevented from coming to join them, and the crowd took up the chant “Free the sparks!” But most then continued along the agreed route up Fetter Lane.

Police then decided to try and stop the march in what I commented “seemed like an act of complete folly“. Slowly the marchers pushed the police back from the confines of the street to the open area of Holborn Circus. Here “proceedings reached a state of comic chaos, with senior officers shouting orders to small strings of police to stop the protesters; while they were grappling with the few within reach the rest of us simply walked through the huge gaps between these lines.” Holborn Circus was really a circus.

A large group of students then ran past the police horses on Holborn Viaduct where they had withdrawn from Holborn Circus after several riders had lost control of their horses and I ran with them. Police managed to stop the rest of the marchers on Holborn Viaduct and after a short wait people decided to continue along the agreed route to Morgate without them.

I went on to talk with the people at Occupy Finsbury Circus who were worried by the huge police presence and felt they might be evicted. I thought it unlikely as with 5000 student marchers around it would be likely to spark a riot. I left and walked across the City where major roads were still closed to traffic and remained so for some hours. Later I watched videos showing students being kettled at Moorgate and individuals being attacked by snatch squads of plain clothes police who had posed as protesters after I had left.

More at Students March Against Cuts & Fees.


National Day of Action against Universal Credit 2018

Wednesday, May 24th, 2023

National Day of Action against Universal Credit 2018
Campaigners spell out ‘stopuniversalcredit’ in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall; the ‘#’ was delaying security

Thursday 24th May 2018 was the Unite National Day of Action against Universal Credit and I photographed two of the events in London for this, a protest by a group of campaigners from Camden Unite Community at Tate Modern and a rally outside Parliament which was followed by a march to protest outside the Department of Work and Pensions. The pictures come from these events.

National Day of Action against Universal Credit 2018

Back in 2010 when the idea of Universal Credit was announced by Iain Duncan Smith it was true that the UK’s benefits system was something of a muddle, and the aim of producing a simpler system which brought six existing benefits together was probably laudable. But its implementation has been a disaster for many.

National Day of Action against Universal Credit 2018

Those six benefits had each been introduced to deal with particular needs, and though not perfect they more or less worked. Trying to fit everything into a single system has proved to be far more difficult, and many of the decisions made about how the system might work failed to take into account the circumstances in which those on low incomes actually live and the lack of supporting resources the wealthier take for granted, such as friends and family with money and bank accounts with savings.

National Day of Action against Universal Credit 2018

When announced, Iain Duncan Smith promised it would make the social security system fairer to claimants and taxpayers, but as it came into being it became clear that the main objective was to cut the cost to taxpayers and to provide what is effectively a handout to companies and organisations which employ workers on low rates of pay.

The plans for introducing UC hugely underestimated the complexities of the system, particularly as it applies to the the most precarious of workers, many of whom are now employed on zero hours contracts with no guaranteed weekly hours of work. There were huge problems with computer systems partly because of the complexity but also because of a failure to understand the problems and to properly specify what was needed.

The real motivation behind UC was made clear in 2015 when George Osborne announced a future £3.2 billion a year cut to the overall Universal Credit budget, reducing work allowances and reducing and limiting the per-child element of support. These cuts were later partly reversed by Philip Hammond.

The transition from the legacy benefits to UC has been extremely hard for many, particularly as some have had a period of up to 13 weeks before receiving their first payment under UC. Food banks have been put under great strain because of this and benefit sanctions. 60% of tenants put onto UC have been forced into arrears on their rents and many have faced eviction.Some have become desperate enough to take their own lives.

Wikipedia quotes a report that in 2018 a million working “homeowners now getting tax credits will have less with the new system and lose on average £43 a week. 600,000 working single parents will lose on average £16 per week and roughly 750,000 households on disability benefits will lose on average £75 per week. Nearly 2 in 5 households receiving benefits will be on average worse off by £52 per week.”

Universal Credit has become a mess and various small changes the successive governments have been forced into making have hardly improved it. There are some measures which could be taken to improve the situation. Large increases in the minimum wage with the aim of moving to a situation where those in work would be adequately paid and not need UC would help. Changes in employment law including the replacement of zero hours contracts by a fair flexible contract system would also make a contribution. But almost certainly the best solution would be to move to a universal basic wage.

Thursday 24th May was the Unite National Day of Action against Universal Credit and I photographed two of the events in London for this, a protest by a group of campaigners from Camden Unite Community at Tate Modern and a rally outside Parliament which was followed by a march to protest outside the Department of Work and Pensions.

More details on the protests on Thursday 24th May 2018 by campaigners at Tate Modern, the rally outside Parliament and march to protest outside the DWP on My London Diary.

Universal Credit rally & march
Universal Credit protest at Tate Modern

NHS, Shaker, Drax, Gurkhas, Herbalists & Bikes

Monday, April 24th, 2023

Wednesday 24th April 2013 was a busy day for protests in Westminster. And there was one in the City.


Protest the Privatisation of NHS – Old Palace Yard

NHS, Shaker, Drax, Gurkhas, Herbalists & Bikes

The House of Lords was debating NHS regulations which imposed full competitive tendering on the NHS, a key part in the escalating backdoor privatisation of the NHS.

Unite had set up a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ game show hosted by people wearing ‘David Cameron’ and ‘Jeremy Hunt’ masks and listing the likely costs of various procedures due to the tendering system. They feared “that the coalition’s NHS policies, including a multi billion pound funding squeeze coupled with a massive reorganisation, will destroy the 65 year old health service, paving the way for a new marketised system where paying up to £10,000 for maternity costs or £13,450 for a new hip is the norm.”

NHS, Shaker, Drax, Gurkhas, Herbalists & Bikes

Unite said that already more than £20 billion of health costs go to private companies, who take their decisions on the basis of profit rather than the interests of patients. The Lords were debating a motion for the annulment of the regulations on the grounds that Parliament had been assured “that NHS commissioners would be free to commission services in the way they consider in the best interests of NHS patients“.

Protest the Privatisation of NHS


Bring Shaker Aamer Home – Parliament Square

NHS, Shaker, Drax, Gurkhas, Herbalists & Bikes

Following a petition with 117,387 signatures to bring Shaker Aamer home from Guantanamo, a debate had been held that morning by MPs in Westminster Hall, where most of the 17 MPs who spoke called for his release, including Shaker’s own MP, the Conservative MP for Battersea, Jane Ellison, who also came out to speak with the protesters.

NHS, Shaker, Drax, Gurkhas, Herbalists & Bikes

Unfortunately such debates, although they do increase pressure on the government to take action have no actual consequences. But perhaps it did help to persuade the government that it had to ignore the embarrassment of British agents at being complicit in his torture by the US and make clear to the US government he should at last be released after being held for 12 years, long after he had been cleared of any involvement in terrorism. As I noted, “The facts about torture are now largely public and totally indefensible and it is time for justice to be done.”

Bring Shaker Aamer Home


Drax Biomass Threat to our Planet – Princes St, CityDrax AGM, wpp

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett speaking at the protest

I had to take the tube to the City to attend a protest outside Gocer’s Hall where the AGM of Drax, the huge coal-burning power station near Selby in Yorkshire was being held. Drax was planning to convert half its capacity to bio-mass and become the largest biomass-burning power station in the world, using 1.5 times the total UK wood production per year.

The wood pellets would come mainly from devastating clear-cutting of highly diverse forests in North America, and although re-grown will eventually remove the same amount of carbon this will take a hundred years or more – during which time the carbon Drax emits – roughly 50% greater than burning coal – will be contributing to disastrous global warming.

Drax already has a disastrous impact in South America were land is being grabbed from traditional communities for open cast coal mining, usually with complete disregard for their human and civil rights, cleared of its biodiverse forests and diverted from food production – often in places where food is desperately needed. Conversion to wood-burning at Drax will result in even more environmental and social destruction.

The incentive to change to wood-burning is that under current government policies Drax will receive huge government subsidies from funds intended to promote renewable energy, diverting funds from schemes for energy production and conservation that actually will help to combat climate change.

Drax Biomass Threat to our Planet


Gurkhas Call for equal treatment – Old Palace Yard

I returned to Westminster, where Several hundred Gurkha pensioners and supporters were holding a rally on the 198th anniversary of the first recruitment of Gurkhas into the British Army to deliver a petition to David Cameron asking for equal treatment to other British Army ex-soldiers.

British Army Gurkhas who retired before 1997 were granted the right to settle in the UK in 2009, but their pension remains only a fifth of that of other British soldiers, and is impossible to live on in the UK, being based on the cost of living in Nepal.

Gurkhas Call for equal treatment


UK herbalists Want Regulations – Old Palace Yard

Also in Old Palace Yard were UK herbalists, both traditional and Chinese, protesting against the failure of the government to bring in the statutory regulations they had promised to do by 2012.

Under EU regulations from 2004, traditional remedies then in use could continue to be provided until 2011, but after that had to be covered by national policies to regulate their safety and effectiveness. Although the government had promised to set this up, it has so far failed to do so, and they are now unable to prescribe many commonly used and effective common herbal remedies.

UK herbalists Want Regulations


Get Britain Cycling Report Launch – Parliament Square

Finally, in Parliament Square, Christ Boardman, a gold medal cylist in the Barcelona Olympics posed with MPs from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group to launch their report ‘Get Britain Cycling.’

This calls for more to be spent on supporting cycling and that it should be considered in all planning decisions. They want more segregated cycle lanes and for the 30mp urban speed limit to by reduced to 20mph. Children should be taught to ride a bike at school and the government should produce and annually report on a cross-departmental Cycling Action Plan. Cycling has enormous advantages both individually and for us all in better health and reducing pollution with reduced health spending.

Get Britain Cycling Report Launch


Ford/Visteon, Ethiopian Tyrant, Rioters United!

Friday, March 31st, 2023

On Wednesday 31st March 2010 I reported on three unrelated protests in London.


Ford/Visteon Workers March For Pension Justice

Ford/Visteon, Ethiopian Tyrant, Rioters United!

In 2000 Ford when split of some of its parts factories to Visteon, a company described as ‘An Enterprise of Ford Motor Company’ and initially with the same shareholders, promising the workers their conditions and pensions would remain exactly the same as they had been with Ford. Ford’s assurances were repeated by Visteon.

Ford/Visteon, Ethiopian Tyrant, Rioters United!

But in 2009 Visteon closed down and workers in their factories in Belfast, Enfield, Swansea and Basildon were given just six minutes to leave the sites. In Belfast and Enfield workers refused and occupied the sites for a month, but were let down by their union, Unite who failed to give them support. The occupations eventually forced Visteon/Ford to pay the redundancy pay they were entitled to under their agreements, but pensions were not covered and they only received the lesser amounts covered by Pension Protection Fund compensation.

Ford/Visteon, Ethiopian Tyrant, Rioters United!

Since then their fight for the pensions they were promised has continued. I met around 500 former Visteon workers outside the Unite Offices in Theobalds Road, Holborn, where many wore hats and t-shirts with the Ford logo, but with the name replaced by the word ‘Fraud’, which succinctly expressed their view of the company’s action.

Ford/Visteon, Ethiopian Tyrant, Rioters United!

I marched with them to Downing Street where they had problems in delivering a letter and petition. As I commented then: “it does now seem unnecessarily complicated and difficult to get access to our elected government, hiding away behind their tall gates and high security. Its both an expression of and doubtless fuels their paranoia over terrorism far in excess of the real threat.

The marchers then went on to a rally in Parliament Square.

Their fight for a fair deal over their pensions went on for another four years, when eventually as the case was about to go to the High Court, Ford agreed to top up the Pension Protection Fund compensation so that they would receive the full value of benefits accrued when working for Ford. It didn’t cover the nine years they had worked for Visteon, but Unite recommended acceptance as it would settle the claim without the expense (and possible failure) of a court hearing.

Ford/Visteon March For Pension Justice


Ethiopians Protest Bloodthirsty Tyrant – Downing St

Ethiopians came from across the UK to for a day of demonstration opposite Downing St where Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was co-chairing the UN climate finance group. They demanded the UK stop appeasing the Ethiopian dictator, and calling for the release of opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa and other political prisoners in Ethiopia.

Zenawi who became chair of one of the leading military groups fighting in the Ethiopian Civil War was the leader of a coalition that took power in 1991, becoming President then and was Prime Minister from 1995 until is death in 2012. His control of the military made Ethiopia an effective one-party state.

Although the country formally has democratic organisation and elections, elections have been rigged and oppostion politicians jailed, notably the leader of the main opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party, Mideksa (or Midekssa), a former judge. Many other politicians and journalists have also been jailed and in 2007 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named the country as “the world’s worst backslider on press freedom over the previous five years.”

Human rights violations and corruption are rife in Ethiopia, and food aid, education and jobs all depend on membership of the ruling party. His opponents regard Zenawi as a bloodthirsty tyrant and call for him to be brought to trial at the ICC at The Hague on charges of genocide. Human Rights Watch (HRW) have accused it of war crimes in the Somali regions of Ethiopia and against the Anauk communities in Gambella in 2003-4. Human rights abuses have continued in Ethiopia since Zenawi’s death.

Ethiopia is one of the larger countries in Africa and has received large amounts of development aid and humanitarian support from the USA and the UK.

Ethiopians Protest Bloodthirsty Tyrant


Rioters United! 20 Years Since the Poll Tax Riots – Trafalgar Square,

The largest protest against Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax was in central London on Saturday 31 March 1990, shortly before the tax was due to come into force. Unfortunately I had missed that event, probably deciding it was best to keep out of trouble. Back in 1990 I was photographing relatively few protests, mainly concentrating on urban landscapes and culture.

Around 30 people turned up for a rally to commemorate the occasion when “the London mob who brought Thatcher down … as well as to promise that the mob were still in business and to pronounce sentence on politicians.”

The ‘Carnival of Death‘ they were promising was not of course a literal death threat, but street theatre in which the effigies of George Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Nick Griffin were to be executed at a May Day Party. As Chris Knight reminded the gathering, “the only good politician, the only honest politician is a dead politician.”

Our police often fail to understand the difference between rhetoric and reality, and protests involving anarchist groups such as Class War are often ridiculously over-policed, sometimes with disastrous consequences, but almost always provoking more violence than they prevent. On April 1st 2009 for the G20 – Financial Fools Day they had turned up with squads of riot police psyched up to batter largely innocent and joyful protesters – and one of the police killed a newspaper seller simply walking home through the area.

So in my account of this event in Trafalgar Square I was at pains to tell them that the ‘Carnival Of Death’ was “called a carnival; if you want to take part, come ready to dance.”

Shortly after people began the commemoration, a PCSO came to tell those taking part they were not allowed to hold protests or other events in Trafalgar Square without permission. When he was laughed at, he brought over a Heritage Warden who told us the Square was the property of the GLA (Greater London Authority), and that permission was needed for events.

Fine” said those present. “The GLA is a public body; we own it, this is a public place and we give ourselves permission and intend to continue.” As I pointed out in my account, Trafalgar Square is not just a public place, but one that since its building in the 1830s has been a traditional place for demonstrating radical dissent. It was a tradition that those present were determined to continue.

Fortunately the dozen or so police who arrived shortly after the PCSO had phoned to call for reinforcement simply stood and watched and had enough sense not to try and stop the commemoration, which ended after around 30 minutes when the organisers decided it was time to go down the pub.

At the end of the event, copies of an anti-Election manifesto and a suitably defaced poster showing the leaders of the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and BNP leaders were distributed by the Whitechapel Anarchist Group. They advised us to “Use your cross wisely”, under a picture of the four leaders in the cross-hairs of a gun sight, and attached to the bottom was a ‘Free Gift’ – a safety match, with the message ” Burn Your Ballot”.

As they wrote: “It’s time to end the unjust, corrupt system of terror and build a fair, equal society that will benefit the majority. We all know voting doesn’t change anything and our collective apathy allows this folly to continue. It’s time for REAL change. It’s time for revolution.”

Rioters United! celebrate Poll Tax Riots


Hospital Law Change, Living Wage Protest

Saturday, March 11th, 2023

On Tuesday 11th March 2014 I attended two protests, the first at Parliament against a change in the law on closing hospitals, and the second calling for a living wage for cleaners at Chelsea College.

Stop Hospital Killer Clause 119 – Parliament

Hospital Law Change, Living Wage Protest

Unite, GMB, the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and other hospital protest groups protested outside Parliament against Clause 119 inserted to change the law over hospital closures into the Care Bill, which was having its third reading in the House of Commons.

Hospital Law Change, Living Wage Protest

In 2014 the High Court ruled that health minister Jeremy Hunt had acted illegally in proposing a downgrading of maternity and A&E services at Lewisham hospital because the neighbouring Queen Elizabeth Hospital Woolwich was going bust.

Hospital Law Change, Living Wage Protest

So Jeremy Hunt decided to change the law, and inserted Clause 119 into the Care Bill to give the special administrators overseeing an English NHS Trust in financial difficulties powers to close, merge or alter the services at any other hospital to balance the books without any proper consultation or regard to the social and health effects.

It was a measure which went entirely against the whole idea that local people and local GPs would be in control of health services in their own areas, something which had been stated to be at the centre of Tory/Coalition health policies. The local commissioning groups it says will be at the centre of local health provision will have absolutely no say over what happens to the services that they commission when this clause is invoked.

Though many saw these local groups rather as ways to make the continuing process of passing the NHS over to private companies easier than providing any real local control.

Clause 119 was a panic measure drafted in a fit of pique after Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was defeated in his attempts to raid the thriving Lewisham Hospital to meet the huge PFI debts of some other hospitals in South East London. The attempt to close Lewisham with the deterioration in services for the people in the area provides a clear and obvious example of why actions of this kind should remain illegal.

Lewisham’s closures were stopped by powerful local opposition which brought doctors, local councils, Millwall Football Club and the whole local community out onto the streets – and also making donations to enable Hunt to be taken to the courts. And taken again to fight his unsuccessful appeal against the original decision.

The protest on 11th March 2014 began with a period of silence to mark the death early that day of RMT General Secretary Bob Crow. Speakers at the rally included a member of the Shadow health team, other MPs, consultant Jackie Davis of the National Health Action party, Rachael Maskell, Unite Head of Health, and several NHS activists including Jill from Lewisham and Sandra from Charing Cross.

Stop Hospital Killer Clause 119


Pay UAL Cleaners a Living Wage – Chelsea College of Art

A short walk down Millbank, just past Tate Britain, took me to UAL Chelsea College of Arts where GMB and the University of the Arts Students’ Union were calling on the College to ensure that their cleaners, employed by Bouygues Energy & Services, are paid the London Living Wage.

The cleaners were then being paid on the national minimum wage, which for those over 21 was £6.31, less than three-quarters of the London Living Wage, calculated annually by the Greater London Authority, then £8.80 per hour.

The protesters went to call on Vice-Chancellor Nigel Carrington, who after a few minutes came out to talk with them. He told them he thought that they had some good points, but that he did not employ the cleaners and could not grant them the living wage. He also said that he cleaners were paid more then there would be less money to spend on other things, including the student courses and provision.

The protesters responded that many organisations insist that contractors pay the living wage to all employees, and that contracting out of services is simply a way to exploit employees – paying lower rates and giving them worse conditions of employment – while keeping the institutions hands clean.

They were told they could go in to the staff forum meeting so long as they put down their banners, placards and megaphones, and the students decided to do so. The rest of us left.

Pay UAL Cleaners a Living Wage


Prisoners in Iraq, Ireland & Egypt & Atos Day of Action

Sunday, February 19th, 2023

Wednesday 19th February 2014 saw me travelling around London for protests calling for the release of political prisoners in Iraq, Ireland and Egypt before a protest at Atos’s offices led by DPAC.


Solidarity vigil for Shawki Ahmed Omar – Elvaston Place

Prisoners in Iraq, Ireland & Egypt & Atos Day of Action

The vigil outside the Iraqi consulate in Kensington was a small one, with only four people taking part while I was there, though a few more were expected later.

Prisoners in Iraq, Ireland & Egypt & Atos Day of Action

Shawki Ahmed Omar, an American citizen held and tortured in Iraq by US and Iraqis since his arrest in 2004, was then held in Abu Ghraib. Arrested by US soldiers while on a business trip he was held by the US in Iraq and tortured but never charged. Later in 2010 he was sentenced to 15 years in jail after a trial where he was unable to defend or even properly identify himself as the US had refused to hand him back his passport. When they left Iraq and handed him over to the Iraqis, who tortured him more.

His treatment has been described by former Attorney General of the United States Ramsey Clark as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in recent United States history. It is a case where the US government essentially lied to the US Supreme Court to cover up torture and to be able to turn an American citizen over to people who they knew would torture him.

I had previously met Omar’s wife and daughter – who has never seen her father – on some of their series of protests outside the US Embassy. So far as I am aware he is now still in prison in Iraq.

Solidarity vigil for Shawki Ahmed Omar


Free Margaretta D’Arcy picket – Irish Embassy

Prisoners in Iraq, Ireland & Egypt & Atos Day of Action

My next stop was at the Irish Embassy, a short walk from Hyde Park Corner. It was the third picket there to demand the immediate release of Margaretta D’Arcy, imprisoned for protesting against illegal US flights from Shannon Airport, and now in Mountjoy Women’s Prison, Dublin.

D’Arcy, a long-term peace campaigner, member of the Committee of 100 and Greenham Common veteran and writer, actress, playwright and film director, was then 79 and suffering from cancer and arthritis. Two years earlier she had been arrested and imprisoned for lying down on the runway at Shannon in a peaceful direct action by members of Galway Alliance Against War. They were protesting the violation of Irish neutrality by US military flights using the airport.

Prisoners in Iraq, Ireland & Egypt & Atos Day of Action

She was again imprisoned in 2014 after she refused to sign a bond not to trespass again on the airport property in further protests against the US flights. She was released on 22nd March, but later imprisoned again and released in July 2014.

Free Margaretta D’Arcy picket


NUJ demands Egypt release jailed journalists – Egyptian Embassy

Prisoners in Iraq, Ireland & Egypt & Atos Day of Action

A few minutes walk took me into Mayfair and to a protest organised by my own union, the National Union of Journalists, calling for press freedom in Egypt and the release of all jailed journalists, including the four Al Jazeera journalists.

One of these had been in prison for 6 months, but the other three were arrested on 29th December 2013 and were among 20 journalists charged at the end of January with a string of offences including being a “member of a terrorist organization, disturbing public peace, instilling terror, harming the general interests of the country, possessing broadcast equipment without permit, possessing and disseminating images contrary to the truth.

The NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet and Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn took a letter up the steps to the main door of the embassy for a photograph but then had to walk to a less impressive neighbouring door to actually deliver it.

This was one of a number of protests organised by journalists in cities around the world. Some of those present had their mouths gagged with tape. The journalists were only finally released in 2015. Wikipedia has more on the case.

Reporters Without Borders now report “Egypt is one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists. The hopes for freedom that sprang from the 2011 revolution now seem distant.” They say that 24 journalists are currently held there in jail.

NUJ demands Egypt release jailed journalists


Atos National Day of Action – Triton Square

Paula Peters of DPAC

Finally I made my way to Triton Square, just north of the Euston Road, close to Warren Street station.

Dennis Skinner MP speaking

A day of action there at the London HQ of Triton was a part of a day of action with protests at each of the 144 ATOS assessment centres around the country. The protesters called for the company to lose its contracts to carry out the tests and to be prosecuted for the way they had been handled, and for the resignation of the minister concerned, Iain Duncan Smith.

Among the many groups supporting the nationwide day of action were Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Black Triangle, Atos Miracles, the Green Party, NUS, Occupy New Network, PCS and Unite.

The tests, based on tick boxes on a computer form had been widely discredited with a report commissioned by the government pointing out serious flaws. They fail to take account of the complex and differing natures of illnesses and their individual effects and are particularly poor with the assessment of mental illness.

Many of those found ‘fit to work’ have been obviously completely unable to do so – with over ten thousand in the last year for which figures were released dying within six weeks. The government reaction to the adverse publicity after these figures for 2011 were released was simply to stop issuing figures for later years. These numbers include some who committed suicide after being unfairly assessed by Atos.

The Atos administered tests take no account of proper medical evidence. The protesters call for the assessments to be made by qualified medical doctors, ideally by “the GP who regularly sees and treats the sick or disabled individual in question” who they say “is the only person able to decide if an individual is fit for work.”

At the end of the long protest, those remaining moved to the wider square in view of the Euston Road and released yellow balloons in memory of those who have taken their lives because of ATOS unfairly refused them support as Paula Peters of DPAC read a poem about the deaths.

Much more about the protest at Atos National Day of Action on My London Diary – and, as always, more pictures.


Coal Drops, Libraries and Housing – 2018

Thursday, November 3rd, 2022

On Saturday 3rd Novemeber I got to London earlier than anticipate and had time for a little walk before photographing the first protest I had come to cover, over the cuts to public libraries. Later I went to photograph another protest about the plans to demolish many London council estates under so-called ‘regeneration’ plans which involve demolition and rebuilding by developers with little social housing.


Euston to Kings Cross Coal Drops – Sat 3 Nov 2018

Problems on my railway journeys into London are rather common, often involving considerable delays. Last weekend a replacement bus for part of the way meant that my usually slow journey scheduled to take 35 minutes to travel 20 miles instead took an hour and a half. But on Saturday 23rd November 2018, there was something of a miracle. When I arrived at the station a train which should have arrived half an hour earlier was just pulling in and an announcement told me it would be running non-stop to Waterloo.

Where possible I like to arrive at events perhaps 10 or 15 minutes before the advertised start time make sure I don’t miss anything. Travelling across London is often a little unpredictable, with odd holdups so I usually allow plenty of time. I’d arrived at my station a few minutes early, and with the non-stop service got me to Waterloo around 25 minutes before I expected. The normal timetable schedule gives a 5 or 10 minutes slack to make it less likely that train operating company has to pay fines for late running, and without stops the journey is significantly faster. Together with an Underground train that came as I walked onto the platform I arrived at Euston with around three quarters of an hour to spare.

This gave me time for a walk to the newly opened retail development in the former King’s Cross coal drops. I’d photographed the disused coal drops many years earlier, taking pictures of the demolished bridges across the Regents Canal and the still standing drops on the north side where coal brought from the North in railway goods waggons was transferred into carts for delivery across London. At first the waggons were lifted and tipped, later waggons had opening doors in their bottoms to dischage directly in the waiting carts and lorries.

My walk also took me through Somers Town, which has some of inner London’s more interesting social housing and past the new Francis Crick Institute before reaching the canal and a new walkway to Coal Drops Yard and Granary Square, and gave some views of the gasholders relocated across the canal from Kings Cross, some of which are now filled with flats. I made my way back with just enough time to visit the toilets in St Pancras Station before going to the meeting point for the Library protest at the rear of the British Library in Midland Road.

Euston to Kings Cross Coal Drops


Save Our Libraries march – British Library, Sat 3 Nov 2018

The march and rally against cuts in library services, which are a vital part of our cultural services, especially for working class schoolchildren and young people was organised by Unison and supported by PCS and Unite, but they seem to have done very little publicity and the numbers were far fewer than expected.

Unfortunately the march clashed with another event I wanted to cover and I had to leave a few minutes before it was due to start. Perhaps more joined the protest for the rally at the end of the march outside Parliament.

Save Our Libraries march


No Demolitions Without Permission – City Hall, London. Sat 3 Nov 2018

‘Axe the Housing Act’ had called a protest to demand an end to the demolition of council estates unless these were approved by a ballot of all residents, and for public land to be used to build more council homes rather than being turned over to developers to make huge profits from high-priced flats.

Most of those who came were from London council estates under threat of demolition by Labour London councils and speaker after speaker from estate after estate got up and spoke about the lies, evasions and often illegal activities of London Labour councils bent on demolishing their council estates.

Green Party co-leader and London Assembly’s Housing Committee chair Sian Berry

Instead of looking after their working class populations Labour councils are time and time again forcing through demolition of council estates, enabling developers to make huge profits by building flats for sale largely at market rent, with a small proportion of high rent ‘affordable’ homes and a miserably small number of homes at social rent, promoting schemes which cut by thousands the number of council homes.

Tanya Murat, Chair of Southwark Defend Council Housing

Although a new policy was about to come in to insist their should be residents ballots, London Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan had responded to this by fast-tracking 34 demolition schemes by Labour councils before it was implemented. He allowed some schemes to go forward without a ballot, and had failed to insist that all residents were allowed to take part in such ballots.

Former Lambeth Council leader and veteran Labour politician Ted Knight

Among the groups taking part in the rally were Class War and the Revolutionary Communist Group, both very much involved in campaigns across the capital on housing, and among the most effective at raising the issues involved in London’s housing. For some reason the rally organisers would not allow representatives of either of these to speak at the event, which led to a loud confrontation when Labour supporter Ted Knight came to speak. More below on this.

At the end of the rally people marched around City Hall with their banners.

No Demolitions Without Permission.


Class War protest Labour Housing record – City Hall, Sat 3 Nov 2018

Whitechapel anarchist Martin Wright

Although Class War supporters were one of the larger groups taking part in the ‘No Demolitions Without Permission’ rally at City Hall they and others were denied any opportunity to speak as a part of the official rally.

Class War have been the most active group in supporting and raising the profile of campaigns in London against estate demolition mainly by London Labour councils who are responsible for the great bulk of estate sell-offs and demolition involving over 160 council estates – social cleansing on a massive scale. Among those protesting at the rally with Class War was Leigh Miller, recently illegally evicted from Gallions Point Marina under orders from the Labour Mayor of London.

Leigh Miller, recently illegally evicted from Gallions Point Marina and Lisa McKenzie hold the banner high

It was no surprise that when a prominent Labour politician got up to speak, Class War erupted, shouting him down to make clear that it was Labour who was responsible for estate demolitions. It was perhaps unfair on Ted Knight, a former Lambeth Labour leader who together with other councillors defied Thatcher and was surcharged and banned from holding public office for 5 years.

Ted Knight (right) and Martin Wright (left) shout at each other

Knight has supported Central Hill Estate residents in their fight against Lambeth Council’s plans for demolition, singing from much the same hymn sheet as Class War on housing issues. As Lambeth council’s leader he was clear that “Nothing is too good for the working classes” and estates such as Central Hill reflect this. And there was a little of old scores in the verbal attack on him by Whitechapel anarchist Martin Wright.

Finally at the end of the rally, Leigh Miller did get a chance to speak.

As a number of those estate residents allowed to speak at the rally pointed out, homes will only be saved if people become more militant and engage in the kind of direct actions which Class War advocates – and not by rallies like today’s outside a closed City Hall.

Class War stood to one side at the end of the rally when most of the rest taking part marched around the empty offices, they were calling for a rather different revolution.

Class War protest Labour Housing record


Police & Public Sector March, 4,000 Days

Tuesday, May 10th, 2022

PPolice & Public Sector March, 4,000 Days of the Parliament Square Peace Campaign approaches – some of my pictures from Thursday 10th May 2012.


Police March Against Cuts and Winsor – Westminster

Occupy supporters in plastic helmets joined the police march

An estimated 20,000 police from all 43 forces in England & Wales marched through central London in protest at 20% cuts in police budget and proposed restructuring following the Winsor review. Occupy, Right To Protest and others joined in to protest for justice in policing.

Police are not allowed to strike or belong to a proper trade union, but the Police Federation can organise demonstrations like this when thousands of off-duty police, some with family members made a impressively large if rather dull protest past the Home Office, the Houses of Parliament and Downing St. Most wore one of the 16,000 black caps produced for the protest, the number of officers expected to be lost over the next four years as the police budget is cut by 20-30%.

Police officers attempt to intimidate the Space Hijackers

Like other public sector workers, police had suffered a two year wage freeze, as well as increases in pension contributions and many have also had large cuts in overtime. As well as those protesting, police were also on duty controlling the protest, though it was unlikely to get out of hand. But there were others as well as police, including the Space Hijackers who had a stall giving advice on how to protest, and also Occupy protesters who were calling for “a fully, Publicly funded, democratically accountable Police force who’s aims and objectives enshrine the right to peaceful Protest in some sort of People’s Charter!

Others were there to protest against various aspects of police corruption and faced some aggravation from the officers on duty as well as some protesters. The Defend The Right To Protest group reminded police marchers of Alfie Meadows, Sean Rigg, Ian Tomlinson, Jean Charles de Menezes and many others killed or seriously injured by police officers. Officers on duty made some attempts to intimidate some of the non-police protesters – and also photographers covering the event.

More at Police March Against Cuts and Winsor


Public Sector Pensions Strike and March – St Thomas’ Hospital to Westminster

Public sector workers in Unite, PCS and UCU were on a one-day strike against cuts in pensions, jobs and services, and picketed workplaces and marched from a rally at St Thomas’ Hospital across Westminster Bridge to Methodist Central Hall for a further rally.

PCS picket at Tate Britain

Some of the pickets had begun at 5am, and a few were still in place as I walked past workplaces in Westminster – including the Houses of Parliament to meet the marchers coming over Westminster Bridge.

As they marched, many chanted “Sixty-eight – is TOO Late”, as retirement age is set to increase to 68 and beyond, while retirement contributions are increasing. They are also losing out because the government has decided to index pensions to the lower CPI inflation figures which mans they get around 15-20% less. Over 94% of Unite’s NHS members voted to reject the government’s proposals and take strike action today along with members from the Ministry of Defence and government departments as well as others from the PCS and UCU.

More on My London Diary at Public Sector Pensions Strike and March.


4000 Days in Parliament Square – Parliament Square Peace Campaign

Brian Haw came to Parliament Square to begin his protest there on the 2nd June 2001, and the Parliament Square Peace Campaign he started had been there for almost 4,000 days, with a presence night and day, 24 hours a day since then.

Barbara Tucker

After Brian’s death from cancer the protest was continued by Barbara Tucker and other supporters who have maintained the protest on those various occasions when Brian or Barbara was arrested and held overnight. Over the years the campaign has been subjected to frequent illegal harassment by police officers, Westminster Council officials and thinly disguised members of the security service, and laws have been enacted intended to bring the protest to an end.

A few hours before I arrived, police had come and spent 90 minutes “searching” the few square meters of their display in the early morning, and three days later, at 2.30am on Sunday 13 May, police and Westminster Council came and took away the two blankets that Barbara Tucker, no longer allowed to have any “structure designed solely or mainly to sleep in” by law was using to survive in the open. Clearly a blanket is not a structure, and police and council have also removed other items of property. Later her umbrella was also taken away. Barbara’s health deteriorated and she eventually had to leave the square, and the protest finally ended early in May 2013.

4000 Days in Parliament Square


Sparks and Students – 10 Years Ago

Tuesday, November 9th, 2021

Police surround a grass roots rally before the main Union rally by electricians at the Shard


Ten years ago today on 9th November 2011 my work began at The Shard next to London Bridge, where ‘sparks’ (electricians) were protesting over plans by 7 major employers to tear up national agreements and impose worse conditions and pay cuts of at least 26 %.

Electricians listen to Unite union speakers

Before the official rally by the Unite union where speakers included several of the union’s leading officials as well as General Secretary of Unite Len McCluskey there was a separate rally with grass roots speakers. Numbers grew as the official rally began and there were over a thousand when it set off to march to another rally at Blackfriars.

I left the march on Borough High St and headed north over the river to join a large march by student protesters against fees increases and cuts in services. Police had shut down most of central London before this started and there were no buses running and I had to walk around two miles to meet the marchers.

Students were angry about the cuts, particularly about the loss of the Educational Maintenace Allowances but the policing seemed completely excessive. I wrote: “There were perhaps 5000 students, but as the march approached me coming down Shaftesbury Avenue they were largely hidden by the police, with a row of mounted officers leading, followed by several further rows of police in front of the marchers. More police walked along each side of the march, and others stood on the pavement, with lines blocking side roads and others in the doorways of offices, banks and some shops.”

The mood of the marchers seemed to me to be rather cheerful and relaxed, and this was reflected in the humour in many of the posters. Although there were a number of provocative actions by police – including a snatch squad rushing in to grab several marchers – which injured me and some other marchers, as well as various occasions on which they slowed or halted the march, eventually bringing it to a complete stop and ‘kettling’ it in Holborn, which caused it to get a little heated.

Marchers chant “Free the Sparks”

The protesters had been angered to hear that six hundred electricians who had tried to cross the river after their rally in Blackfriars to join the student protest had been stopped at Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge.

The police seemed to get completely disorganised at this point and I was able to walk past a police line along with several hundred of the protesters while the officers grappled with a few holding them back before more police arrived. After waiting for some time in the hope that others would join them, they continued the march to its intended destination at the Moorgate building of London Metropolitan University where they danced to the sound of a bicycle-hauled sound system while I walked a little further to Finsbury Square where Occupy London had been camping since 21st October.

People in Finsbury Square were worried that the the 4000 police officers in London from the march would turn their attention to trying to evict them. I told them it was unlikely they would make an attempt with so many students on the street. Later I saw videos of students being kettled at Moorgate and individuals being attacked by snatch squads of plain clothes police who had posed as protesters but there was no action against Occupy London.

The huge policing of the two marches was clearly a reaction to the criticism of their failures at Millbank and Tottenham, but it came at a considerable cost, bringing movement in much of central London more or less to a halt for most of the day. Much of the City was still closed as I walked along Old Street with traffic outside the area moving at rather less than walking speed. Policing by consent has to involve letting peaceful protest continue and here was clearly an attempt to prevent it.

Students March Against Cuts & Fees
Sparks At The Shard

Deaf & Disabled March & a Harvest Festival

Sunday, September 26th, 2021

Saturday 26th September 2015 wasn’t one of my busiest Saturdays, but the two events I photographed were very different, and took place some distance apart. The first was in the centre of London, at Westminster and was a protest over the discrimination by the Tory government against disabled people.

It was clear from the start of the coalition government that came to power in 2010 that the Tories were out to target the disabled, and that they saw them and the benefits they were getting as a drain on our taxes they were keen to diminish. They declared that cuts in government spending were essential, blaming the previous New Labour government for the results of the world-wide banking crash which in reality was caused by the exploitation of an unstable system by greedy bankers and using this as an excuse for largely counter-productive austerity.

Looking at ways to make cuts, they picked on the disabled as they thought they would be an easy target and could bring large savings. But the disabled have turned out far more resilient than they expected, with groups like Disabled People Against Cuts turning out to be formidable opponents and getting considerable public support.

This particular protest was over the the cutting of the DWP’s Access to Work scheme which enables disabled people to work on an equal basis to non-disabled people. They want to work and have careers and to make a contribution to society, but cutting this essential support will prevent them doing so. And as the protesters pointed out, every £1 spent on Access to Work results in a return of £1.48.

Local resident Christine Taylor of Stop Heathrow Expansion points at the Heathrow plan

A long tube journey, changing to go almost to the edge of London on the Piccadilly line and then catch a bus to Sipson took me to Grow Heathrow in Sipson. It was a reminder that although London once led the world with its Underground system, it has failed to keep up with the times and now so many other cities have more modern and faster systems. When I first went to Paris we used to laugh at the quaint Metro clattering slowly and noisily around under the city, but now Parisians used to the RER must enjoy at least a little smile at our creaking system – and perhaps gloat that some of their system is now financed by the profits from Londoners using RATP run buses. Germans too profit as DB Arriva run the Overground as well as buses as well as three rail franchises.

Grow Heathrow was celebrating another harvest at their occupied nursery site with ‘music, pumpkins and pizza’ as well as an open ‘No Third Runway!’ discussion. They had squatted the derelict site in 2010 and five years later were still resisiting eviction with their court case then adjourned until the following summer. Half the site was evicted in 2019 but the rest continued until the final eviction in March 2021.

I was late (thanks to that slow journey) for the start of the discussion on Heathrow, but got there in time to hear much of it and take pictures – and as a fairly local long-term resident to make a very small contribution to the debate led by John Stewart of HACAN and other campaigners including Christine Taylor of Stop Heathrow Expansion and Sheila Menon of Plane Stupid. I grew up under the flightpath a couple of miles from touchdown and have lived the last 47 years a similar distance from the airport. Established by deception it has long been clear the airport is in the wrong place, and now even clearer that we can’t continue expanding air transport if we want to avoid climate catastrophe.

It is hard to take the government’s environmental policies seriously when they continue to support the expansion of air travel and transport and plans for another runway at Heathrow. We should be looking urgently at ways to cut our dependence on air freight and reduce travel, as well as ways to reduce the carbon emissions involved in the lower amount that will continue. This is one of the government policies that seriously undermines its national and international credibility at the forthcoming COP26 climate talks.

Grow Heathrow showed how people could live in different ways and evolve stronger communities and more democratic systems, although few would want to live as ‘off-grid’ in the rather spartan conditions of the residents here. But although we might not all want to make our own charcoal, nor go back to running vehicles on it, producing biochar is one of the few practical methods currently feasible of carbon capture and storage.

Grow Heathrow celebrates Harvest Festival
Deaf & Disabled Access to Work protest


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.