Surround Harmondsworth - end immigration detention

Harmondsworth Immigration Detention Centre. Sat 11 Jun 2015

After protesting outside the Harmondsworth prison, the MfJ moved on to the footpath by Colnbrook
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Movement for Justice protested at Europe's largest detention centre complex which holds many on Fast-Track, now found unlawful by the High Court. It called for all such centres to be shut, and Fast-Track and scapegoating of immigrants to end.

The complex containing both Harmondsworth and Colnbrook immigratin detention centres is now know as the Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre, a title which clearly indicates the government's intention not to properly investigate asylum claims but to simply deport those making them as fast as they can. Although the 'fast track' system, designed to make it impossible for people to properly fight their case to stay has now been declared illegal, those held in the centre are still under threat of being bundled onto a plane without a proper chance to present their case.

After meeting at the entrance to the site on the Bath Road, protesters marched to the pen outside the Harmondsworth adminstration block for a noisy protest. Phone calls to residents inside told the protesters that they could be heard in the prison and that the detainees were uplifted by knowing that people outside knew they were being held and cared about them.

Several of those inside spoke about their ill-treatment, with their phone calls being relayed to the protesters by holding the phone speaker to the megaphone. There were also speeches by a number of people who had been held inside this and other immigration prisons, encouraging those inside to keep fighting for justice.

After a lengthy protest outside the Harmondsworth prison, the protesters marched off along the Bath Road to the public footpath that runs alongside the high security Colnbrook immigration prison. They stopped in a cornfield adjoining the prison where they could hear the shouts from those inside for "Freedom Now" and "End Detention". Again contact was established over mobile phones and those inside and protesting outside where able to share their thoughts and to take part in chanting together.
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Al Quds Day march

Portland Place to US Embassy, London. Fri 10 Jul 2015

Protesters line up behind the BBC ready for the march
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The annual Al Quds Day march on the last Friday of Ramadan, organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission gathered close to BBC Broadcasting House, marching from there to a rally at the US Embassy, calling for justice and freedom for Palestine.

Several thousand came to the back of Broadcasting House for the start of the march, mainly Muslim, but with a few maingly Jewish supporters from the British left and a group of ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta anti-zionist Jews.

The IHRC receives support from the Iranian regime, and the celebration of Al Quds Day on the last Friday of Ramadan was introduced by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran 1979 and spread from there to other countries. The roots of the event are quite clear with a large banner carrying a quotation from Khomeini, although support for Iran was less marked than in previous years, and I only saw one protester carrying a photograph of Khomeini.

Most of the banners and placards and the chanting on the march were calling for freedom for Palestine, and there were many placards against Israeli violence in Gaza and the West Bank, and calling for a boycott of Israel, a movement which seems to be growing in strength.

There were too a few - very few - Hezbollah flags and people wearing badges showing their support. The Neturei Karta had their anti-Zionist placards, with their message that 'Authentic Jewry Always Opposed Zionism And the State of "Israel"', but I found no evidence for anti-semitism, which opponents of the march always charge it with.

Among the groups supporting the march are many organisations involved with Palestine, including the Ahlulbayt Islamic Mission, Friends of Al Aqsa, Friends of Lebanon, Innovative Minds, Islamic Centre of England, Islamic Students Association, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, Lebanese Community UK, Muslim Association of Britain, Muslim Council of Britain, Muslim Directory, Neturei Karta International, Scottish PSC, Sons of Malcolm, Passion Islam, Stop the War Coalition and UK Islamic Mission.

I left the march as it turned off Regent St to make its way through Mayfair to a rally at the US Embassy.
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IWGB protest at Royal College of Music

Kensington, London. Fri 10 Jul 2015

Jason Moyer-Lee and Alberto Durango of the IWGB blow horns outside the Royal College of Music

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The IWGB union protested noisly at the Royal College of Music after it failed to respond to their offer of negotiations to acheive sick pay, holidays and pension for outsourced workers similar to workers directly employed by the college.

Security staff at the RCM tried to get the protesters to move away from the area in front of the entrance, but they refused, and their presence there did not greatly impede people entering or leaving. There were more people around than usual as there was a graduation ceremony taking place. The union had offered to call off the protest if the management would talk about their claim for for proper sick pay, holidays and pensions for the outsourced workers.

Quite a few of those going in and out took the flyer about the dispute and some expressed their support. The noisy protest will have been evident to all those inside the building, which would perhaps not have been the case if the protesters had moved away as requested.

There was a minor incident when one woman came out of the building and remonstrated with the protesters, telling them to go away. When they refused to do as she asked she assaulted on of them, and the RCM security quickly led her away.
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Sotheby's 4 sacked for protesting

Old Bond St, London. Wed 8 Jul 2015

An officer refuses to make eye contact as he pushes UVW general secretary Petros Elia away from Sotheby's
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United Voices of the World and their supporters protested at Sothebys after they sacked four workers who took part in last week's protest for proper sick pay for the cleaners and porters there.

As the week before, the protesters, now calling for the reinstatement of the 'Sotheby's 4' as well as for the original demands for proper sick pay, holidays and pensions met at Oxford Circus. The UVW were supported by other groups and individuals including Class War, SOAS Unison and the PCS workers from the National Gallery.

They marched to Sotheby's, where they made clear to police that they wanted to protest outside the auction house, while police tried to force them across to the pavement opposite. After five minutes police began pushing the protesters, but were only successful after two more police vans brought reinforcements a few minutes later. The protest then continued facing Sotheby's from across the road and was continuing when I had to leave around an hour later.
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Save Shaker Aamer weekly vigil

Parliament Square, London. Wed 8 Jul 2015

A line of police watch the regular Shaker Aamer weekly vigil
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Budget Day was just another Wednesday for the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and they were there to remind MPs that Shaker Aamer, long cleared for release, is still held, abused and tortured in Guantanamo and urging his immediate release to the UK.
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Joint Strikers Budget Day Rally

Parliament Square, London. Wed 8 Jul 2015

Candy Udwin, victimised PCS rep at the National Gallery speaks in Parliament Square
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Public sector workers on strike against the privatisation of the council services in Barnet and Bromley and of workers at the National Gallery marched to a rally in Parliament Square while the Budget speech was being made called by Bromley Unite.
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DPAC Parliament Square Budget Day protest

Parliament Square, London. Wed 8 Jul 2015

Police secure Andy Greene in his wheelchair inside a specially adapted van hired for the occasion
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The DPAC 'Balls to the Budget' protest ended in Parliament Square. After a short rally police moved in to remove the giant banner and protesters from the road. Several protesters, including Andy Greene of DPAC in his wheelchair, were arrested.

When the protesters came off Waterloo Bridge they stopped on the junction at the corner of Parliament Square blocking all traffic there, and held a short rally, joined by trade unionists who had come for a rally there. Traffic standing still on Whitehall had meant that those marching from the National Gallery, led by Candy Udwin who spoke briefly here, had needed to get off the road and march on the pavement.

After a short while, large numbers of police came onto the road to persuade the DPAC protesters to move away, although the police who included a small group on horses, effectively blocked Parliament Square for rather longer.

The police arrested at least two of the protesters, and there was a long wait while they brought in specially adapted hired van to take away Andy Greene of DPAC in his wheelchair, along with pensioner Terry Hutt.
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DPAC blocks Westminster Bridge

Westminster Bridge. Wed 8 Jul 2015

A cyclist pulls up his front wheel as he jumps off, his way blocked ny the DPAC banner
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Disabled People Against the Cuts block traffic on Westminster Bridge on Budget Day with a 23 metre long banner in protest against cuts hitting the disabled, after displaying it opposite the Houses of Parliament.

The protesters walked on to the roadway on the bridge with their banners, while a small group on the embankment unrolled the long banner and held it on the embankment wall facing the Houses of Parliament.

They then brought it up onto the bridge, where it stretched the whole width of the bridge, again blocking traffic for a few minutes before marching with it towards Parliament Square.
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DPAC 'Balls to the Budget'

Downing St, London. Wed 8 Jul 2015

Paula Peters tries to throw a football into Downing St.
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Disabled People Against Cuts supporters, some in wheelchairs and mobility scooters, protested against the changes to benefits which will hit the disabled hardest, writing messages on balls and throwing them over the gates of Downing St.

Among other groups supporting the protest were Global Womens Strike, Winvisible, Women Against Rape, Unite Community and Class War. Also at Downing St was political artist Kaya Mar with a Budget Day painting.

After some speeches on the opposite site of Whitehall, Paula Peters of DPAC lead protesters across the road, including a number on mobility scooters and in wheelchairs as well as walking. There they stopped in front of the two rows of police and tried to throw balls of various sizes over the gates. Some of the larger balls had messages such as 'If the Tories had a soul they'd sell it', 'Cuts Kill' and 'Blood on your hands' and a woman carried a large poster, 'Balls to this Bullshit Budget'. A few did go over the gate, but most fell short.

The protesters then made their way along the raod down Whitehall towards Parliament Square.
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Darent Valley Path & Thames

Gravesend, Kent. Sat 4 Jul 2015

Riverside path at Littlebrook power station
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Our walk started at Dartford Station, rejoining the Darenth Way. For some reason this does a short and pointless deviation to emerge and cross the river again as it flows into the large ponds which used to be in front of a large pharmaceutical works. Much of this has now gone, with production ceasing a few years ago. Today the pond had some large areas of water lilies.

We made our way up Hythe St past the Hufflers' Arms, a reminder of when the Darent was navigable, and men were needed to pull the barges upstream to the Dartford wharf. A little past there a path took us across the Darent again and on to a riverside path, a route I first walked thirty years ago. Since then The Wellcome Foundation changed to Glaxo Wellcome, expanded, became Glaxo Smith Kline, shortened to GSK and closed down. Some industry still remains on the site, which has been sold to be developed for housing.

The riverside path took us to the lock, now rather derelict with a permanent half-tide barrier to retain water upstream at low tide. Boats can still go over this at or near high tide, and one narrow boat was moored just upstream, and a man from the Friends of Dartford and Crayford Creek, aka Steam Crane Wharf who are trying to restore navigation was working by the lock. We stopped and talked with him for some time, and he told us that a yacht was going to try and come up from the Thames in an hour or two.

Getting under the flood barrier isn't a problem, as it is only lowered very occasionally at exceptionally high tides, though the river is very shallow at low tide, but the Dartford bypass (Bob Dunn Way) has a low fixed span across the river, boats need to come up and under it as the tide is rising and then wait to travel further up towards Dartford.

The whole creek is now very silted up, with large mud banks in places, and the permanent half-tide barrier has greatly increased the problem above it, holding the water so it deposits its load of silt.

The paper works on the west side of the river are also now closed, and much of the site is now being developed as housing. Downstream of the bypass the Cray, also navigable for a short length, joins the Darent. The riverside path is on a tall bank and winds considerably with distant views over the marshes. It goes past some lakes, past a motocross circuit, a clay shooting range some distance away, fields and cows, some derelict square roofless military structures, and the scattered buildings of a former fireworks factory to the Darent Flood barrier.

We stopped here to eat our sandwiches in the shade of a hedge, about the only shade between Dartford and Greenhithe where our walk ended. As we finished we saw a yacht making for the Darent and I ran to photograph it going under the flood barrier and upriver.

The path alongside the Thames was hot and dusty, taking us past the sewage farm and Littlebrook Power station which finally ceased operation this year, to the QEII bridge. As we got to the bridge the Cobelfret ferry eased out of its berth at Purfleet, turned in the river, and made its way out towards Zeebruge.

By this time I was getting a little hot and tired and took few pictures as we walked past Crossways and on to Greenhithe where we took the train home. We had meant to take a slightly early path away from the riverside to go up to Stone Church and then on to Stone Crossing, but failed to see it if it is still there.
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Ahwazi crash secret UK-Iran business meeting

Westminster, London. Fri 3 Jul 2015

People try to stop the protesters in the corridor at the British Iranian Chambers of Commerce
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A small group of Ahwazi Arabs with the support of Peter Tatchell rushed into the secret UK-Iran business talks to protest peacefully against violent persecution of their people in Iran. Several protesters and a press photographer were assaulted by a young Iranian man, thought to be an Iranian agent.

Around fifteen protesters, mainly from the Hashem Shabani Action Group, named after Arab-Iranian poet and human rights activists Hashem Shabani, executed for peaceful opposition to the Iranian regime in January 2014, met outside Westminster Abbey, where they attracted the attention of a security man who was relieved when they assured him they were shortly going to move elsewhere after they had finished making their plans. Some of the protesters would protest outside the building, but a group who were prepared to take direct action would follow Peter Tatchell into the building and rush up the stairs to try and crash the meeting.

Together with two cameramen and several photographers they then made their way to the Tothill St entrance of NIOC (National Iranian Oil Company) House, a building containing the offices of the British Iranian Chambers of Commerce (BICC), which promotes UK-Iran trade and investment and where the secret meeting was taking place on its sixth floor.

The protesters rushed into the foyer and most managed to evade the two or three security staff and make for the stairs, where I and the two other photographers followed them, running up the six stories. After running up six floors I wasn't at my best, feeling rather too old for this sort of thing! It took a little while to find the corridor to the room where the meeting was taking place, with people standing around and taking light refreshments, and there were some arguments in the corridor outside.

After a little pushing the protesters managed to enter the room and carry out their protest against the exploitation of their homeland and anti-Arab oppression by the Tehran regime. Various people were trying to throw us out and I wasn't able to get a picture of Lord Lamont as he was confronted by some of the protesters in the corridor outside, although the other photographers did. He has been one of those pressing for the banning of the peaceful and non-violent (their slogan is'Our weapons are pens. Our bullets are words') Hashem Shabani Action Group along with Tory MP Richard Bacon, leader of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Iran, who I think is visible in the background of some of my images.

Iran's campaign of violent persecution, forced displacement and the suppression of Ahwazi Arabs began around 1925, largely driven by the discovery of huge oil reserves on the Arab lands. Continued after the Iranian revolution, it has resulted in their homeland, thought to have been the inspiration of the Bibilical 'Garden of Eden' becoming a desolate wasteland, the poorest area of the Middle East.

Oil was first discovered there in 1908, and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company formed to exploit it (in was renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1935) was directly controlled by the British government from 1914 to 1951 when it was nationalised under the the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC.) The UK and USA led the 1953 coup which brought a new agreement which favoured the multinationals and was only ended by the Islamic Revolution in 1978-9, which brought Iranian oil back under the control on NIOC. Iran is the second largest oil exporter in OPEC and still has huge reserves of oil and gas, mostly in the Ahwazi regions.

After around ten minutes of protest at the BICC offices, the protesters and photographers went back down the stairs and attempted to leave the offices. They were held there by police, who made some enquiries about the assault on one of the photographers, who eventually decided not to press charges against the man who police had easily identified. It was thought that his assailant was probably an Iranian secret agent who would be able to claim diplomatic immunity.

After sitting around on the comfortable seating in the foyer for around 45 minutes drinking the fruit juice hospitably brought by the building manager, police allowed protesters and press to leave and the group, including those who had stayed outside the building posed for photographs on the steps outside.
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Sotheby's 'Dignity under the Hammer' protest

Old Bond St, London. Wed 1 Jul 2015

Protesters on the road outside Sotheby's making a lot of noise
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A noisy protest at Sotheby's as an auction of art works expected to fetch over £350m was beginning, called for the cleaners and porters who work there to get contractual sick pay and for an end to harassment of workers for union activities.

The protesters met at Oxford Circus and marched down to Sotheby's in Old Bond St with banners, drums, United Voices of the World flags and whistles, stopping on the road outside the auction house. Sotheby's had a black carpet and covered entranceway going across the pavement almost to the curb with a number of security men and a flunkey waiting to greet their customers.

Other protesters, including a group from Class War with their Lucy Parsons banner were waiting for them at Sotheby's. The protesters crowded around the entrance way which was kept clear by police and security and kept up a continuous protest with chants, drumming and other noise, along with some speeches from Petros Elia of the UVW and two of the cleaners, Percy and Barbara.

Some of those going into the auction took the leaflets they were offered, while others tried to ignore the protest; a few stopped briefly to talk. Although noisy and making its demands loudly and angrily, the protest was peaceful and had moments of humour, particularly from Class War, with a dance on the black carpet by Adam Clifford, and some antics from Ian Bone, who rather upset some of the police. The Class War women had brought large water pistols, which mainly they used on other supporters of Class War, with Adam being shot and dying spectacularly in front of the Sotheby's entrance.

Earlier UVW protests at Sotheby's had led to the cleaners and porters working there winning the London Living Wage, contractual sick pay, the reinstatement of our trade union members that had been suspended and dismissed and many other things. But Sotheby's then fired CCML, the company that had been employing the cleaners, and brought in new contractors, Servest, who refused to implement the contractual sick pay that had previously been agreed. They also refused to backdate the payment of the London Living Wage as had also been agreed and were doubtful whether they would increase the rate to the new level when it comes in on Nov 1st.

A letter was sent to all the employees, threatening with sacking if they took part in any protests over the backing down by the company from the agreement that had earlier been reached with CCML, and begain unfair disciplinary action against one of the union reps, while refusing to investigate his report of threats of violence made by managers.

Sotheby's has been making record profits in the past year and paying the cleaners as previously agreed would have only an infinitesimal impact on this. On the date chosen for the protest a Contemporary Art Evening Auction was taking place at which works by artists including Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol were being offered for sale, with the auction house later announcing that the evening "realised £130.4m ($204.7m / €183.9m), Sotheby’s highest-ever total for a sale of Contemporary Art in Europe. Warhol’s only hand-painted one-dollar bill painting sold for £20.9 million, the highest price for any work sold in London this week."

The day after the protest and sale when the cleaners reported for work, four who took part in the protest were stopped as they came to work and told they were not allowed to enter. The UVW has pledged to continue protests like this until Sotheby's take back the workers and meet the previously agreed demands.
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my london diary index
 

Jul 2015

Surround Harmondsworth
Al Quds Day march
IWGB protest at Royal College of Music
Sotheby's 4 sacked for protesting
Save Shaker Aamer weekly vigil
Joint Strikers Budget Day Rally
DPAC Parliament Square Budget Day protest
DPAC blocks Westminster Bridge
DPAC 'Balls to the Budget'
Darent Valley Path & Thames
Ahwazi crash secret UK-Iran business meeting
Sotheby's 'Dignity under the Hammer' protest

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