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Shut down Yarl's Wood Immigration Prison

Yarl's Wood, Bedford. Sat 13 May 2017

A woman runs with a smoke flare in front of the fence
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This was the 11th protest outside Yarl's Wood in the Movement for Justice campaign to shut down this and other immigration detention centres.

I'd caught the train from St Pancras to Bedford as usual, but instead of waiting for the MfJ bus had brought my Brompton, so could just jump on it and cycle towards Yarlswood. It was a ride of around 6 miles, mainly along side roads or on cycle paths beside busier roads, and it was a pleasant enough ride, though Yarl's Wood is on a former airfield on a plateau rather higher than the city, and so it was uphill quite a lot of the way. And the climb up from the nearest village, Milton Ernest, was rather long and steep, though at least I didn't have to bother about traffic, as the police had closed the road. But I was a little out of breath and tired as I arrived.

But Yarl's Wood really is in the middle of nowhere, making those inside feel very isolated, and visits to them by anyone without a car are tedious and expensive for those on low income. So events like this are important in reminding those inside that they have not been forgotten.

There were several hundreds of people already at the roadside - and a long row of coaches that had brought them there, and there were speeches and chanting while they waited for others to arrive.

From the road there is still a long walk along field edges following a public footpath, around three-quarters of a mile. Parts of this were heavy going on the Brompton, not designed for off-road use, and I did have to walk part of the way, as well as occasionally stopping to photograph the marchers, now around a thousand strong.

When the protesters arrived at the field in front of the tall fence around the centre, they were welcomed by shouts and waving from those imprisoned inside who held up messages calling for justice in the narrow slits the windows open. Only those who could get to the upper windows on the block facing the fence could see the protest, but others inside could certainly hear it.

There were speeches from former detainees, including several women who had been held at Yarl's Wood, including Mabel Gawanas who was recently released a few days short of 3 years inside, and other former immigration detainees. People kicked on the fence to make a terrific racket and held up banners, posters and placards to show the detainees in what the protesters describe as as 'racist, sexist hell-hole' they have not been forgotten. Some inside spoke to the protest by mobile phone.

Some of the protesters climbed ladders to hold banners and placards above the first solid 10 feet of the 20 foot fence, while others had long poles or lit flares to make the protest more visible. A few yards back from the fence where the ground slopes up we could see those at the windows and photograph them through the mesh fence, though it wasn't easy.

I left as the protest began to draw to a close, cycling back along the footpath to the road and then enjoying the long downhill stretch to the village and the main road. But I had to pay for this, as a short uphill modern stretch of road off stretched me almost to exhaustion. 40 metres doesn't sound a lot, but feels in on a bike. And while the road up from Milton Ernest does the climb at a fairly sensible rate, Oakley Hill up from the A6 is at least twice as steep. I should have got off and walked, but pride doesn't allow it unless it becomes really impossible. For some reason my three-speed gear had decided to be a two speed gear, but probably it wouldn't have helped here as I think it was only the top gear I was missing - and I needed something considerably lower. But after than it was downhill most of the way to Bedford and a train probably an hour earlier than had I been on the bus.
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LSE cleaners strike for equality and dignity

LSE, London. Thu 11 May 2017

'Life NOT Money at the LSE' protesters chalked on the roadway and lay down, blocking the street
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LSE cleaners in the United Voices of the World union held another of their weekly one-day strikes demanding parity of terms and conditions with staff employed by the LSE.

Although they clean the LSE, they are employed by cleaning contractor Noonan under greatly inferior terms to other service staff working in the LSE buildings. After a noisy picket since 8am outside the library they marched at lunchtime to other buildings on campus; some supporters were harassed by police.

Meanwhile 3 protesters from the 'Life Not Money' campaign urging the LSE to end its hypocrisy and put the principles of equality it teaches into practice in the institution chalked their message on Portugal St and staged a sit in, stopping lorries entering or leaving the LSE building site.
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Rochdale, Lancs. Sat 6 May 2017
The Rochdale Pioneers began the Cooperative Movement in Toad Lane
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After the 50th anniversary morning of the Ashram Community which ended with a lunch we were told their would be a guided tour of the town for those who wanted it.

Apparently they hadn't told the person who would be leading it but she told us about the town as she took us through the town centre, into its splendid town hall foyer and on to a local museum where I picked up a leaflet on a town trail set up last year, and then on to Toad Lane, where a small museum commemorates the Rochdale Pioneers, the start of the Co-Operative movement.

I took a few photographs along the way, but later in the day went out armed with the leaflet to make my own tour of the parts of the town we hadn't visited. Although I lived only a little over ten miles away for seven years, and worked for a short while rather closer at Chadderton, I'd never visited the town before.
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Manchester. Fri 5 May & Sun 7 May 2017

Two canals (Bridgewater and Rochdale) and four railways make this site exemplify Manchester's contribution to the industrial revolution
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We were on our way to the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the Ashram Community, a small Christian community with members around the country and overseas with branches around the UK but centred in Sheffield, where it has several community houses, a community building and a shop, including several worship communities. But it was founded in Rochdale and I was going there to join in the celebrations and photography them. The pictures are probably only of interest to members but they can be seen online here.

But we decided to travel up to Manchester early to give ourselves a few hours to walk around the city. I spent around 7 years in Manchester in the 1960s, living in Whalley Range, Alexandra Park, Victoria Park, Longsight, Withington and Fallowfield, and, for the first 3 years of our married life we lived on the upper floor of a house in Rusholme, just off Platt Lane. We moved from there in 1970, and since then have only made the occasional short visit.

We didn't have time to visit all our former homes or haunts (though many are doubtless gone) but decided to take a walk along the Rochdale Canal which passes close to Piccadilly station where we arrived from London. When we left Manchester, although there was little commercial traffic on the canals, many of the waterside wharves and factories were still in use, and much of the area wasn't welcoming to visitors. Now it is one of the city's tourist attractions.

By the time we reached the Bridgewater canal we were quite hot, and stopped at the Wharf pub for refreshment before continuing along the Bridgewater towpath to Hulme Hall Rd, crossing the canal and then the River Irwell. We'd hoped to walk back beside the Irwell into central Manchester, but the path was blocked and we had to leave the river and walk along Trinity Way to New Quay St, crossing the Irwell there back into Manchester to continue our way beside the river. We only got as far as Bridge St before we had to leave the river again, as the riverside path - here on the Salford side - was again closed, and we walked instead up St Mary's Parsonage and Deansgate to the Cathedral and then east to Shudehill for the Rochdale bus.

We had a shorter time in Manchester on Sunday afternoon - and decided to visit the People's History Museum, though the hour we had there was nothing like long enough. I took a few more pictures as we walked across town to Manchester Piccadilly.
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LSE Equality Life Not Money protest

LSE, London, UK. Wed 3 May 2017 A security guard tackles a protester before he gets much of 'END INEQUALITY AT THE LSE' on the wall
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Protesters from Life Not Money at the LSE call on the LSE to put the equality which is at the root of its teaching into practice for the low paid workers at the LSE in a continuing campaign using 'peaceful civil disobedience combining art, humour and ridicule' to get the LSE management to end its hypocrisy.

Students were stopped from protesting outside the library and forced to move onto the road outside, where they displayed flowers, posters and banners and handed out several hundreds of fliers.

At the end of the protest a man was arrested for so-called 'criminal damage', writing on a wall with wipe-clean chalk spray. He was tackled bodily by a LSE security guard when only writing the third letter of his intended slogan 'END INEQUALITY AT THE LSE'.

Today's protest follows last week when the LSE demanded police arrest four people who had decorated a building with slogans and coloured spots in the wipe-clean chalk spray despite their offer to clean it at the end of the protest. The slogans demanded the director of the LSE take a £100,000 pay cut to give the lowest paid workers a living wage. A further protest is planned for next week.
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DPAC against Tory Hate

Westminster, London. Tue 2 May 2017

DPAC go along the pavement in Parliament Square
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Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC) protest outside Parliament on the last sitting day before the General Election and then in front of the gates of Tory HQ, finally blocking nearby Victoria St for 45 minutes.

The disabled were singled out by the Tories who thought slashing their benefits an easy target for cuts, paying ruthless companies to administer flawed tests of disability and axing funds which enabled them to live independent and productive lives, ignoring court decisions and a UN report condemning their abuse of disability rights. Official statistics show many thousands of early deaths of disabled people affected by these Tory cuts, and many of those at the protest had lost friends or relatives in this way.
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May Day F**k Parade

London. Mon 1 May 2017
The parade goes across Waterloo Bridge
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There was a brief announcement and the parade slowly moved off, walking towards the London Eye and then turning right along the embankment.

Everyone was in a good mood, some dancing along to the sound systems, and a few smoke flares added to the atmosphere. There was still a heavy police presence, although there was no sign that the event was going to be anything but a peaceful parade.

After going along to the South Bank, the parade was led between buildings and up a side street onto Waterloo Bridge. On the bridge a black-clad protester set off another flare, and I heard a police officer shout 'Let's go and get him' or something similar. I was pushed to one side as police rushed past me and a crowd of them surrounded a protester and grabbed him, throwing him to the ground.

The mood of the crowd changed instantly and some tried to grab their friend back, but police piled into them, some clearly enjoying the opportunity of a little rough handling of the public. Fortunately no one seemed badly injured.

As usual police tried to hide what they were doing to the man on the floor, standing around him to try to stop people seeing and photographing. There did seem to be some excessive use of force and the usual unnecessary painful forcing of his arms up behind his back as he was led away.

I was surprised by this sudden use of force against people who had really been causing no harm. There seemed to be no good reason for it, and it rather seemed as if the police simply wanted a bit of action and perhaps to intimidate the protesters who included a number of young children. And perhaps the fact that there were few if any other people on the bridge meant they felt they could get tough with the parade.

Once the arrested man had been taken to a police van the parade moved off. There was another flare set off at Covent Garden, but with large numbers of tourists and others around the police seemed to simply ignore it - as they had the earlier flares.

By the time the parade reached Leicester Square I'd had enough. It had been a long day and I was tired and little seemed to be happening, and I decided to go home.
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May Day F**k Parade Meets

Leake St tunnel, London. Mon 1 May 2017
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Leake Street is London's graffiti central and there were some people busy repainting the walls as people began to gather for the parade. Among them were many that I knew from previous Class War events, including those who were organising the event.

The street is a long tunnel underneath Waterloo Station and its 23 platforms and the lighting is fairly low. So long as people stood still I could just about work without flash.

There were quite a few police vans outside the tunnel, and officers walked through from time to time to keep an eye on the crowd, with some in blue bibs trying to talk with people and gather intelligence, but most people refused to talk with them.
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May Day Rally

Trafalgar Square, London. Mon 1 May 2017

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka talks about his heart transplant and the vital need to save the NHS
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Once in the pub there were quite a few people to talk to, including those from Class War who told me they were intending like me to get the Underground to the Trafalgar Square rally and to sell more of their newspaper there.

But time went on, and none of us moved. Eventually a small group decided to leave and make their way to the rally. Farringdon is a strange station, somehow isolated from the rest of the system, and I think there were engineering works which also forced us on a longer route than usual, via Baker St.

We reached Trafalgar Square just in time to hear the final words of the main speaker, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, but had obviously missed quite a lot of the rally. I was pleased to hear Mark Serwotka speak, but there were a few others who I had little interest in, and after taking a few pictures I made my way across Westminster Bridge and to Leake St.
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May Day March

Clerkenwell, London. Mon 1 May 2017
The banner at the front of the march as it leaves Clerkenwell Green
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At the front of the march was the main banner for the London May Day Organising Committee calling for trade union rights, human rights and International Solidarity, followed by a Musicians Union marching band and many banners and marchers, perhaps around 5-10,000 people. As well as banners there were many with placards and flags.

I decided to try to photograph all of the banners, and stood by the roadside a couple of hundred yards from the start of the march photographing them as they marched past. I had to move around a little to catch as many as I could, and I'm sure there were a few I missed, but the roughly a hundred pictures here give a pretty good impression of the march as a whole. Some pictures show several banners and where they were close together it often wasn't possible to show every one in full.

As the end of the march went past me, I turned and walked back to Clerkenwell Green, intending to have a quick drink in the pub and then catch the Underground to Charing Cross for the rally.
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May Day March Gathers

Clerkenwell Green, London. Mon 1 May 2017

Class War came with a new banner in memory of Simon Chapman and their new newspaper
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The London May Day March took place as usual on May 1st, gathering at Clerkenwell Green and setting off at 1pm to march to a rally in Trafalgar Square.

As usual there were a number of trade union branches with their banners, and a large contingent from London's Turkish, Kurdish and other ethnic minority communities, though perhaps their numbers were a little down on previous years.

Also there were a large number of communist parties, both from the UK and from other countries in Europe, Iran, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, as well as anarchists, various left-wing campaigns and other groups.

Class War are no fans of 'A to B marches' but came to Clerkenwell Green with a new banner in memory of Simon Chapman who died earlier this year. He was arrested and imprisoned in Greece where he took part in a lengthy hunger strike which had a permanent affect on his health, though he continued to campaign and protest after his return to the UK. They had also brought copies of their new 'Class War' tabloid newspaper and sold quite a few copies at the event. But as I expected, when the march set off for Trafalgar Square they marched only the few yards back to the pub, where I joined them later.
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