Hillingdon Marches Against Cuts

Uxbridge, LB Hillingdon. Thur 28 Feb 2013

On the march to the Civic Centre to lobby Hillingdon Council
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Hillingdon Against Cuts organised a march to the Civic Centre in Uxbridge to lobby the Council meeting, calling on them to stop the abolition of secure council housing and other cuts.

Among the issues on the council's agenda tonight was the approval of the budget, with a freeze in council tax at the current levels which is bound to result in further cuts in services. Already Hillingdon has lost a number of valuable services through budget cuts by the Conservative controlled council.

Around 50 people met up in Uxbridge High St, with banners from Hillingdon Against the Cuts and Hillingdon Socialist Party and trade union flags from Unite and the PCS. The march along the main street past the underground station to the civic centre was led by ex-Hillingdon Councillor Wally Kennedy and founder of Hillingdon against the Cuts (HAC) who also led the chanting of slogans against the cuts, and let everyone around know what the protest was about.

Kennedy founded HAC together with local trade unionists in November 2010 to "fight back against the spending cuts that the ConDem coalition is putting forward nationally, and the local cuts that Hillingdon council is making to their budget." They fight "against cuts to the Housing Budget, Housing Benefit, NHS cuts, cuts to education, including Tution Fee increases and the abolition of EMA, as well as cuts to local schools."

They believe that "the bankers and the rich who had caused and benefited from the failure of the banks should pay the price, not those on benefits and low wages."

After the short march to the Civic Centre they formed up on the steps and there were short speeches from Wally Kennedy and Michelle Braveboy of Unite the Unions as the protesters waited for the councillors to arrive.
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Vulture Funds - Claws off Argentina!

Elliot Associates, King St, London. Tue 26 Feb 2013

Vultures attack the Argentine flag outside the offices of Elliot Associates
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A noisy London 'Claws off Argentina' protest outside the offices of 'vulture fund' Elliot Associates by Jubilee Debt Campaign on eve of New York appeal called on them to stop their attack on Argentina and drop the $1.2billion claim.

Protesters banged pots and pans outside their London office the day before an appeal by Argentina against a New York court ruling that they must pay the 'vulture' US Hedge Fund Elliot Associates over $1 billion.

Elliot Associates took no part in the original loans made to Argentina, which started at the time of the brutal militiary junta in that country. Most of those debt claims have since been ruled arbitrary and fraudulent, and in 2001 Argentina, then facing an acute economic crisis with massive unemployment, homelessness and poverty, defaulted on some of its debt.

Hedge funds including NML Capital, a subsidiary of US Elliot Associates owned by billionaire Mitt Romney-supporter Paul Singer bought up these debts at a fraction of their cost and over the last ten years have pursued Argentina for their full repayment. Most of the other debtors accepted an offer of new bonds at lower value in exchange for the old bonds they held but NML instead has carried out a policy of harassing Argentina through foreign courts for the full amount. Last year they persuaded a court in Ghana to impound an Argentinian navy ship, the Libertad, but this was released by an international tribunal and returned to Argentina in January.

Last November a New York court ruled that Argentina was obliged to pay $1.3billion to NML, several times the amount it paid for the bonds, in a ruling that would also oblige US banks processing Argentine funds to comply. If the appeal against the decision fails, Argentina will have to choose between paying up - against Argentine law - or defaulting on all its debts once more.

The protest was organised by the Jubilee Debt Campaign UK, and was to show its support for Argentina's right to refuse to pay vulture funds. They also condemn the decisions of the New York court which overrules a state's right to protect its people under international law and call for a debt audit in Argentina to decide which of its debts are illegitimate. Among these are loans made by the UK Export Credits Guarantee Department (now called UK Export Finance) to the Argentine junta in the years before the Falklands War, with which they bought destroyers and helicopters used in the invasion of the Falkland - clear examples of what the Liberal Democrats describe as "reckless loans to dictators known not to be committed to spending the funds on development” and say should be cancelled.

The Jubilee Debt Campaign see the New York decision which gives special treatment to these vulture funds that profit from speculation on countries in crisis as a case that could have grave consequences for other countries in economic difficulty, including Greece.

People brought pots and pans to bang as well as banners and placards to the protest outside the offices just off St James's Square for a noisy protest that lasted an hour and a half as people were leaving the building to go home. Elliot Associates are only one of the tenants, occupying the fourth floor.

Several of the protesters had brought vulture face masks, and as well as the Jubilee Debt campaign banner and placards in English and Spanish they also had an Argentine flag. Many people stopped to take leaflets or ask about the protest as they walked past the protest on their way home, and some showed their suprise and disgust at the activities of vulture funds.

The protest ended with some brief speeches and a final very noisy five minutes to warm themselves up a little.
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Reclaim Love Valentines Party

Piccadilly Circus, London. Sat 16 Feb 2013

Two women make heart signs with their hands
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The 11th Reclaim Love free Valentine's Party - and the 10th organised by Venus CuMara who started the whole thing in 2003 - took place around Eros in Piccadilly Circus, aiming to spread peace and love around the world, and to reclaim love from its commercial exploitation.

Unfortunately I arrived late at the party, and after its major feature when several hundred people held hands in a large circle around Eros, chanting together 'May All The Beings In All The Worlds Be Happy & At Peace', but at least I was able to get the t-shirt when I arrived - they went rather slower than usual this year as for the first time a donation was requested for them.

The event was begun in 2003 by Venus CuMara and this was the tenth she had organised (one was put on by some of her friends) and as she told me this would be the last she would do I made sure to photograph her a few more times.

The idea behind the free party on the street was to celebrate love between people as the most important force in the world, and to do so in a way that counteracted the tremendous commercialisation of love in the annual media shopping promotion frenzy that now surrounds St Valentine's Day. It was to be a free event, people making and having fun, sharing love, taking place in a public area in the centre of London's West End shops and under the vast neon advertisements of Picadilly Circus. Venus also aimed to send a message of peace and love out across the world - and the London event spawned similar parties at the same time elsewhere across the world - by uniting us all in circles of love at the same time around the world.

It was an event that took place freely, with all welcome to take part and no permissions requested from the authorities - people came together and partied, with Venus getting people to provide t-shirts and play music and others bringing food to share and contributing to the general party atmosphere.

There are really very few such spontaneous events in London like this, and this is unique in central London. I've photographed most of these events and I hope that they will continue with others taking over the running in future years.
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Fuel Poverty Rally & DAN Roadblock

DECC Whitehall, London. Sat 16 Feb 2013

Protesters blocking the road argue with police, and refuse to leave the road until later
more pictures from the rally and the road block.

A central London fuel bill rally outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change as a part of national actions by Fuel Poverty Action was followed by a direct action blocking Whitehall led by the Disabled Peoples Direct Action Network.

The pavement outside the ministry on Whitehall was crowded for a rally organised by Fuel Poverty Action and supported by Disabled People Against Cuts, Greater London Pensioners’ Association, Redbridge Pensioners' Forum, Southwark Pensioners' Action Group, Global Women's Strike and others. It was a part of a nationwide day of action against fuel price rises and the government's energy policies.

With cuts and rising prices one in four families now has to choose between heating their homes adequately or eating properly. Many children now go to school hungry and even the wealthiest suburban areas now need to have churches and others setting up food banks for those unable to buy food.

Behind the problem are cuts in services and rising bills coupled with cutting of benefits. The government's energy policy is largely dictated by the Big Six energy companies, who continue to increase their profits while the consumers of energy suffer, and the large quantities of carbon dioxed from power generation from gas and coal increase global warming.

Fuel Poverty action state:

'While disabled and elderly people are forced into libraries and shopping centres to keep warm and people with cancer freeze in their homes with the heating off, the government is slashing crucial benefits and cutting grants to make homes energy efficient.'

'The government is snugly in bed with the Big Six energy companies. Dozens of Big Six energy company staff are being paid by the government to set energy policy within the Department for Energy and Climate Change. Together, they’re doing all they can to keep profiting from the Great Fuel Robbery. We say: enough is enough.'

Among the protesters and speakers at the rally were a number of disabled activists, some in wheelchairs, and at the conclusion of the hour long rally, they wheeled out into the road, stopping traffic and blocking the southbound carriageway.

The protest continued with a number of speeches, and after around 15 minutes, police who had been busy diverting traffic along an alternative route, came to talk with the protesters. There was some argument between the police and protesters, and among the protesters themselves, some of whom felt they had made their point and it was time to go and find a cup of tea. As I left after around a half hour of the road block, the protesters were agreeing with police that they would leave the road in around ten minutes.

This was an entirely peaceful direct action, and while I was there the police behaved well. They did a fine job in releasing one pensioner who had handcuffed himself to one of the wheelchairs and was unable to release himself, setting him free without harming either wheelchair or protester, and dealt with the protesters patiently and with a good humour.
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Defend the Union Flag

Westminster, London. Sat 16 Feb 2013

The marchers carried Union flags and a few others and two wreathes which were laid at the Cenotaph.
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To show support for the Loyalist flag protesters in Northern Ireland around a hundred 'patriots' from the 'South East Alliance' marched down Whitehall carrying Union Flags to a rally with speakers from Britain First.

The Defend the Union Flag protest was called by the 'South-East Alliance' to show their support for Loyalist Flag protesters in Belfast. In the publicity for the event on the 'Britain First' web site they state:

"We would like to make it clear that this demo is PURELY about the flag, we ask everyone who is attending to bring a Flag with them, we want Whitehall to be a sea of Union flags."

"This is not about Politics, so please NO POLITICAL BANNERS OR FLAGS AND NO COLOURS OF ANY ORGANISATIONS."

I found the group of around a hundred protesters outside a pub on Whitehall and went with them when they formed up for the march in Whitehall Place. Almost all of them were carrying Union flags, though there were a few Ulster and Orange flags also on show.

Several people present from Northern Ireland were at the front of the march, and two wreaths were carried, one from the Kent Somme Society commemorating the Irishmen who died in the Battle of the Somme. The march made a colourful and noisy protest in Whitehall before becoming silent as they approached the Cenotaph, where they halted and the two wreaths were laid, followed by a two minute silence.

They then marched on to Old Palace Yard in front of the Houses of Parliament for a rally, with speeches from Paul Golding of Britain First, Paul Pitt of the South East Alliance and Britain First's Northern Ireland organiser Jim Dowson who has been involved in the protests there.

Many of those taking part were people that I recognised from earlier protests I've covered by groups including the BNP, March for the Flag, EDL and Britain First and a few came up and spoke to me by name. Others mistake me for another photographer who has worked for a well-known anti-fascist publication and are less friendly.

Although in general the protest was a organised peaceful and orderly one, I heard later from a photographer who had been attacked by a group of the marchers when one of them objected to being photographed. Several other photographers took pictures and came to his assistance. I was photographing the head of the march and didn't see this, but was there when the same group returned and again briefly threatened photograpahers and people taking part in another protest on Whitehall an hour or so later. Police who were following them quickly intervened and moved them on.

The event still left me wondering why there were such continuing protests in Northern Ireland where the Union flag continues to be flown on a similar basis to its use on many municipal buildings in the rest of the United Kingdom (and on all government buildings until regulations were altered here in 2007.) There as here there are few restrictions on flying (or wearing) the Union flag, and the Diamond Jubilee version of the flag that one or two carried on the march was a reminder of how widespread its use is when people think it appropriate. Despite the protests of the organisers the issue in Northern Ireland is unquestionably a very political matter.
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Alevi Protest Discrimination in Turkey & UK

Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 16 Feb 2013
A woman in traditional costume holds a banner (Semah For Peace) in Trafalgar Square.
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Several thousand Alevi - Turkey's largest religious minority - from around the UK gathered in Trafalgar Square to call for democracy and an end to attacks and religious discrimination in Turkey and for better treatment of immigrants in the UK.

Between ten and twenty million Alevi live mainly in Turkey and have a distinct form of Muslim religion which is related to Shi'ism, which contrasts with the official Turkish Sunni practice. They worship in their own languages rather than Arabic; men and women worship together, and women are not required to cover their hair, and important cultural traditions of poetry, music and dance (Semah) at the centre of their worship. Alevis are generally humanistic in outlook and many are on the political left. The religion cuts across ethnic groups and most are ethnic Turks, but about a quarter of Turkey's Kurds are also Alevi

The Alevi have been subject to persecution in Turkey for centuries, and often attacked and at times killed. There cemeteries have no religious status and applications to build cem (worship) houses are turned down. There is compulsory religious classes in Turkish schools that are largely about the predominant Sunni Islam; Christian and Jewish students are exempt, but Alevis are not - and have taken this to Strasbourg arguing that this is in violation of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The current conflict in Syria has worsened their situation with the Turkish governments strong opposition to the Assad regime, which is based on the minority Syrian Alawi sect, which is seen as similar to the Alevi. The gathering called for democracy in Turkey and an end to discrimination and persecution, and an end to the compulsory religious education.

Significant Alevi settlement in the UK dates from the 1980s, with groups in a number of cities. On their website they say:

We Alevis, who have been predominantly living in UK since the 1980’s, on the whole have been successful in our new lives in UK. In addition to this positive picture, we still face ignorance from institutions such as the health, education, police, social and political bodies.

Our main problems are; cultural, social, political, religious and educational; they result in adaptation and integration problems which in turn lead to suicides, gang culture, gambling, violence and drug abuse. These need to investigated and looked in to more detail.

Considering the number of suicides, gang culture, drug base amongst our youth, we cannot forgive the fact that not on government official took these cases seriously and spoken to the victims’ families or make necessary arrangements to form investigation groups to look into events in more detail and find solutions to the problems.

They see their rally as giving voice to all immigrant cultures, not just Alevis, and call upon them to 'Unite and Fight' to remind the UK government of its responsibilities, to ask why the police cannot do more to stop the sale of drugs and the activities of gangs. They want to remind universities that they should be investigating the social factors of the current situation, and that health institutions should also be making investigations. The also want an equal education system which considers the needs of all different cultural backgrounds.

They call for immigrants to come together to get political representation so that their views would be taken into account and not ignored in the UK.
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Stop Western Intervention in Syria & Mali

Downing St, London. Fri 15 Feb 2013

The Communist Party Great Britain - Marxist Leninist - supports President Assad. I think he has to go.
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On the 10th anniversary of the march by 2 million against the Iraq war, Stop the War organised a small protest at Downing St calling for a stop to Western intervention in Mali and Syria and against the possible attack on Iran.

The campaign against the Iraq war had the backing of the majority of the British people, and groups around the country organised and demonstrated against it coming together in the largest protest march ever seen in the UK (and with many others around the world also marching.)

But Stop the War have failed to convince the public at large with their more recent campaigns against intervention in Libya and now against the support being given to the Free Syrians and the Mali government. Even among many left groups opinions are split, with many calling for an end to the Assad regime. Certainly few would want to show support for Assad or carry placards with his face on them, as a couple of people from a small left group, the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) did at this event. Many others feel Assad should go, but the important thing is what kind of regime should replace him.

Friday evening is not a good time for a protest, even though it was the actual date of the 10th anniversary, but even so the numbers at this event were small.
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Thames Path Greenwich Partly Open

North Greenwich - Greenwich, London. Fri 15 Feb 2013

The path still passes a surreal landscape, doubtless soon to be redeveloped with more riverside flats
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I had some time to spare between protests and it was a nice day, around 10 degrees warmer than we'd been having and sunny, so I decided to take a bus to North Greenwich and walk along the Thames Path, having heard that parts of it had re-opened. The weather changed a little and there were some dramatic skies.

There is still a section of the walk that is closed, a giant building site where Delta Wharf once was up to Drawdock Road, but on each side of this the walk is open. although the council sign on the footpath leading from Tunnel Avenue still indicates it is closed. At the river the path north is blocked, but you can walk south to Greenwich.

At first the walk goes alongside a giant manmade landscape of sand and gravel, like some alien planet - and behind the conical hills the Dome and the gas holder, with occasional lighting towers and cranes add to the scene. Most of this is behind tall fences, but fortunately these have gaps between the posts allowing you to see and photograph. Years ago the path here went through a working container dock, the Victoria Deep Water Terminal, with yellow lines marking the route, though occasionally it was blocked by crane operations, and we waited rather than have heavy containers overhead. There are a couple of my pictures of this and others from the riverside path in the 1980s on my London's Industrial Heritage site.

Beyond there the riverside path seems rather empty, with many structures having dissappeared, including the huge concrete silo I photographed. But something new has appeared, 'guerilla knitting' on some of the trees and posts along the path.
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Fight to Save Lewisham Hospital Continues

Lewisham Hospital, London. Fri 15 Feb 2013

The rally was at the war memorial in front of the hospital in the background of this picture
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A lunchtime rally opposite Lewisham Hospital emphasized the fight by the whole local community to save their hospital continues with both a legal challenge and further mass demonstrations including a 'Born in Lewisham Hospital' protest.

The whole local community as well as those with an interest in the future of the NHS here and elsewhere were appalled by Jeremy Hunt's decision to accept to the TSA proposals for closure, and to ignore the mass protests by local residents. Not only are the proposals medically unsound and will lead to patient deaths, but they also represent short-term thinking that will result in a huge waste of public funds.

The whole problem over the funding of the hospitals stems from a similar lack of any long-term thinking when a disastrous PFI (private finance initiative) agreement was entered into to build a hospital a few miles away. When Lewisham and this hospital was merged into the same group of hospitals a few years ago, this crippling debt was inherited. Lewisham is a sucessful and financially sound hospital which has received sensible public investment to provide up to date services, and the services that will be cut there will have to be set up agains and provided elsewhere by other hospitals. Closing Lewisham will not only incur high costs, but will result in the waste of the previous investment in its facilities.

Hunt deliberately set out to mislead by rebranding the proposal by Matthew Kershaw of an urgent care centre in place of the A&E as a smaller A&E and the claim that it would deal with 75% of those currently presenting at Lewisham is simply a lie - only around 30% of cases are predictably minor and the remaining 70% need a full A&E service for proper assessment and treatment.

The closure of the full maternity service and its replacement by a midwife only usnit would mean that only around 10% of current numbers would be served, and life-threating transfers would be necessary if complications rose in these.

The well-attended rally was chaired by Louise Irvine, the Chair of Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign and speakers included Lewisham Mayor Sir Steve Bullock, hospital staff, trades unionists from Unison, Unite, NUT, FBU, RMT, patients, pensioners and other campaigners. Many motorists passing beeped their horns in support and bus passengers waved.

Campaigning is continuing at full strength and another mass protest, 'Born in Lewisham' will be held in a few weeks, with many locals who were born in the hospital along with other supporters of the hospital celebrating the maternity and children's services. Other activities - leafletting and collecting signatures and various smaller protests will continue and a legal challenge is being mounted by Lewisham Council. The Save the Lewisham Hospital campaign hops to mount a separate by complementary legal challenge and is raising funds for this as well as a new poster and leaflet campaign.

As several speakers mentioned, this is not just a campaign for Lewisham, but one that is vital for the whole of the NHS. Behind the speakers was a banner for the South-East London 'Save Our Local NHS Hospitals' campaign with a quotation from Nye Bevan: 'The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it.' They certainly have the faith in Lewisham.
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Ash Wednesday - Ministry of Defence

Ministry of Defence, London. Wed 13 Feb 2013

Women hold up a banner calling on the MoD to Repent
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Christian peace activists and friends held their annual Ash Wednesday liturgy at the Ministry of Defence in London, calling for repentance and taking symbolic actions including some who risked arrest by marking the buildings with charcoal.

Around a hundred people processed around the area by the Ministry of Defence, which was surround on all sides by police. While most of those taking part took part in prayer, song and symbolic actions - including writing the word 'REPENT' in water on the pavement in front of the Ministry, and then adding ashes to it, a few activists used charcoal to mark the building and the Old War Office opposite with crosses in charcoal. Police dragged them away and took the charcoal before they could complete the word 'Repent'. Police questioned those they had caught, but at least in one case then released them with a warning.
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Victimisation at London Met

London Metropolitan University, London. Wed 13 Feb 2013

Listening to the speeches on the Holloway Rd
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Over 50 people protested outside London Met on Holloway Road against the suspension of Max Watson, Unison branch chair and Jawad Botmeh, the elected staff governor on false charges. The university have also threatened to derecognise Unison.

London Metropoltan university have suspended Unison Chair Max Watson and Jawad Botmeh, a staff member at the Working Lives Research Institute (WLRI) over what they describe as a 'serious matter of concern' relating to 'gross misconduct'. Neither of them have been given clear reasons for this but it is said to relate to Jawad's appointment to the University five years ago.

Jawad was convicted in 1996 for conspiracy to cause explosions in what is considered by many including Amnesty International, Unison's National Delegate Conference and by a number of MP's including local MP Jeremy Corbyn. He declared his conviction on his application to work at the university.

The accusations against Watson include that of bullying and are thought to have been made because he advised union members not to meet with Capita to discuss the plans for privatisation of parts of the university. At the meeting it was stated that those making the accusations knew them to be lies.

The action against the two men is also seen as an attack on the Working Lives Research Institute for its emphasis on the working class, and on the whole ethos of London Metropolitan which has prided itself in the past on giving chances to many of the more deprived members of the community.

As well as various speakers from London Met, including Mark Campbell of the UCU and Nick Clark of the WLRI, letters of support for the two men were read from Jeremy Corbyn, Unison President Chris Tansley and others. The protest had been called because formal disciplinary proceedings were being held at that time against Jawad, despite the fact he was known to be on annual leave an unable to attend. There was loud applause when Unison's Harry Lister emerged from the meeting to announce that these had been suspended until next Monday afternoon to allow him the chance to defend himself.
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Prison Officers Protest Against Cuts

Old Palace Yard, London. Wed 13 Feb 2013

Prison officer with placard in front of POA banner
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Hundreds of prison officers protested against prison closures, overcrowding and privatisation outside the Houses of Parliament after briefing MPs on the dangers of the prison closure programme.
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Shaker Aamer - 11 Years in Guantanamo

Parliament Square, London. Wed 13 Feb 2013

Caroline Lucas MP came out to talk to the protesters and held the banner

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A protest opposite Parliament marked 11 years since London resident Shaker Aamer was flown to Guantánamo from Afghanistan. He is still being held and tortured there daily despite having been cleared for release by the US over 5 years ago.

Shaker Aamer, a charity worker, was captured and sold to the US who after torturing him in Afghanistan illegally rendered him in a flight to Guantanamo where he arrived on 14 Feb 2002. It was also the day when his youngest son was born in London. He remains held at Guantanamo and is still being tortured there, despite being cleared for release five years ago since there was no case against him - he has never been charged or tried.

Although the UK Government has publicly said they have asked for his release, they have done little to pursue that request, and there is a strong suspicion that both UK and US governments want him to remain locked away because of the evidence he would give about his torture and that of others which would seriously incriminate both governments.

There were protesters holding banners across the whole long frontage of Parliament Square facing the Houses of Parliament, with others around the edges of the square handing out flyers. Many of those passing were surprised to find that prisoners were still being held there after Obama's promise to close the camp down, which he appears to have made little effort to keep.

Most of the protesters were from the Save Shaker Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign. Aamer's name was one of those on a list of 55 cleared prisoners released by the US Justice Department in September, but no steps have been made to allow him to return to his wife and four children in Battersea. Although he is only 44, his health is rapidly failing in the camp as a result of continued torture. He told one of his lawyers who visted him in the camp that he was regularly mistreated: they "grab me harshly, bend my arms and my head and slam me to the floor. They shackle me and put me in the chair."

One of the visitors to the protest was Green MP Caroline Lucas, who talked with protesters and held one of the banners until she had to rush back to the Commons for Prime Minister's Questions. The protesters were still standing there in the freezing cold when I left an hour and a half after the protest had started.
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Great Spitalfields Pancake Race

Dray Walk, Spitalfields, London. Tue 12 Feb 2013

Horses were very much in the news but they raced without them
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The Great Spitalfields Pancake Race takes place every year on Shrove Tuesday at Dray Walk at the Old Truman Brewery just off Brick Lane, and is supported by Cath Kidston, Old Truman Brewery, Alternative Arts and YELP. Most of the teams are young people working in shops and businesses in the area, who collect sponsorship or make donations for the Air Ambulance.

The races are hotly contested, at least by some of the groups, and the teams that reached the final were all pretty fast movers with a nifty tossing technique. Each of the 4 members of every team runs one leg along a course of around 50 metres marked out on Dray Walk, and is required to toss the pancake in their pan in the middle of their run.

There was one small dispute over whether one of the teams had actually finished with or without their pancake, but other than that things ran fairly smoothly, much to the delight of a largish crowd including many taking photographs or video of the event.

Most of the teams wore fancy dress - for which there was also a prize, and some chose costumes which made competing in the race rather difficult. But although the competition was pretty intense at times, most were in the event simply to have some fun - and support a good cause.

At the end of the event there was a ceremony in which prizes were awarded to the race winners and runners up, as well as for the team with the best fancy dress. There was also a prize for the best behaved team, although I wasn't sure how that was judged.
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Poulters Pancake Race

City of London Guildhall, London. Tue 12 Feb 2013

Everyone was in fancy dress of one sort or another

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The City of London's 'instant tradition' of Shrove Tuesday pancake races took place in Guildhall Yard between teams representing the livery companies, wearing guild robes, white gloves and hats.

The races, begun in 2004 by the Worshipful Company of Poulters are now an annual event, with members of the ancient and more recent livery companies dressing up to run a short course in the Guildhall Yard, tossing the pancake at the centre of the outwards and return leg. With over a hundred livery companies now in existence, there is great competition to take part in the event. The event is a charity event, raising funds for the annual Lord Mayor's Appeal and this year for the Lord Mayor's Gifford Wood Appeal which is establishing a new wood near Waltham Abbey on the edge of Epping Forest.

Among the guilds contributing expertise to the event are the Gunmakers who provide a small but very loud cannon to start each heat, Clockmakers who attend to the timing, Fruiterers who provide lemons, Cutlers plastic forks, Glovers white gloves to be worn by each runner, and the Poulters whose eggs are used to make the pancakes.

It is a highly organised event, complete with clipboards, stop-watches and judges, and with a series of rules about dress and behaviour, with points being lost for various infringements.

The event is held in Guildhall Yard by permission of the Chief Commoner and was opened by a brief speech from the Lady Mayoress Dr Clare Gifford (the Lord Mayor being unable to attend) and a blessing by Canon Paul Thomas. She then started the first race by firing the small cannon with an extra loud bang.

As often in the City, despite the civility and formality - somewhat undermined by the contestants for the fancy dress race - competition was extremely fierce and the regulators had plenty of work to do keeping up with the infringements. If only they had paid as much attention to what the banks were doing.
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Friern Barnet Library Victory Celebration

Friern Barnet Library, London. Tue 5 Feb 2013

Lighting the candles on the celebration bookworm cake

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Friern Barnet Library supporters celebrated victory in overturning Barnet Council's closure decision in a ceremony in which the Occupy squatters who had prevented its sale handed over the library keys to the local community who will now run it.

The victory by local residents, squatters and activists from the Occupy Movement against Barnet Council is not just a local matter, but one of national (and possibly even international) importance. A great example of democracy in action it shows how a combination of campaiging, lobbying, direct action and making use of the law can win against bureacracy and greed.

Today residents and squatters came together to celebrate their victory after Barnet had agreed to lease the building to a community company set up to run it as a library, Friern Barnet Community Library (FBCL).

The library had for some years been deliberately neglected by Barnet Council, run down to give them the excuse to close it. It's hard not to suspect that this might be connected the with possibility of fat profits for whoever would be sold the site to develop it with luxury flats; although the actual library site is not huge, at each side there is an area of grass. Given its position, it is a site that property developers would drool over.

Locals obviously valued and loved their library and set up the Save Friern Barnet Library Group when they heard about the proposed closure. They were an active group which publicised the issue, started petitions, lobbied councillors, organised events and got the media involved - but the council was obdurate and refused to listen to them, closing the library in April 2012.

Things changed in September. A new law came into force penalising the homeless and squatters by making squatting in residential buildings illegal. One of the main proposers of this legislation which penalises the homeless and largely protects those holding empty properties as investments (those living in properties were already protected by law) had been an MP for the area which includes the library. On September 3, community activist squatters, including those who had been part of Occupy London, reopened it on 3 September, as a campaign to save the library (and a part of the National Libraries Campaign to save other libraries around the country faced with closure) and also as a protest against the new squatting laws.

Since then the library has been opened by residents and squatters for community use - borrowing of books, various classes and other activities - six days a week. And it was only the direct action in taking over the building that eventually enabled the protesters to force Barnet Council to negotiate and reach an agreement. Without them development would have gone ahead. Squatting gave the protesters time to fight, and to use the law against the council.

As the library is not a residential building it was not covered by the law against squatting, and the council had to go to court to try and evict the squatters. At the possession hearings the squatters argued that their occupation of the premises was a protest, and that the had the right to protest under Articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act. This gave the library supporters the chance to talk about the real issues involved. Rather than grant a possession order, the judge on December 18 decided that although the council's right to possession was more important, Barnet Council must try to negotiate some form of licence to keep the library open to preserve proportionality between the rights of protesters and of the council.

Although initially there had been some residents who were not too happy with having squatters in their Library, there reservations were soon broken down when they saw what they were actually acheiving.

There was a real party atmosphere in the library today, and residents and the activists obviously were celebrating together. We were called to order by one of the new library trustees, local Rabbi Jeffrey Newman and there were a few short speeches and at noon in a short ceremony the squatters handed over the keys to the building to residents who are trustee of the newly formed The Friern Barnet Community Library (Ltd).

After this, residents and activists joined hands to dance in a line around the two green spaces on either side of the library, which they hope to register like the library as community assets. A ribbon across the doorway of the library was then cut by local Councillor Pauline Coakley Webb, and we went back inside for more speeches and celebrations.

The speeches dealt with some of the issues raised by the library closures and the fight against them - the vital importance of libraries, particularly for the poor, unemployed and disadvantaged for whom they are a great educational resource. While many less wealthy countries are still struggling to set up libraries, what sense does it make to shut them down here? We need more libraries, they are one of the great ways of making access to knowledge open to all of our society instead of it being the privilege of the wealthy; it gives access to the whole world of books and also now the Internet to those who cannot otherwise afford or lack the skills to do so on their own. Although the library is currently run by volunteers, they hope in future to be able to employ trained library staff.

Alex Benyehuda read a poem about the need for libraries, which included some telling questions about whether you would snatch books away from people, particularly children; Phoenix talked about the need to make empty properties available for the homeless as well as the campaign to save libraries, the barrister who had represented the protesters spoke, and the many candles on the impressive 'bookworm' cake were lit before the legal adviser to the campaign cut it and then blew them all out. There were a lot of candles on the cake, I think one for each day of the occupation by the Occupy squatting activists that saved the library.

There was time for a few soft drinks and other snacks as well as the cake, and to speak to many of the people before, just as I was leaving, there was a second handing over of the keys staged for the benefit of a photographer from the national press.

This was a fine celebration of a historic event, both for the local community but also for others in the country who are fighting against closures and cuts, and a great example of how different groups can fight together and win - and in Barnet itself the fight will continue against the 'One Barnet' proposals to outsource much of the council's activities to let private companies profit from the council tax paid by the borough's residents.
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Waltham Forest Milad-Un-Nabi Procession

Leyton & Walthamstow, London. Sun 3 Feb 2013

The procession assembled outside the Mosque on Lea Bridge Road

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Several thousand Muslims marched around Walthamstow to mark Milad Un Nabi, the anniversary of the birth (and the death) of the Prophed Muhammad and to celebrate his message of peace.

The Milad-Un-Nabi procession was organised by the Waltham Forest Islamic Association and started and finished at their Lea Bridge Road Mosque. Several thousand Muslim men took part in the procession, led by a group of Islamic dignitaries, their hands and arms linked and behind them a banner announcing the celebration of the birth of the Prophet and that he brought 'A Message of Peace For All Creation.'

There were other Islamic flags and banners carried in the procession, and also on a couple of buses which carried those unable to walk in the procession. At the back of the procession was a group of a hundred or so women and children.

As the procession went along Hoe St towards the centre of Walthamstow there were several stalls giving out free food and hot and cold drinks to the marchers. There was a small incident here when a police officer came over and made some of these clear away as he felt they crowd around them was holding up the march. It seemed a totally insensitive and unnecessary intervention towards a free offering that is a part of the religious observance of the festival.

A little closer to the town centre the Mayor of Waltham Forest, Councillor Richard Sweden, came to join the head of the procession. The borough has the third or fourth largest Muslim population of London boroughs with 21.9% of residents identifying themselves as Muslim in the 2011 census - over 56,000 people.

An larger Sunni conference and procession in celebration of Milad-Un-Nabi takes place in Walthamstow next Sunday, and this will be the 29th year of what hopes to be the largest Milad-Un-Nabi Jaloos (procession) in the UK.
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Cleaners Protest at Barbican

Barbican Arts Centre, City of London. Sat 2 Feb 2013

Cleaners call for a living wage and to be treated with dignity and respect

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Cleaners held a noisy protest at the Barbican Centre asking to be paid a living wage at the City of London Corporation's prestige arts centre, and complained about unfair treatment and a union ban by cleaning contractor MITIE.

The protest was organised by the Industrial Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), the independent general union which represents cleaners and which declared an official dispute at the Barbican last November and has since held several protests.

The City of London Corporation has declarted itself in favour of the Living Wage (currently £8.55 ph in London) and says it pays all its workers at or above this rate, but it outsources the cleaning to MITIE who pay them a lower rate. MITIE is a large and highly profitable company, paying its CEO over a million pounds a year. The cleaners get £6.90 an hour - under £11,000 per year.

The IWGB allege that MITIE "has a terrible track record regarding the treatment of its workers" and that "sadistic managers" have forced some pregnant women workers "to carry out tasks that would knowingly endanger the life of their unborn babies nearly causing a miscarriage."

MITIE responded to the union claims in a letter sent by Senior HR Manager Kevin Watson-Griffin on 17 Oct 2012 which stated:

'IWGB representatives will not be permitted access to any MITIE site, including the Tower of London, Barbican etc. to support the IWGB members who are employed by MITIE. We appreciate that many sites, where our employees undertake work for our clients, are open to public access, but no member of IWGB should discuss union business with any MITIE employee during their working hours or on premises within which they are employed.'

A spokesman for the City of London Corporation who are the owners of the Barbican denied in a post of Facebook that there is any ban on the union at the centre.

Around 50 cleaners and supporters turned up for the late afternoon protest. They protested outside the main entrance to the centre, leaving room for people to enter and leave, and shouted a number of slogans including:

'MITIE, MITIE! - Shame on You'
and
'Hey Barbican, stop the lies! Let the workers organise!'

The question 'What do we want?' met with the loudly roared responses of 'Justice!' and 'Living Wage' and there was a variety of other slogans on similar themes, chanted in both English and Spanish, as many of the cleaners in London are of Latin-American origin.

Several people spoke, including one of the leaders of the Barbican cleaners, who as well as speaking about the low wages and poor working conditions, and the feeling by cleaners that they are treated like dirt rather than given the respect due to any person, told how his pregnant wife had been forced to work with chemicals that were known to be dangerous for pregnant women, risking a miscarriage, despite her complaints. MITIE had failed to discipline the manager responsible in any way. Fortunately despite the exposure, his wife had given birth to a healthy child.

There were a group of drummers and several people had loud air horns with air pumps,as well as some with whistles, and this was a very noisy protest. It was still continuing as I had to leave, and I could still hear the noise they were making - though faintly - as I reached Moorgate station, almost a quarter of a mile away despite the tall buildings lining the streets.

The IWGB intends to continue to hold protests at the Barbican and other sites until cleaners are paid the living wage, treated with appropriate respect and dignity and allowed union representation by MITIE.
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Save Chase Farm Hospital

Enfield, London. Sat 2 Feb 2013

Protesters line up at the start of the march

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The week after a massive march in South London against the closures at Lewisham hospital, campaigners in North London held a march against the closure of A&E and maternity services at Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield.

Plans to close the A&E and maternity departments were approved by Andrew Lansley in September 2011 after a long fight - in the course of which he had visited the hospital in 2007 along with David Cameron and Nick de Bois, then leading the Hands Off Our Hospital campaign. In 2010 de Bois was elected as local MP, replacing the previous Labour member in a campaign where saving Chase Farm was a key local issue. Cameron had pledged to stop the closures, and shortly after the coalition came to power Lansley again visited Chase Farm and put them on hold calling for a GP-led consultation.

Local protests, now led by the North East London Council of Action, have continued, with daily pickets outside the hospital where the units are due to close this November. The march was also supported by the Save Chase Farm campaign and the London Fire Brigade Union as well as Unison and there were a couple of people with a banner from another North London hospital, the Whittington Hospital at Archway, where vigorous local protest stopped closures of A&E and maternity a few years ago, but where the management is again proposing cuts.

The Barnet and Chase Farm NHS Hospital Trust includes Barnet and North Middlesex hospitals as well as Chase Farm recently announced plans for a £115million investment, made up of £80million for refurbishment of the 1970s Tower Block at the North Middlesex and £35million to expand A&E and maternity services at Barnet. Extra services at Barnet are intended to replace those being closed at Chase Farm, although campaigners from both Enfield and Barnet argue that they will be inadequate.

Around two hundred marchers gathered at the war memorial on Chase Green with banners, placards and flags and were entertained by some folk songs. Another small local community group 'Love Your DoorStep' danced past with balloons on their way into the town and promised to join the hospital marchers later.

A little after 2pm the marchers set off along Church St towards the town centre. Many shoppers on the street stopped to applaud and wish them well, and a few joined them. I left the march shortly after it turned north up Silver Street to makes its way towards the hospital on The Ridgeway to the north-west of Enfield.

One of the slogans the marchers were chanting as they went through the centre of Enfield was 'Occupy Now' and there were plans to try to occupy a part of Chase Farm when the march reached there. Unfortunately I had promised to be elsewhere and had to leave them before they reached the hospital. I later heard that half a dozen protesters had occupied a part of the Tower Building and were evicted around 10pm that evening.
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All pictures on this section of the site are Copyright © Peter Marshall 2012; to buy prints or for permission to reproduce pictures or to comment on this site, or for any other questions, contact me.

my london diary index
 

Feb 2013

Hillingdon Marches Against Cuts
Vulture Funds - Claws off Argentina!
Reclaim Love Valentines Party
Fuel Poverty Rally & DAN Roadblock
Defend the Union Flag
Alevi Protest Discrimination in Turkey & UK
Stop Western Intervention in Syria & Mali
Thames Path Greenwich Partly Open
Fight to Save Lewisham Hospital Continues
Ash Wednesday - Ministry of Defence
Victimisation at London Met
Prison Officers Protest Against Cuts
Shaker Aamer - 11 Years in Guantanamo
Great Spitalfields Pancake Race
Poulters Pancake Race
Friern Barnet Library Victory Celebration
Waltham Forest Milad-Un-Nabi Procession
Cleaners Protest at Barbican
Save Chase Farm Hospital

january
february
march
april
may
june
july
august
september
october
november
december

 

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