Nationwide TopShop protest

A month on from the previous London demo, matters have escalated. TopShop’s cleaning company, Brittania have now sacked one of the two suspended workers, Susana, a single mother with several years service to the company.

09 UVW TopShop 16th May © @indyrikki

She is determined to see justice, and the grassroots ‘United Voices of the World’ union have expanded the protest so that 17 shops around the UK were targeted by actions today.

Also more groups have come forward to support the fight, moved not only by the issues of living wage, harassment and bullying, but also by the fact that Philip Green’s tax arrangements see TopShop paying very little in the way of UK tax.

01 UVW TopShop 16th May © @indyrikki

08 UVW TopShop 16th May © @indyrikki

Today’s protest in London began at 5pm outside the flagship Oxford Street store, and was briefly visited by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell who held a banner in support.

Like last month, the policing was intense, with two Inspectors on duty, Forward Intelligence Officers, the mysterious green van with what is thought to be a petapixel camera on a pole, plus other surveillance officers and dozens of uniformed police. All this was on top of some very large private security guards hired by TopShop.

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The police were quite pushy-shovey, marking out arbritary lines for where people could and couldn’t stand. Even the Police Liaison Officers, supposed to be all smiley, got a bit shouty at times.

02 UVW TopShop 16th May © @indyrikki

05 UVW TopShop 16th May © @indyrikki

Despite the excessive policing, the protest remained good-natured and there were no arrests. A walk up Oxford Street took the roughly 150 activists to TopShop’s Marble Arch branch where the shutters came down and customers were huddled out of a rear door. Business was effectively suspended for around 30 minutes, and amongst the noise, some drumming, vuvulezas, and chants, one egg was thrown.

07 UVW TopShop 16th May © @indyrikki

By 7pm the march was back at the Oxford Circus branch, and after a few more speeches on the open mic, the protest was finished for the day.

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We heard that there had been a banner drop inside the store, and also that 600 hand-written notes had been left amongst clothes inside the store, telling readers about the bullying, the suspensions and sackings, the poor wages and Philip Green’s tax avoidance.

For more background info, read my previous post, and for future events in this rapidly growing campaign check the United Voices facebook page

06 UVW TopShop 16th May © @indyrikki

10 UVW TopShop 16th May © @indyrikki

Topshop protests over Living Wage and suspensions

Cleaners at Topshop are sub-contracted to a company, Britannia Services Group, that made £1.34m profit after tax. Philip Green, worth nearly £5bn, runs the Arcadia Group that owns Topshop. Arcadia made more than £250m profit last year, but it is registered to Philip Green’s wife, who lives in the Monaco tax haven. Mr. Green recently bought a £100m yacht.

The cleaners pay all the tax due on their £6.75 per hour poverty wages, leaving them without enough money to cover London rent and food.

Despite a workplace culture of fear and intimidation, some cleaners have been campaigning and organising to raise awareness and push for a London Living Wage (http://www.livingwage.org.uk/what-living-wage). As a result of their lawful activities, two have been suspended and a third is under threat. Susana, an Ecuadorian single mother, has worked at Topshop for several years, and despite being bullied at work, shows great courage, along with Carolina and Luz, in standing up to the corporation.

They are all members of the grassroots union United Voices of the World (www.uvwunion.org.uk), which has had some notable successes despite running on a shoestring budget made up of small subscriptions and donations.

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Today’s protest began at the Strand branch of Topshop, as the People’s Assembly march and rally drew to a close in nearby Trafalgar Square. The UVW received solidarity from Class War activists who unfurled a large banner in front of the doors to the Strand shop and later set off smoke bombs. UVW organiser, Petros Elia addressed the crowd.

01 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

02 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

Perhaps expecting major public disorder during the austerity protest, or perhaps buoyed by a new financial year, the demonstration was notable for the excessive policing, with several vans of riot police, two sets of evidence gatherers, and the attention of a Chief Inspector, all for a small industrial dispute with a few dozen protesters.

05 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

06 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

After a short speech from Susana, the decision was taken to march to the Oxford Circus flagship store, and there, as news spread, more people joined the protest swelling numbers to around a hundred or so, although the many bystanders and bemused shoppers soon blocked roads around the store.

03 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

Again, police resources seemed limitless, with at times, nearly as many officers as protesters. Ironic that most of the protesters pay tax, which covers police salaries and overtime, and yet the police were deployed to assist the private security of a huge corporation that aggressively avoids contributing to the UK tax system.

07 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

08 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

Police claimed that the demonstration (mainly on the pavement in front of the shop) was ‘wilfully obstructing the highway’, and they aggressively pushed people away from the shop, but because they didn’t facilitate the protest by providing a space for it to continue, this led to a walkabout and a short visit to the John Lewis store (which also pays its sub-contracted cleaners far less than the Living Wage).

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Topshop used to have a paragraph on their ‘code of conduct’ web page, which stated that they “fully subscribe” to “the concept of a living wage”, but publicity surrounding this vague declaration led to its removal last month.

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The IVW have a great track record and won a major victory in similar actions against Sotheby’s recently. On today’s showing, this powerful campaign looks to continue, and morale and optimism is high that Topshop will have to relent to save public face.

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UVW post info about future protests on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/uvwunion)

Current petition: https://www.change.org/p/sotheby-s-london-reinstate-your-cleaners-and-pay-them-the-living-wage/u/16116671?recruiter=187171441&utm_source=share_update&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=share_twitter_responsive

DSEI Arms Fair Verdict – Protest works!!

UPDATE 2nd May

As expected, the CPS has now lodged an application with the magistrates court for them to “state a case” for appeal to the High Court.

In their submission, dated 29th April, they ask whether the judge, DJ Angus Hamilton, was correct in allowing a Section 3 defence (that the defendants were acting in order to prevent a crime), and therefore was right to hear from the expert witnesses (from Amnesty, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, and Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy) about the evidence of crimes committed at DSEI in previous years.

The CPS question whether the defendants were actually acting to prevent a crime, or rather to simply disrupt the arms fair and bring attention to their own conscientious objection to the arms trade. Also, whether the judge was right that their actions constituted “force” as defined in Section 3. The CPS query whether therefore the expert opinion was inadmissible, and finally they challenge whether the actions of the defendants were reasonable, as there was no immediate need to act, given that no clear crime being committed nor any criminal instantly identifiable.

ORIGINAL POST 15th April BELOW

THE CASE

Eight activists on trial were attempting to disrupt the DSEI Arms Fair last September as part of a week of protest actions. (https://www.stopthearmsfair.org.uk/week-of-action-round-up/)

DSEI (Defence and Security Equipment International) is held biennially at the Excel Exhibition Centre in East London. The fair is subsidised by tax-payers and promoted by the government’s UK Trade and Investment DSO (Defence and Security Organisation) which employs more than a hundred civil servants to “promote arms exports”.

Each year, the exhibition attracts large protests, and is heavily policed. While much of what goes on at the fair can be described as “lawful”, many protesters argue that the Government should not be subsidising an industry which inevitably leads to death, in the same way that Government wouldn’t subsidise the tobacco industry.

Aside from this, the main trouble with DSEI is that the Government actively invites regimes that have terrible human rights abuse records, and that since 2005, each and every DSEI exhibition has been caught out actively selling torture equipment that broke UK arms export controls, or indiscriminate weapons banned under international law. And yet, in 2015 human rights observers were barred from the exhibition.

Within this context, the eight people on trial used their bodies, variously locked on to delivery lorries, locked on to gates, or simply lying in the road, to try to prevent or delay the set-up of the exhibition and in order to prevent further such crimes being committed.

THE ARGUMENTS

While the facts of the case were not in dispute, the defendants all plead not guilty to “wilful obstruction of the highway” on the basis that they had “lawful excuse”.

This refers to Section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1967/58) which states “a person may use such force as is reasonable in the prevention of a greater crime”.

The legal arguments centred mainly around the definition of “use of force”, whether the actions of the protesters were actually aimed at preventing a crime, and the extent to which citizens have the right to take the law into their own hands.

“Use of force”: The prosecution argued that lying down in the road couldn’t be described as using force, the defence pointed out that this line of argument would throw up bizarre consequences not intended by the law, e.g. if a protester had reached into the cab of the lorry and wrestled the keys from the driver (committing an assault in the process) that this would have lawful excuse, while peacefully sitting in front of the lorry wouldn’t! Arriving at a guilty verdict on this basis would send a strange signal out to future protesters.

“Preventing crime”: The prosecution suggested the actions were designed to “raise awareness” and not to prevent crime. The defence brought in expert witnesses to describe the documented breaches of law at four previous DSEI events, and the devastating implications of those breaches in terms of torture and indiscriminate killings.

“Self help”: This was the phrase the prosecution used when people act to prevent what they perceive as crime. The suggestion was that this must be strictly limited in a functioning society to prevent vigilantism. The question was where to draw a line. If this action was OK, they suggested, what’s to stop a group blowing an aeroplane out of the sky that was delivering arms to Saudi Arabia? Allowing protesters to stop traffic just because they “think” something illegal might be going on, would, the prosecution said, lead to anarchy.

The magistrate spent a lot of time questioning the prosecution over this area, and whether the law was framed to allow subjectivity. His interpretation was that if someone’s belief was reasonable, there was no objective argument, but that even if a belief was unreasonable, if they reasonably and genuinely held it, then a judge would have subjective leeway. He proposed that in law the ‘burden of proof’ lay with the prosecution to show that no greater crime WAS being committed and that the lorry that was delayed was NOT carrying illegal weapons. One of the defendants, when asked by police if there was anything they could do to get her to move, asked them to check the vehicle for illegal weapons, and they refused. The defence said that the Crown must prove where the lorry was going and what it contained if they were relying on the suggestion that the defendant couldn’t have been preventing a crime because they didn’t know.

The defence pointed to the suffragette movement and the man who stood in front of tanks in Tiananmen Square as examples of Non-Violent Direct Action that were part of a rich heritage of democratic change and progress, and they argued that the action was wholly proportionate with very little “collateral damage” on innocent parties. They also argued that Section 3 (and its phrase ‘use of force’) was merely a codification of principles already enshrined in Common Law.

The magistrate gave himself the afternoon and overnight to reach the verdict announced in court this morning.

He began by stating that his decision would be based on the aspect of ‘preventing a greater crime’ alone. This might open up a possibility of an appeal by the crown on other criteria. He also said that the CPS had managed the case poorly, and that their arguments were not as coherent as he would have wished. He accepted that all the actions constituted ‘use of force’ under the intended meaning of the act. He also accepted that the expert witnesses had provided clear and credible evidence that illegal arms had been sold at DSEI and that no Government or law enforcement action had taken place to investigate or halt illegal activity. This means that he accepted the defendants had considered other means to prevent the crimes.

So, all the accused were acquitted on the defence that they had ‘lawful excuse’.

The full judgement will be released on Monday, and given that this ruling puts DSEI at significant risk of major “lawful” disruption in future, it is quite likely that the CPS may appeal the decision, but for now, the champagne corks are popping, history has been made, and the arms trade has suffered a major blow.

 

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District Judge Angus Hamilton

CPS Caoimhe Daly

#ResignCameron grassroots protest in London

Following the Panama Papers revelations, and Prime Minister David Cameron’s fluctuating denials and responses about his own tax arrangements, today’s protest was called at short notice and organised through social media with backing from ‘UK Uncut’ and ‘Class War’ among other groups, as well as a facebook page run by freelance journalist Abi Wilkinson.

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Several hundred people had already gathered outside Downing Street by 11am (a start time moved an hour earlier with very little notice). Police barriers were quickly dismantled and Whitehall was occupied by a determined but peaceful crowd.

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A bicycle sound system started up and a shout went out that the protest was moving. Soon, hundreds of people streamed up Whitehall and along the Strand on a mystery march to another venue.

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The new target turned out to be the Grand Connaught Rooms near Holborn, where Cameron was addressing a Tory Spring Forum (telling them he was going to keep taxes down!).

For a while, the crowd blockaded all access to the hotel, with a large number of police stationed at doors.

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Various speakers addressed the main crowd at the front of the venue, including Jolyon Rubinstein.

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As news spread that Cameron had managed to exit the building just before the crowd arrived, the decision was made to return to Downing Street.

In Whitehall there were several hundred who hadn’t been to the Connaught Rooms, and they cheered as they saw the march returning, swelling numbers towards a couple of thousand in total.

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Although at first, police had let traffic through into Whitehall, they decided against trying to clear the diverse and peaceful crowd, and instead they started turning round the backed up vehicles and eventually closed Whitehall completely. As the rain stayed away, the atmosphere was upbeat, with police even laughing at pithy commentary from Spoken Word Nerd.

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However, there were a lot of police parked up in vans in reserve, and the gates were defended by TSG officers, dressed in new friendly yellow tabards rather than their usual all-black uniforms.

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The Class War contingent brought along their ‘new homes’ banner.

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With reference to assemblies going on in France and Spain, people sat down and discussed ways to get rid of Cameron and with what to replace him, then shared their ideas on the sound system microphone. One little girl suggested throwing spiders at him, which got a huge cheer.

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Liberate Tate © @indyrikki 2016 006

Farewell party for BP sponsorship at Tate Modern

After 18 artistic interventions over six years, campaign group ‘Liberate Tate‘ held an unofficial party this afternoon in the Turbine Hall to celebrate the news that Tate Modern is finally free of its 26 year long arrangement with BP.

Campaign pressure on the criminal oil company is widely regarded as one of the main reasons they have given up their deal with the gallery, although news reports cited the “challenging business environment“.

Recent Freedom of Information requests indicate that the amount of money BP gives the gallery each year is smaller than one hour’s profit, so it seems more likely they have weighed up the substantial PR gains they get from such arrangements against the bad press they regularly receive as campaign groups stage their protests and that the protests are just too damaging to the company.

Activists smuggled a sound system into the hall this afternoon and danced, drank, and ate cake.

Liberate Tate © @indyrikki 2016 002

Children played under and around the black square (resurrected from a previous action).

Liberate Tate © @indyrikki 2016 001

Veiled performers delivered their artists’ statement.

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Two activists somehow accessed a beam very high up above the crowd and dropped black confetti creating a massive spectacle for the visiting public.

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Liberate Tate © @indyrikki 2016 005

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After a couple of hours, most of the confetti was packed away in bags and activists bade a final farewell to the museum, while a police inspector tried to work out how the confetti stunt had been pulled.

Liberate Tate © @indyrikki 2016 009

Liberate Tate © @indyrikki 2016 010

Another campaign group, ‘BP or not BP‘, will continue their pressure on the British Museum where the new director, Hartwig Fischer, is currently deciding whether to renew BP’s sponsorship deal there.

See also ‘TimePiece‘, my short film of a 24-hour occupation at Tate Modern last year.

 

 

Protest at TopShop over London Living Wage

01 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

Yesterday afternoon saw the launch of a new campaign by the grassroots union, United Voices of the World, which represents key workers in London’s outsourced economy – the porters, cleaners, shop assistants, security guards and so on – jobs characterised by precarious contracts and low pay.

 The UVW union has no paid officials and runs on goodwill, solidarity and small subscriptions. It represents mainly Latin American migrant workers, but is open and welcoming to all. For such a shoestring enterprise it has an astonishingly successful track record in defending workers at numerous Employment Tribunal cases, winning its members tens of thousands of pounds in settlements and also gaining living wage agreements for hundreds of workers in just a few short years.

 Its biggest victory has been a historic agreement for sub-contracted staff (security and cleaners) at the world-renowned Sotheby’s auction house in Mayfair. After UVW’s series of boisterous and embarrassing protests during public auctions, an agreement has been reached committing Servest (the company contracted to provide services to Sotheby’s) to not only pay the London Living Wage, but also to offer Occupational Sick Pay, the first time outsourced private sector employees have been offered anything more than the far smaller Statutory Sick Pay. (my Sotheby’s reports and pics 1 2

 So, UVW have now turned their attention to London High Street retailers, beginning at TopShop with a 100-strong protest at their flagship Oxford Circus store yesterday afternoon. This will be the first living wage campaign targeted at a fashion retailer in the UK.

02 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

 With drums, horns, cowbells, a megaphone and loud chanting, the crowd drew much attention from passers-by and shoppers.

08 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

After some short speeches from Union organisers and TopShop cleaners, a good-natured attempt to enter the store was repelled by security staff, and then a line of police helped block the main entrance.

03 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

06 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

The drumming and chanting created a carnival atmosphere in the Spring-like sunshine, and at times the road was filled with interested onlookers. Volunteers handed out hundreds of leaflets highlighting the disparity between the massive profits reported by Philip Green’s Arcadia Group (registered under his wife’s name in a Monaco tax haven), and the poverty-inducing wages paid to staff (expected to rise in line with minimum wage to £7.20 per hour from April).

05 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

07 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

The campaign is pushing for a London Living Wage of £9.40 per hour (based on scientific methodology and the true cost of living). This is not to be confused with George Osborne’s promise of a ‘living wage’ by 2020, which is actually merely a rebranding of the minimum wage and is not related to the cost of living.

Many of the workers are actually sub-contracted and work for Brittania Services Group, but despite TopShop’s own Code of Conduct claiming to subscribe to the concept of the “living wage”, the retailer has not taken any action to promote this “concept” for its staff.

After a couple of hours, the protest went on a walkabout, briefly blocking Oxford Circus before visiting and briefly invading John Lewis.

09 UVW TopShop ©@indyrikki

Despite a campaign involving comedian/activist Mark Thomas a couple of years ago, this supposedly ethical store still sub-contracts its cleaners at rates impossible to live on in the capital.

The UVW is planning to target the Science Museum and the Daily Mail in a series of further actions this year.

They have launched this petition relating to TopShop.

 

 

 

 

 

Redlines solidarity protests in London

Two different activist groups staged protests in London today in solidarity with the so-called Redlines protests taking place in Paris at the end of the COP21 climate talks.

First were a group of around 25, calling themselves ‘Red Lines London’, who carried 10 giant inflatable cubes, similar to those used in Paris, to various sites across London.

They began with a short roadblock outside the Houses of Parliament, highlighting our Government’s increasing subsidies to fossil fuel companies while cutting support for renewable energy schemes and alternative energy research.

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Next, they crossed Westminster Bridge to pose outside the Shell HQ building.

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After a brief pause to top up the air pressure , the next target was the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern gallery, which receives sponsorship money in a green-washing exercise from BP.

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Moving further east, the group then blockaded the entrance to News International’s London HQ near London Bridge. Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers have been very supportive of air attacks on Syria, which is no surprise as he has oil interests along with Jacob Rothschild in the Syrian Golan Heights.

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Crossing the River Thames they carried their red lines through the City of London financial centre (where they attracted inquiries from police).

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Their fifth and final destination was the office of PR firm Hill & Knowlton, which works for fracking lobbyists to promote the idea that extreme energy extraction techniques are safe and sustainable, despite scientists’ analysis that further carbon exploitation will cause runaway temperature warming.

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———-

Meanwhile, back at Westminster,  Campaign Against Climate Change were preparing their own Redlines solidarity action starting with some speeches outside Parliament, including from Sian Berry, the Green Party candidate for London Mayor.

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The action comprised unfurling a 300m red line across Westminster Bridge.

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Despite strong winds, they managed to hang on and span the whole bridge behind Parliament.

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Both UK actions were in solidarity with the thousands gathered in Paris in defiance of emergency powers to send out a message to COP21 delegates that there are red lines that must not be crossed.