#BlackLivesMatter – SWP not welcome

On Friday evening a rally was held in Altab Ali park, Whitechapel, as part of the day-long launch of nationwide #Shutdown protests against prejudice, discrimination, and police killings, organised by the UKBLM movement.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

There were very moving accounts from various speakers whose families have been deeply affected by police killings and the institutional racism and self-preservation that invariably follows.

Among the string of speakers were Marcia Rigg, who spoke of her ongoing 8-year fight for justice for Sean Rigg, who died at Brixton police station in August 2008, and Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennet, who told of her unimaginable torment and the litany of appalling corruption, lies and cover-ups over the death of her twin brother Leon Patterson who died at the hands of Greater Manchester Police in 1992. She finally received the death certificate last week – her fight for truth and justice goes on.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

Marcia Rigg

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

Stephanie Lightfoot-Bennet

There has been a distinct lack of diversity among a majority of protest movements in the UK for many years, despite the glaring truth that many social justice issues affect people of colour disproportionately. It also seemed for a while that young people were disengaged, perhaps after the violent quashing of the student fees protest movement in 2010.

However, it looks like this might be changing, as political mobilisation, especially among the young, is on the rise. The newly appointed president of the NUS, who also spoke at the rally, is Malia Bouattia, a black Muslim woman with a refreshingly uncompromising attitude. She spoke against the racist and divisive Prevent strategy, which criminalises thought, and also warned about the new Extremism Bill which attacks all of us who think a different world is urgently needed as well as possible!

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

Malia Bouattia

The exciting thing too, is that there seems to be more connections happening – student rights, economics, climate change, sexual politics and equality. While I’m not advocating diluting the BLM message, it was interesting to see visible support from many LGBTQ activists among the truly diverse crowd of several hundred attending. Sisters Uncut also supported the rally and the wider #Shutdown movement, recognising a common fight against racist state violence and police brutality.

The SWP were there of course, with a batch of their branded banners, and with plenty of newspapers to sell. A BLM speaker asked for people to sign up online to an email list (on their FB page), but suggested that ‘other groups’ in the park may also ask for email addresses, and to use discretion whether to do so – a reminder that not all groups shared the same clear agenda. Meanwhile, someone was quietly ripping the SWP branding off a stack of banners, something that I’d recommend as standard practice – it was great to see.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

A large purpose of the rally seemed to be to share experiences and to build and strengthen networks, so to this end, it split into four smaller groups for a while (based on North/South/East/West London), to facilitate communication and to discuss building a widening movement.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

Police ‘Liaison Officers’ prowled the park, listening in to these meetings, while a high-resolution police camera van surveilled the park from one of the entrances, collecting images of all involved.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

After a brief concluding statement from BLM activist Wail Quasim, the plan was for some #Shutdown direct action, but as a small group carrying a large ‘Stand Up To Racism’ banner led people out of the park, the SWP issue reached boiling point as female activists refused to march alongside SWP representatives, including Gary McFarlane, on account of the SWP’s mishandling, cover-up, apologism and sexism regarding rape allegations over several years.

McFarlane refused to step aside, and the banner was physically grappled over for a short while, but then, as knowledge of the issue spread, almost the entire crowd turned back into the park, refusing to follow the small group who took to the road, despite the initial plan for a mass #shutdown.

So while networking, communication and debate continued on the grass, and people began to drift away into the night, the banner group (no more than a couple of dozen, and not all of them SWP), caused havoc on Whitechapel High Street, eventually blocking the junction with Commercial Street and gridlocking traffic for the next 40 minutes.

Gary McFarlane on the megaphone

Gary McFarlane on the megaphone

Interestingly, the police were on clear instruction from above to avoid conflict at all costs – wish that it was ever so! Two blue-bibbed Liaison Officers watched protesters sit in front of vehicles and only occasionally engaged with irate motorists, telling them that the protest would probably move on in a while and to remain calm.

A white man on a moped, angry at first, argued and then debated with two female activists, who gradually persuaded him round to their view.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

Adding to the gridlock, first a coach took to the wrong side of the road at the bottom of Commercial Street, and then a delivery lorry travelling west, also drove on the wrong side of the road, hoping to turn right, but finding his path blocked by the coach. His lorry then effectively blocked the eastbound flow.

After around 30 minutes, a vanload of police arrived, and a further 3 TSG vans rushed through the junction and seemingly parked up nearby out of sight. I expected the familiar pushing to begin, but instead, the police facilitated the coach driver reversing back to his rightful place and then let the lorry through. This meant that a little traffic flow could begin.

Back at the park, people were beginning to disperse, and at the same time, the banner crew decided to head off up Commercial Street and apparently towards Tottenham, followed by hands-off police.

The solidarity in disassociating with SWP was novel and powerful, while the #shutdown itself showed what just a few people can achieve. Imagine a co-ordinated wave of small groups closing key junctions across London at the same time – with careful planning, a very powerful protest could be accomplished. The UK BLM movement is in its infancy and looks set to grow. With the protests at Heathrow and in Nottingham and Birmingham on Friday, they certainly made their mark. And with support and solidarity from other groups, who knows what changes are possible.

5th August 2016 ¢blacklivesmatter rally in Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel

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London Met protest against cuts and union victimisation

On Saturday 23rd July, the UCU held a protest at the Holloway Road campus and a march along Holloway Road to a small rally at Highbury Fields.

02 london met protest © @indyrikki

They were highlighting the massive job cuts recently announced by management, with 395 staff, a third of the university workforce, facing redundancy.

Prior to negotiations, in an act widely regarded as union victimisation, the University has targeted two chief union negotiators, branch chair Mark Campbell and branch secretary David Hardman, for compulsory redundancy.

A long list of speakers represented academics, unions, students, and Labour councillors, all concerned about education, privatisation, and union victimisation.

01 london met protest © @indyrikki

Various threads interwove to warn of a stark and privatised future for higher education in the UK.

Back in 2010, the Conservatives did their deal with LibDems, bringing in the £9000 tuition fees with a promise that this amount wouldn’t rise with inflation. Two days ago, that deal was formally over, as the Universities Minister Jo Johnson announced an end to the cap. Students who are already enrolled will face new increases.

Government figures show that fewer than 50% of loans are expected to be repaid by graduate students, leaving the rest to be paid by the tax-payer, among them future students who in effect will face double taxation.

Some say that the Higher Education and Research Bill is so horrific that the Government is trying to pay off Vice-Chancellors to stop them from criticising and highlighting the excesses of deregulation it contains. Despite this, the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, in a scathing attack on one of the new bill’s hallmark policies, has described the ‘teaching excellence framework’ as a “mere kite mark”.

However, the current VC at London Met, John Raftery, is a great supporter of the bill, and the Chair of the Board of Governors, Mark Anderson, used to work as the Head of Global Growth for Pearson UK.

Pearson is a very successful FTSE 100 and listed global publishing and education company, which has recently sold off its ownership of the FT and The Economist, announcing it will now “concentrate 100% on education”.

Insiders have labelled the £33 billion market in student fee income as ‘the mother lode’ and venture capitalists are eager to grab a piece.

A student activist broke into tears while speaking about the intransigence of the current VC and the closure and sell-off of The Cass Arts Faculty buildings in Whitechapel (a very lucrative area for private development). Many art classes have been cut, and those remaining are moving to the cramped campus at Holloway.

03 london met protest © @indyrikki

She paid tribute to the staff saying that “when I speak to managers at London Met, I get the feeling that they’re important and that they make decisions about my education, but when I speak to the staff, I get the impression that I am important and that I get to make the decisions about my education.”

Some observers are alarmed that London Met might be being set up to fail, as a laboratory experiment for the Government to try out ‘resolution techniques’ in which a private provider, perhaps Pearson(?), moves in and takes over. The dismissal of Mark Campbell and David Hardman, along with increasing casualisation, is seen as further proof of that scenario. This current policy trajectory is overseen by external consultants and a few unaccountable senior managers, who are refusing to consult with staff, students or unions.

The first speeches took place on the Holloway Road opposite a massive new build of private student accommodation – this seemed particularly apposite, given that an estimated 80% of student loans end up going towards rent, a massive flow of public money into private hands. (see my film on the UCL rent strike for more on this).

04 london met protest © @indyrikki

After a short march to Highbury Fields, there was a second rally there, at which John McDonnell was billed to appear, but he sent his apology and support, and there was also a statement of support from Jeremy Corbyn who was launching his official grassroots leadership campaign in Salford this afternoon.

05 london met protest © @indyrikki

06 london met protest © @indyrikki

Mark Campbell and David Hardman are fighting their dismissal and taking London Met to court. The staff cuts will be fought with further action too.

You can sign up to a thunderclap social media protest until 9am on Monday (25th)

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New depths in anti-Corbynista war on democracy

I’ve just had a call from a friend who has recently decided to become involved in politics as she’s so concerned about the state of the world.

For better or worse, she has decided to back Corbyn, and a few weeks ago she joined the Labour party for £3.

Now learning that she’s prevented from voting in the leadership election, she decided to part with another £25 and joined again yesterday. On her application she gave the reason for joining that she wanted to vote for Corbyn.

She didn’t receive confirmation, and the £25 didn’t leave her account. At first, she thought nothing of this, assuming that the system might be overwhelmed and slow, but then she started hearing reports that other people had joined successfully with immediate acknowledgement.

Smelling a rat, she tried again today, and despite inputting the same details, she was not prevented from doing so. The only difference this time was that she gave “I want to support democracy” as her reason for joining. Within minutes the £25 had left her account, and an email confirmation arrived.

Searching online, she has come across numerous others with the same tale.

This is a scandal on top of many other scandals.

The anti-Corbyn establishment seems so desperate and willing to abandon any democratic pretence that they will stoop at nothing. Is he really so dangerous?

Crouch End reaches “Peak Gentrification”

02 crouch end green © @indyrikki

The north London suburb of Crouch End, home to many white middle-class Guardianistas, thesps and other creatives, has seen some changes over the last few years. House prices have risen astronomically as developers build luxury accommodation, and the area around the historic clock tower is replete with estate agents, eateries, coffee bars, hairdressers, beauty parlours, and high end charity shops. M&S and Waitrose opened large stores in the last few years, and the small Budgens store finally gave in to a new, and decidedly up market Co-op.

Developers have been sniffing around the old Hornsey Town Hall, a huge 1930’s Grade II listed building, for years, but there has been massive public resistance to any plans by Haringey Council to sell it off for private development, and as a result, it is currently run by ANA as an interim community arts project, providing small business space, a venue, gallery and coffee bar. But the arrangement is due to end soon, and a sell-off to developers seems likely.

Local campaigners are angry that the small green is included in the sale plans, and on Saturday they held a rally, promoting their petition and and recruiting interest in defending the space.

01 crouch end green © @indyrikki

Local councillor, Jason Arthur, tried to reason with an angry crowd, and admitted that the recent ‘consultation’ had not been widely enough publicised.

03 crouch end green © @indyrikki

He repeatedly assured the public that the council would install covenants into any deal so that the green would remain open to the public despite change of ownership, but perhaps indicative of the ever lower esteem held by politicians, he didn’t appear to convince anyone of his sincerity, and the people listening to him weren’t persuaded that any ‘covenant’ would prevent a future abandonment of promises made now.

The campaigners are calling on the council to make public the evidence from their recent consultation, for the proposed 125-year lease to be made fully public, and for new opportunities for public debate before any decision is made.

The chaining to the railings was only symbolic on Saturday, but with Crouch End clearly reaching ‘peak gentrification’ who knows what direct action may be contemplated in the future.

04 crouch end green © @indyrikki

The online petition is at bit.ly/TownHallGreen      @TownHallGreen

Class War visit Boris Johnson’s house

UPDATED 24th July – see below

First report for some time – I’ve been busy making all sorts of films – some for Real Media – will be collating a little catch-up of those here soon, but in the meantime, here’s a quick report from tonight’s protest, as Boris’s Cabinet appointment was suitably commemorated by some right-wing thuggery.

15th july 2016 Anarchist activists 'Class War' march on Boris Johnson's home in Islington, and one of them is assaulted by a suited white man.

This evening, up to a hundred anarchist protesters marched to Boris Johnson’s north London home to protest that a racist liar has been made Foreign Secretary. They’d made a guillotine banner which they paraded outside Boris’s front door.

03 boris class war © @indyrikki

While tabloids were no doubt hoping the evening would be marred by violence, I doubt they’ll be reporting the fact that it was. As protesters gathered outside the huge Islington mansion, a man in a suit, described by protesters as a ‘toff’ decided to pick on a middle-aged woman, pushing her hard so she fell backwards, smashing her head on the pavement.

01 boris class war © @indyrikki

Police then whisked the man away from the crowd, and appeared to be about to let him go, but activists demanded he be charged, and eventually a statement was taken from the victim, who was clearly dazed and in pain, and the man was taken away in a police van.

Ian Bone, a rallying figure in the Class War movement, said that the victim was his long-term partner, and he asked what the police reaction would have been had the assault been by an anarchist dressed in black rather than an expensively-suited white man. He posited that the aggressor would have found themselves on the ground with police knees holding them down while being handcuffed, rather than being gently escorted away and quietly spoken with.

02 boris class war © @indyrikki

With the house protected by a line of police, plus the usual surveillance, it seemed the party was over as soon as it had begun, and activists began to disperse, leaving the police to stand guard at Boris’s home set picturesquely next to the canal.06 boris class war © @indyrikki

04 boris class war © @indyrikki

07 boris class war © @indyrikki

UPDATE 24th July

Ian Bone has just tweeted that the man who assaulted his partner Jane has now been charged with ‘common assault’, and it turns out he is a senior sales negotiator at the uber-gentrificator estate agents, Foxton’s. Beyond satire.

 

 

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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.

03 UVW TopShop 16th May © @indyrikki

11 UVW TopShop 16th May © @indyrikki

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.

12 UVW TopShop 16th May © @indyrikki

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.

04 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

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).

09 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

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.

10 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

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.

11 UVW Top Shop protests ©2016 @indyrikki

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