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)

Save

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

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

 

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

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.

 

—-

District Judge Angus Hamilton

CPS Caoimhe Daly