Poor Doors Truce Over – It's War!

One Commercial St, Aldgate, London. Thu 12 Feb 2015

A Mr Greedy placard and two fingers for Taylor McWilliams
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Last November Class War halted the protests over separate doors for rich and poor at One Commercial St after new owner Taylor McWilliams promised to discuss the ending of separate entrances. But when talks to place last month, broke down in minutes when it became clear that he was only prepared to make cosmetic changes and not to end the segregated entrances.

The regular protests restarted today, though Class War had paid a brief visit during the March for Homes on Jan 31. There was a new 'Mr Greedy property developer bastard' placard too.

Building work is taking place in the side alley where the poor door is located, and may possibly end with it a little more attractive. There is also new lighting there, making it a little less risky for people coming home late at night, though for the moment you have to make a lengthy detour around the block to reach the poor door from the rear.
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Muslim Lives Matter - BBC protest

Broadcasting House, London. Thu 12 Feb 2015

Protesters with #Muslim Lives Matter placards opposite Broadcasting House
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An emergency protest at the BBC condemned the killing of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA, and the failure to report adequately on this hate attack which they see as arising from systemic racism and Islamophobia in the media.
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Aylesbury rubble to Southwark Council

Southwark Council Offices, London. Tue 10 Feb 2015

Southwark residents dump waste from council demolition of Aylesbury Estate in doorway of council offices
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Residents dumped demolition waste at Southwark Council in a protest over the so-called regeneration of their Aylesbury Estate. Despite a poll that showed a large majority of residents wanted to stay there and were opposed to any demolition, the council is going ahead with a scheme to demolish the estate.

Activists, supported by residents, occupied part of a block on the estate just over a week ago. In response Southwark Council sent workers to smash up an adjoining empty block to prevent further occupation and later went to court to criminalise the protest occupation rather than rely on slower civil procedures.

Housing campaigners gathered outside the council offices in a protest over the council's action and their housing policy which involves demolishing social housing and building large numbers of flats to let at high market rents, or for sale to overseas property investors. Although the new schemes will include some 'affordable' housing, properties are likely to be at much higher rents than the current social housing for less spacious properties, and many existing tenants will not be eligible for rehousing. Those who have bought properties will receive compensation at rates below the cost of properties in the area and most will have no alternative but to move well away from central London.

When a bike arrived with a trailer full of black bags, the residents quickly picked these up and walked to the council entrance. One managed to get inside the foyer, and another in the area between the inner and outer doors, but most tipped the building rubble from the council's wrecking work onto the pavement just in front of the entrance.

Although police were lined up across the front of the offices, they seemed bemused by what was happening, though the two officers closest to me quickly grabbed a woman holding up a poster about the occupation, enabling me to take photographs and others to empty their sacks.

The protest continued outside for some time, with some short speeches about the action and occupation, and with flyers calling for the council to adopt a policy for housing rather than for social cleansing to staff leaving the offices at the end of their work, people passing by and those entering the offices who included councillors arriving for a meeting.
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Surround Harmondsworth 6

Heathrow Immigration Detention Centre, London. Sat 7 Feb 2015
Protesters say 'End Fast Track' and 'Shut Down All Detention Centres NOW'
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Well over a hundred Movement for Justice protesters at Harmondsworth called for an end to the detained fast track system (DFT) which has been declared illegal by the courts and and end to the scapegoating of immigrants; seeking asylum must not be treated as if it was a crime. They hope to get all immigration prisons like this one at Heathrow closed down.

The two immigration prisons at Harmondsworth, previously know as Harmondsworth and Colnbrook, separated from each other only by a private road leading to a BT depot, were recently put under a unified management provided by MITIE and renamed 'Heathrow Immigration Detention Centre'. But changing the name and transferring them to a different private company hasn't in any way improved how these centres operate, with detainees held inside them still being reported to be deprived of many of the rights they are supposed to have, and ill-treated.

This was the sixth in the most recent series of protests which started last year in support of mass hunger strikes inside immigration prisons across the country. The Movement for Justice point out their continuing protests and legal actions are having an effect:

Britain’s racist system of immigration detention has been thrown into crisis by the victories of the growing movement, led by the independent, collective organising of asylum seekers and refugees acting on Movement for Justice’s political perspective to win. In July 2014 the High Court declared the operation of the Detained Fast Track (DFT) system unlawful. By December the Court of Appeal had ruled it UNLAWFUL to keep asylum seekers on DFT if they are appealing against a refusal of their claim.

As Tony Gard of the Movement for Justice made clear, there is a need to build a movement not just to oppose this particular "black hole at the heart of British justice" but to unite the poor, those on benefits and others in demanding change.

Since MITIE took over the running of the prisons, the protesters have been limited to a small area at the front of the site, out of sight of the detainees, but the noisy protests, with chanting, whistling, blowing of horns and dancing as well as speeches can be heard by many inside these jails, letting them know they are not forgotten and that many outside still support them. Detainees have mobile phones and were able to be rung by the protesters and to tell them about what was happening to them inside the prison and the many problems they face.

Among the protesters who spoke were a number who have themselves been held in centres like this, as well as some living in the community still seeking asylum, unable to work and relying on the support of friends and concerned groups to stay alive, never knowing whether their next weekly or monthly reporting visit will end up with arrest and forcible detention. People had come from across the country to be at the protest and to try to get justice for those who have come here from desperate circumstances in their home countries.
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Burberry Cleaners Strike

Regent St, London. Fri 6 Feb 2015
The IWGB official picket outside Burberry in Regent St
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Striking IWGB workers and supporters protested outside Burberry on the wide pavement in Regent St for the London Living Wage, pay for covering absences, uniforms and proper equipment, as well as an end to bullying management by ISS.

Security & police watched the noisy and colourful protest and tried to interfere but the protesters stood up for their right to protest.
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Benefit Sanctions protest at Croydon Job Centre

Croydon Job Centre, Croydon, London. Fri 6 Feb 2015

Handing out flyers at the Jobcentre on Dingwall Rd, Croydon

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Protesters handed out leaflets about the unfair use of sanctions, which many staff there feel they are forced to make to keep their own jobs, often having to cut off benefits for trivial reasons, forcing more and more people to use food banks.

I arrived shortly after the protest began, as security staff from the job centre were insisting that the protesters stayed on the pavement rather than come onto the wide area of grass and driveways outside the job centre. The protesters set up their stall on the table and handed out flyers to people going past as well as to those entering or leaving the job centre.

Many of those who stopped to talk had stories about their own benefits having been stopped, unfair 'fitness to work' tests or other benefit issues. Unfit by design the system is also applied in an unfair manner. The protesters offered some advice as to the rights of claimants and how to appeal unfair decisions.

After around half an hour a manager came out from the job centre to talk to the protesters. He tried to defend the use of sanctions, saying that they were effective in getting people back into work and insisted that - despite much evidence to the contrary - they were applied fairly and according to strict rules. He denied that there were any of the targets that various whistle blowers have insisted exist to force employees to sanction more claimants. Obviously he was concerned by the effect the protests were having on job centre staff, as the protesters reminded them of the hardship and even suicides that sanctions have led to.

The argument was conducted in a very civilised manner but showed the manager was living in a world divorced from the realities where the great majority of those forced into using foodbanks are there because of sanctions and delays in the benefit system.

Croydon, with its tall buildings, always seems to be something of a wind tunnel, and today there was a truly bitter wind sweeping down the open road - more open than normal as the area opposite the job centre is now a large building site for a luxury development of shops, offices and expensive flats. As I walked away, too cold to stay longer, I passed a glass door to a tall office block just along the road; fixed the glass said "Caution! Glass awaiting Manifestation". With the way the screws are tightening on the poor in our society it could just provoke one.
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Getting By - Lisa's Book Launch

Young Foundation, London. Thu 5 Feb 2015

Ken Loach , Jasmine Stone and Lisa McKenzie, author of 'Getting By' talk at the book launch
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Lisa McKenzie's book 'Getting By' is the result of her years of study from the inside of the working class district of Nottingham where she lived and worked for 22 years, enabling her to view the area from the inside and to gather, appreciate and understand the feelings and motivations of those who live there in a way impossible for others who have researched this and similar areas.

Earlier studies had of course given a great deal of information about the lives of those in this and similar working class urban areas. The same location, St Ann's on the edge of central Nottingham, had been studied by Ken Coates and Richard Silburn in the late 1960s and published in their book Poverty: The Forgotten Englishmen, published as a Penguin Special in 1970.

Like many similar areas of other cities, St Ann's was then undergoing a huge slum clearance project, but though providing more modern homes relieved some of the worst problems of damp, dangerous and over-crowded housing, it left many of the social problems and provided new challenges for those who lived there.

Similar things were happening in cities across the country, and I'd had some experience of them in Manchester, where the Hulme and parts of Moss Side that I'd walked through as a first year student were razed to the ground, and then replaced, largely with anonymous blocks - many of which have now been redeveloped yet again.

A few years later, living on the edge of the area in similar working-class Victorian housing I became involved in the area, both as a volunteer interviewer for the social science department on a project on racial attitudes between neighbours on the council estates (a follow-up in Manchester to the work of Rex and Moore in Sparkbrook published in their 1967 Race, Community and Conflict) and as a political activist in the Moss Side Housing Action Group, which attempted to organise local opinion and encourage it to participate in planning for the rebuilding of the area through 'Planning for Real' exercises, as well as taking part in the local elections.

MSHAG was possibly the first UK group to carry out such participatory planning exercises around 1968 (I think the idea came from Germany or Scandinavia) which became more common some 10 years later. Shortly afterwards there were kits available published by the University of Nottingham, perhaps based on the work of the St Ann's Tenants' and Residents' Association from Nottingham which was active at around the same time. MSHAG failed to change the council's plans at the time, but did unofficially involve some of the city's younger architects and planners and certainly influenced later redevelopment in Manchester and elsewhere.

My first major photographic project in Hull in the 1970s, centered around the mass redevelopments that were still happening there, repeating many of the mistakes that we had agitated against in Moss Side. Eventually it presented a wider view of a city in transition in the show and 27 years later the book 'Still Occupied - A view of Hull'.

The book launch took place very appropriately in the Young Foundation in Bethnal Green, established by Michael Young as the Institute for Community Studies in 1954 (it became the Young Foundation when it merged with the Mutual Aid Centre in 2005, three years after Young's death.) Young, together with Peter Willmott, published the seminal Family and Kinship in East London in 1957.

At the opening were quite a large cross-section of political activists involved in housing issues across London, some of whom spoke at the event, among them Jasmine Stone of Focus E15, and others from New Era and West Hendon. Also at the event was film director Ken Loach, whose Cathy Come Home (written by Jeremy Sandford) on homelessness made a huge impact in 1966 and in 2000 was voted the second best British TV programme ever made (after Fawlty Towers!)

Lisa, now research fellow at the LSE, intends to stand against Iain Duncan Smith in the May elections in his Chingford constituency as the candidate for the Class War party. It promises to be an interesting campaign.
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Aylesbury Estate Occupation

Aylesbury Estate, Southwark, London. Thu 5 Feb 2015

People gather outside the occupied block to go and leaflet the estate about a public meeting
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Protesters about the demolition of social housing and its replacement by private developments with little or no social housing on the Aylesbury Estate and elsewhere in London occupied an empty block, part of Chartridge in Westmoreland Road after the March for Homes on Saturday.

I came to see them on Thursday, but was unable to climb up to the occupation on the first floor as even without a large camera bag I would have found the climb difficult. There is one open flat on the ground floor which I briefly looked inside, but it was extremely dark and nothing of interest was happening there, although another neighbourhood assembly was scheduled for a few hours later.

The occupiers have had a lot of support from residents almost all of whom want to stay on the Aylesbury estate. After the area was given regeneration status, a poll of the residents gave a large majority against the proposed redevelopment. The flats were well designed, built to Parker Morris standards of space and are mainly in good condition, though in need of some modernisation, but Southwark council wants to replace this and other estates, making deals with private developers, which will result in properties built to meaner standards of space, fitting more properties into the same area. Although the plans include some affordable housing, most schemes of this sort end up with much less than anticipated, and in any case so-called affordable rents are much higher than current rents and beyond the means of most current residents in the area.

Many of those who live on the estate are on short tenancies which do not qualify them for rehousing and will have to find private rented accommodation elsewhere, and those who have acquired their flats are offered compensation at a fraction of the cost of any similar accommodation in the area and will have to move much further from the centre of London.

Close to central London and with good transport links, areas like this are prime sites for developers, but the developments that will result will have little housing that ordinary Londoners can afford. The estate which was started in 1963 is one of the largest public housing estates in Europe, with 2,700 dwellings in

I went out with some of the volunteers who had come to distribute flyers for a public meeting in the flats across the estate. They split into pairs and I went with those who were putting them in the letterboxes of the flats on the top floor of what is I think the longest single block on the whole estate, Wendover. Its flats number 1-471 and from the top floor there are extensive views to the east, marred by the fact that the windows on the corridor seem not to have been cleaned since the flats were built.

At one point we came across a notice on a door 'Danger - Do Not Use - Unsafe' but it looked perfectly safe and we went through it, to find a broken window through which were were able to get a clear view.
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Around the Elephant

Elephant & Castle, London. Thu 5 Feb 2015

The Underground substation -a memorial to Michael Faraday- in the Elephant and Castle roundabout at dusk
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On the way to the Aylesbury Estate and after leaving it I walked through the Elephant making some panoramas and a few other pictures. On the way there was some winter sunshine, and as I returned the light was fading fast.
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No Privatisation At National Gallery

Trafalgar Square and DCMS, Whitehall, London. Thu 5 Feb 2015
PCS try to deliver their petition to the National Gallery, but no one from management would come to take it
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The National Gallery has told 400 of its 600 staff they are to be taken over by a private company. These staff are responsible for the security of the paintings and the public, provide information about the collection, organise school bookings and look after the millions of visitors each year.

A private company CIS has already been brought in to “temporarily” take over the services in a third of the gallery at the additional cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money.

It is also a scandal that the National Gallery is the only major museum or gallery that does not pay the London Living Wage. Privatisation threatens the pay and conditions of loyal and knowledgeable staff already living on poverty pay.

PCS members out on a five day strike against the privatisation were incensed when management suspended one of the union's senior reps and member of the negotiating team at the ACAS talks, Candy Udwin, accusing her of breaching commercial confidentiality. They called it a "disproportionate act of unfathomable bad faith" and demanded her re-instatement.

Nobody came to answer the door when they knocked to deliver their petition with around 40,000 signatures against privatisation, so a group went inside the Sainsbury Wing to deliver it. Security there tried to get them to leave, promising they would try to get a member of the management team to come down and receive it. After some discussion and arguments the PCS members left and rejoined those outside to ask union members if they should leave it with the Head of Security who had promised to personally hand it to management who would not come down. This was agreed and the petition was handed over.

The strikers and their supporters then marched through Trafalgar Square and Whitehall to the Dept of Culture, Media and Sport where the minister concerned had agreed to receive a copy of the petition. Three people were allowed to take it inside for a short meeting while the protest continued outside, with Jeremy Corbyn MP joining it and speaking. Graham Eve, the PCS branch organiser for the National Gallery then came out from the DCMS to give a report on what had happened at the meeting and the protest then ended.
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Close Guantanamo - 8 Years of protest

US Embassy, London. Thu 5 Feb 2015

Protesters get ready for the start of the monthly protest at the Embassy
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The London Guantánamo Campaign held its usual monthly protest at the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. These have now kept these up for 8 years, calling for the closure of the prison and release of those still held, including Londoner Shaker Aamer.
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my london diary index

Feb 2015

Poor Doors Truce Over - It's War!
Muslim Lives Matter - BBC protest
Aylesbury rubble to Southwark Council
Surround Harmondsworth 6
Burberry Cleaners Strike
Sanctions protest at Croydon Job Centre
Getting By - Lisa's Book Launch
Aylesbury Estate Occupation
Around the Elephant
No Privatisation At National Gallery
Close Guantanamo - 8 Years of protest


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