Keep Soho Sexy

Piccadilly Circus, London. Sun 30 Mar 2014

Protesters from the English Collective of Prostitutes, including Niki Adams in the Soho Hobo's video
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Sex Workers and showbiz protested together to 'Keep Soho Sexy' and to end the raids on Soho working girls flats which have been a land grab under the banner of morality and threaten the safety of the women by forcing them on to the streets.

This was the only protest I've ever attended that came with a clapper board, with its title 'Picadilly Trot - Soho Hobo' (sic) and where those taking part had to go back and dance across Piccadilly Circus for another take, and then doing it again without the musicians. I assume they'll manage to spell the name right on the final edit and I hope it gets the protest more publicity, but I don't think its a good way to run a protest and I wasn't amused at having to stay out of shot while taking pictures.

Though most of what I was interested in - the protesters with placards from the English Collective of Prostitutes and Queer Strike - were mainly off camera at the back of a rather odd dancing crown, described in the publicity as "a gathering of musicians, actors, dancers and performance artists." Possibly it included some who are well-known, but there were none I recognised.

Last October I photographed a protest in outside the Soho Estates offices in Greek Street after a number of women were evicted from their flats in Romilly St. Police had threatened to prosecute Soho Estates for allowing their premises to be used as brothels, and they threatened the leaseholders who evicted the women. The flats were self-contained with only one sex-worker in each, and so were not legally brothels - so there was no case to answer, but the managing director of Soho estates (the son-in-law of the late Paul Raymond) refused to back the women. Working in flats like these is relatively safe, while out on the streets sex is a very dangerous business.

Raids and evictions have taken place elsewhere in the area, and Soho is in danger of losing its unique atmosphere. Not only are working girls at risk, but, as the ECP say, "if sex workers are forced out it will lead the way for other small and unique businesses and bars to be drowned out by major construction, chain stores and corporations."

The police (and Westminster Council) are widely seen as being agents of the property developers who want to make billions from knocking down Soho and redeveloping parts of it as hotels and luxury flats.

The press release quoted The Reverend Simon Buckley of St Anne’s Church as saying that public confidence in the police has been "severely undermined" by the "seemingly ham-fisted nature" of raids on Soho brothels, and prominent members of the Soho community have also shown support for the girls who were evicted from their flats at the end of 2013.

After a few more dances across the area by the side of Eros (currently covered by a large box and fenced in) the protest ended with a group photograph before people began to disperse.

The ECP and Queer Strike had been invited to join in the filming of a his latest music video by singer songwriter The Soho Hobo (Tim Arnold) who was quoted as saying:

"My work as a songwriter is all about celebrating and preserving the heritage of Soho. My grandfather worked for Paul Raymond as a comedian in the 50’s, my mother was a Windmill Girl, and so Soho is in my blood."

"Social tolerance and sexual freedom have always been part of Soho’s history and part of its global appeal. It's also what my songs are about, so it’s natural for me to support the working girls in their protest. As Rupert Everett said in his recent article in The Guardian 'There is a land grab going on in Soho under the banner of morality'. It’s not just the sex workers who are under threat, it’s any of us who live and work in the area who are not feeding the corporations and property conglomerates."

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World Sindhi Congress Protest

Downing St, London. Sun 30 Mar 2014

Sindhi protesters against human rights abuses by the Pakistan government
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Supporters of the World Sindhi Congress protested at Downing St against the extra-judicial killings of Sindhi human rights activists by the Pakistani security agencies and called on the UK to press the Pakistani government to stop these violations.

The protest followed the assassination in Sindh of two Sindhi political activists, Maqsood Ahmed Querishi and Salman Wadho, one of the latest in a series of atrocities against Sindhi nationalists allegedly carried out by the Pakistani intelligence agencies. The killing on 21 March was followed by protests and riots in Sindh and the closure of shops, markets and several universities in many cities and a strike on the following day.

Qureshi was the leader of Sindhi separatist movement Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) and was involved in organising a 'Freedom March' to be held the Sunday after he was killed (which was Pakistan Freedom Day) in Karachi to inform the international community of the continuing violation of the human and civil rights of the Sindhi people. The JSQM claim that 200,000 people attended the rally, at which Maqsood Qureshi and Salman Wadho, were declared “Martyrs of Freedom March” by the JQSM chair Sunan Qureshi, Maqsood's nephew. Sunan's own father was allegedly killed by poisoning by the ISI in 2012.

Sindh nationalists point out that the current political organisation in Pakistan fails to give the province the autonomy that was promised during the fight for independence, and that although the province generates 70% of the country's revenue and provides 60% of it natural resources, it is shabbily treated by the national government receiving only around an eighth of the national expenditure. They also claim that they are unfairly treated over the water from the River Indus.

It is hard to know exactly who the World Sindhi Congress (WSC) represent or how great a following Sindh nationalism has in the province, on the Arabian Sea between India and the Indus River. The Sindh are an ancient culture with their own Sindh language. Many who were Hindu went over the border to India at partition, while other largely Urdu speaking migrants moved into Sindh. According to Wikipedia, over 90% of the population of Sindh are Muslim, while the WSC state that the 50 million Sindhis living there "are historically secular."

The protesters letter to David Cameron urged him:

"to press upon Pakistan government to stop violations of human rights of Sindhi people committed by their agencies and proxies. We also request that you pursue to establish an International Enquiry into the human rights violations against Sindhi and Baloch people."

"We also request that any UK aid to Pakistan should be conditioned to its commitment and observation of human rights according to the UN charter."

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Mothers Against Fracking

Old Palace Yard, London. Sun 30 Mar 2014
Bianca Jagger speaking powerfully against fracking
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Bianca Jagger was one of many powerful women speakers at the Mothers Against Fracking rally opposite Parliament, and joined with Welsh protesters in singing an anti-fracking song. All speakers urged the government to abandon fracking which will pollute our water supplies and ruin the climate while failing to provide jobs or affordable energy.

Fracking is an issue that has aroused large parts of the nation, threatening environmental pollution across large swathes of the country and causing mayhem even in the Tory heartlands such as Balcombe in deepest Surrey. Some countries have banned it completely and US states that have allowed it have, at least in some cases, come to rue the day. While theoretically it might be possible to frack without polluting the water table and causing other damage to the environment, in practice there has been considerable disruption.

But more importantly, fracking is something the world cannot afford. Increasingly we are aware that we need to move away from fossil fuels and the carbon emissions they cause to avoid further dangerous climate change, and fracking has an even higher carbon footprint than normal natural gas. Increasingly we need to keep carbon - and in particular difficult carbon sources such as this and tar sands - in the ground if we hope to save the planet and its population.

Of course some people would benefit from fracking - largely the frackers and their shareholders - and we have a government that is prepared to lie on their behalf. It is now clear that fracking will do very little for job creation, won't produce cheap energy and will fail to come on-line in time to fill any predicted 'energy gap'. All of the possible reasons for promoting it in the national interest have now collapsed, yet the government sticks to its policy. It shows only the power of lobbying and vested interests.

Green energy is much more effective in providing jobs, and with further investment should succeed both in making energy cheaper and in making the kind of reduction in energy consumption that will really help to slow (and eventually even reverse) climate change. But government backing for it is half-hearted window-dressing. Anyone of any intelligence should be asking why, and fortunately some are, including the many women who spoke at this event, including Vanessa Vine of BIFF (Britain & Ireland Frack Free), Tina Louise Rothery of RAFF (Residents Action on Fylde Fracking), Louise Somerville Williams (Frack Free Somerset), Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Eve McNamara of REAF (Ribble Estuary Against Fracking), Julie Wassmer (East Kent Against Fracking). Dr Becky Martin (Mothers Against Fracking) and Tammy Samede from the Barton Moss Camp in Salford as well as Bianca Jagger who will undoubtedly dominate any press coverage the event might get.

And the press were there, largely because Bianca Jagger was there, including some photographers I've never seen at a protest before. And like them I took plenty of pictures of her - and they do rather dominate my coverage of the event here.. I admire Bianca for her support of this and other campaigns but wish the media would show more interest in causes rather than personalities.

And there were other women speaking who had rather more to say and had put far more of themselves into the fight against fracking. Excellent though Bianca's speech was, it lacked the kind of intense personal involvement of many of the others. It was a well-prepared and well-written speech that she read, while others spoke more directly, largely without notes, and impressively about the cause which has become a part of their lives.

Although both men and women have been involved in the campaigns - and one of the organisers and the MC of this event was Gayzer Frackman, a man who changed his name by deed poll, many of the most determined campaigners are women, as this Mother's Day protest indicated. Many of them will be continuing their protest on Monday, delivering a letter to Downing St. Mothers Against Fracking will form the 17th group to hand deliver a letter of protest to David Cameron at 10 Downing Street as part of the Walk the Walk campaign which began in November last year, and taking part in the regular protests on Thursdays by various anti-fracking campaign groups coming to deliver letters to David Cameron each week.
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Fellow Students Fight for Yashika

Parliament Square, London. Sat 29 Mar 2014
Students from Oasis Academy in Parliament Square
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A lively protest by fellow students and supporters at Parliament urged Teresa May to abandon the planned deportation of 18 year old model A-level student Yashika Bageerathi to Mauritius due to take place on Mothers Day.

Yashika - and her family - are just a few of the many victims of a 'tougher than you' shift to the right over immigration played out by both government and opposition over the past years, each trying to outdo each other - and now given another lurch to extreme chauvinism by the appearance of UKIP on the political scene, with all politicians playing the 'numbers game'.

Serious politicians all realise that immigration has always been important and vital to our country - at least for two thousand years. More recently their contribution to our society has been immeasurable at all levels. It has changed our country in my lifetime, and most of us would think largely for the better. It has become essential to the functioning of London as a city, and its cosmopolitan nature has made it one of the greatest cities in the world.

Many of those on whom London depends to keep running are irregular migrants - those without official permission to be here (the Home Office, followed by most of the media stigmatises them as 'illegal'.) Without them - probably numbering around half a million - London would grind to a halt. They do mainly the low paid dirty jobs no one else would want for pay that isn't enough to live properly on in London - often at below the minimum wage because of their immigration status.

Most of these people aren't easy to find. Deliberately so, certainly because they don't want to be found, but also because there has been a certain amount of collusion by parts of our system. We do after all need them.

But back to the numbers game. The government - and the Conservative Party in particular which has some hope of re-election - needs to look tough on immigration. So we get foolish and desperate measures like the immigration vans, and raids at tube stations and other public places by the Border Force based unlawfully on racial profiling.

But also, increased pressure to go after the low lying fruit - such as Yashika - and her mother, and younger brother and sister, who came here from Mauritius after physical abuse from a relative and claimed asylum in 2012. The application has been rejected and the whole family are under threat of deportation.

Because Yashika is now 19, the Home Office decided they could deport her without her family, and put her in Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre on March 19th. She is an A-level student at Oasis Academy Hadley in Ponders End, Enfield and very much wants to be allowed to finish her A level courses there.

Her fellow students and the school staff have campaigned vigorously for her to be allowed to stay and take her exams. A #FightForYashika petition to Theresa May on has attracted (as I write) over 171,000 signatures.

Her deportation has now been twice halted. Because of the pressure from protesters, British Airways refused to fly her to Mauritius. The Home Office booked her onto an Air Mauritius flight on Mother's Day, the day after this protest. Hours after it - following a large number of tweets - they decided they would not take her either, and the deportation was again put off.

There was a good crowd of her fellow students in Parliament Square for a spirited protest, along with several staff and some other supporters. I left around the time the protest had been advertised to start but there didn't seem to be much sign of others coming to join the fifty or sixty already there.

The Home Office appears to have been unmoved by the protest, and it seems likely they will make further attempts to deport Yashika, possible together with the rest of her family, which would remove one basis on which the deportation could be legally challenged. Morally their position seems indefensible. This is a family that would obviously make a positive contribution to our country and it serves no real purpose to attempt to deport them.
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Kilburn Uniform Day

Kilburn Square, London. Sat 29 Mar 2014
People line up with some of the placards written at the event by the Counihan family Housing for All campaign
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The Counihan Battlebus Housing For All campaign, along with the TUSC Against Cuts and Unite Community held a protest in Kilburn Square over child hunger and housing problems, calling for rents to be capped and for everyone to have a home.

I spent only a short time at this two hour event on the busy shopping street of Kilburn High Road, where Kilburn Square is simply a wider area of pavement in front of some shops. There the Counihan family and their friends and supporters in the Housing for All campaign, including the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) and Unite Community, were handing out balloons to children and talking to people about housing problems and child hunger.

Many kids now go to school hungry due to the cuts and to the increasing bureaucratic delays and deliberate withdrawal of the safety nets of the benefits system, which now appears to operate a policy of cutting benefits often arbitrarily and leaving claimants to the mercy of food banks and other charities.

As the placards drawn by some of the children at the protest stated, "Going to school hungry is not fair!" It more than that, is is a disgrace on our society and one about which politicians, particularly those in the coalition government should be deeply ashamed.

Our government appear to be completely out of touch with how many people in the country live. They simply cannot comprehend what it means to be without money, or without friends or family you can rely on for a few thousand when you have a problem. Many people on low income simply don't have any such resources - all they have is debts and bills to pay. Take away benefits for any reason and many people - including the many of those receiving benefits who are in work - simply do not have enough to live on. They don't have enough money to pay their rent, not enough money to heat their homes, not enough money for food.

Children going to school hungry is a direct result of government policy and its inhumane (they call it 'tough' to make it sound positive) sanctions policy. What we need is not this kind of vindictive approach but more jobs and an end to poverty wages. And it would be far more productive to attack the huge sums involved in tax evasion and tightening up the rules on tax avoidance than the relatively small amounts of benefit fraud or the largely mythical workshy.

The children at the protest were lucky, well fed and cared for and having fun, fighting each other with balloons as well as writing placards. It was a nice day in Kilburn, protesting about some seriously nasty policies.
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Mothers march for justice

Tottenham, London. Sat 29 Mar 2014

At the front of the march was a young boy dressed as Spiderman in a small electric car with a poster
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The march in Tottenham, organised by the Rev Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty demanded living incomes and decent truly affordable homes and rejected the bedroom tax, the housing benefit cap, unfair taxes, hunger and cold homes.

There were rather fewer than expected at the '1000 Mothers March For Justice' march which started in Bruce Castle Park, and the start point wasn't too easy to find. There were rather a lot of other things to do on a fine Saturday - including several other protests around London. But there were many expressions of support as the march went through the busy streets or one of London's poorer and more run-down areas for their demands. While parts of London are certainly recovering from the recession, the property boom doesn't yet seem to have arrived here, and we passed real shops rather than the streets full of estate agents that have taken over some parts.

There was a very brief rally in Bruce Park before the march started with the Rev Paul Nicolson speaking about the reason for the march and its demands, neatly summed up on the placard hanging from a string around his neck: 'We march for Freedom from Hunger, Cold, Outrageous Rents - Fight for a Living Wage'.

Among those on the march were the Focus E15 mothers, fighting to stay in London against Newham Council and East Thames Housing Association who are closing their Stratford hostel for single mothers, as well as more local groups such as the Day-mer Turkish and Kurdish community, Haringey Defend Council Housing, Haringey Solidarity Group, Haringey Green Party, Haringey Unison and the Mark Duggan family campaign. There were members of Unite Community, Global Women's Strike, Single Mothers Self Defence, Winvisible, Stop Child Abuse and from South London, the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisations and Southwark Benefits Justice Campaign. While the march wasn't a huge one, there were an impressive number of banners.

At the very front of the march, ahead of the '1000 Mothers March for Justice' banner was Spiderman, a young boy dressed in the outfit and riding in a small electric car with a poster 'Axe Bedroom Tax' on its front.

The march went down the High Road, and I stood on the steps of Tottenham Police Station where the vigil following the death of Mark Duggan took place and police indifference led to riots kicking off to get a better view as the protest passed by, on its way to Tottenham Green East, a small area of open space where the rally was to take place. I left at this point as I wanted to go and meet people at another event in Kilburn.
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Teachers March on NUT Strike Day

London. Wed 26 Mar 2014

The teachers march past Parliament on their way to a rally at Central Hall Westminster
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Thousands of teachers marched through London calling on Michael Gove to resign for his attacks on their pay, pensions, conditions and job security and his denigration and undermining for their professional status.

Teachers argue that the changes that Michael Gove is making to education will not only affect teachers but also damage the system of free education in this country. They insist that there should be a qualified teacher in every classroom and that he should stop picking fights with teachers and educationalists and rely on the advice of experts rather than show a fundamental distrust for them.

The want schools to be funded properly and for local councils to be able to open schools were demand exists rather than encouraging the piecemeal setting up of academies and free schools which have often resulted in reducing proper provision.

They also want changes to the curriculum and exams to be properly researched and planned, and an end to politically interference in what is taught and how it is taught.

Teachers are leaving the profession because of excessive workload, with a Government survey showing an average working week for primary teachers of 60 hours a week and secondary almost 56 hours. Teachers have always been prepared to work hard for their pupils, but these heavy workloads include far too much time spent in morale-destroying bureaucratic box ticking.

Today's strike came about because Mr Gove has continually refused to engage in meaningful discussions with the unions over the changes his department is pushing through over pensions, performance related pay and the dismantling of a national pay structure.

A statement from the NUT read:

"We have repeatedly asked Michael Gove to enter into urgent discussions about the concerns of the teaching profession. We have made it very clear that we want to talk - but Michael Gove has simply played games and not taken our requests seriously."

Teachers are worried and angry over the changes, and incensed at the raising of the retirement age to 68, and thousands - probably around 10,000 from the Greater London area came to march through central London to the rally.

NUT national executive member Martin Powell-Davies commented:

"Michael Gove represents a government that is determined to cut costs, privatise services and encourage a precarious weakly-unionised workforce that will dutifully do the bidding of hard-nosed managers until they can take no more and resign. He isn't interested in the fact that such a regime also damages education."

The march started just behind the BBC, who the NUT and other unions feel has failed to give proper coverage to the changes being made by the present government in their politicisation and academisation of education.

The head of the march was reaching Piccadilly Circus just after its tail end had walked past the BBC and down to Oxford Circus. Many schools had come out in force marching behind school banners, and there was considerable evidence of public support for the teachers, with drivers hooting and people waving and clapping.

As the march reached Trafalgar Square and turned into Whitehall there was a short-lived wintry squall, but it didn't dampen the spirits of the marchers, many of whom paused briefly to shout comments across the road to Downing St, and the sun was shining on them again as they turned down away from Parliament to their rally at the Methodist Central Hall.

A large crowd remained milling around outside there as I decided it was time to leave. Quite a few of the marchers had also come to the same decision.
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Wandsworth Panoramas

Wandsworth, London. Mon 24 Mar 2014
A 146 degree horizontal angle of view next to Wandsworth Bridge
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It was a great day for making panoramas, with some interesting cloud formations and sunny periods. I'd met an artist friend at Wandsworth Town who I'd offered to show the area which I thought would interest her, and we took a walk together around the area.

We started by walking through the roundabout at the top of Trinity Road, a pretty alien landscape dominated by a spider-like advertising platform and made our way onto the west side of Wandsworth Bridge. There is now a passage under the bridge, which takes you safely under the busy road with its fast-moving traffic, otherwise often tricky to cross.

We spent some time looking at the view up-river past the sand and gravel works rom the other side of the bridge and I took a number of pictures while she made some quick sketches, before moving down towards the Ship Pub. The tide was low and I went down to the foreshore, then we walked along the riverside path to the waste transfer station.

There we had to backtrack and walk a little away from the river and along a part of Smuggler's Way, a rather dreary road and on to The Causeway and across the Wandle. Although it was a fine day, there was a cold wind and we decided to go and warm up in the Ship. After a drink or two I took my friend to the station, then as I had 25 minutes to wait for my own train, went to take a few more pictures along the River Wandle, finishing with one from the station itself.

Working with digital panoramas gives a choice of different projections for the panorama. I was working with two lenses giving different angles of view and have used similar but slightly different methods with images from each lens.
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Kites Not Drones Solidarity with Afghanistan

Hyde Park, London. Sat 22 Mar 2014
A kite, posters and banner in Hyde Park at the start of the protest
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Peace activists held a 'Kites Not Drones' protest in Hyde Park in solidarity with Afghans who traditionally celebrate their Now Ruz (New Year) with flying kites. Gusty winds and a lack of flying experience made kite flying difficult.

The protest was a contribution to a weekend of solidarity with Afghans who will be facing uncertainty and the possibly of an escalation in conflict during the renegotiation of the international presence within Afghanistan promoted by Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK.

They state:

'Kite flying has become synonymous with Afghanistan as a well loved pursuit which was banned under the Taliban, now Afghans are more used to the presence of UK armed and surveillance drones flying overhead.'

'We are encouraging peace groups, Afghans in the UK and the Muslim community to fly kites in solidarity with Afghans who now have to live under the mental pressure and physical destruction which British drones (currently operated from RAF Waddington, Lincoln) now reap upon Afghanistan.'

Unfortunately none of the activists in the Hyde Park protest led by the feminist protest group 'The Activettes' seem to have had any previous experience in actually flying kites. They included peace activist Maya Evans who was arrested in October 2005 when she read out the names of British soldiers who had been killed in Iraq at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, becoming the first person to be convicted under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 for taking part in an unauthorised demonstration within 1 km of Parliament Square.

Gusty conditions made kite flying tricky, even with the help of several photographers. One kite quickly ended up stuck high in a tree and another was torn, and flights were generally short and uncontrolled.

A police officer cycled up to talk with the kite fliers during the protest, telling them that flying kites was not allowed in this or any other of the Royal Parks. However he told them that so long as they kept to the empty area of the park and were not causing a nuisance he would not stop them.
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Stand Up to Racism

Westminster, London. Sat 22 Mar 2014

'No Human is Illegal' protesters from the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns
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A protest in a European day of action on UN Anti-Racism Day organised by the TUC and Unite Against Fascism and supported by many other groups saw thousands marching in support of diversity and against scapegoating of immigrants and Islamophobia.

The march spread along the length of Whitehall back into Parliament Square and included a whole range of people and groups opposed to racism, many of whom are sickened by the anti-immigrant policies of successive governments and opposition parties who have long been engaged in trying to outdo each other in the 'toughness' of their immigration policies, and have recently moved even further to the right in an effort to neutralise the political threat of UKIP and Nigel Farage.

The media and many politicians try to put blame on immigrants for many of the problems the country now faces. But as one of the popular slogans stated, 'Blame Etonians, not Romanians' (or Bulgarians.) Communities in here and Europe such as the Roma or Muslims are not responsible for our problems and suffer more than most from them.

In particular we have seen many promoting fear and hate of Muslims associating the whole community with the acts of a tiny few. Islamophobia is rife and has led to more attacks on the Muslim population, including murder and violent attacks on mosques.

UN Anti-Racism Day is on the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, when South African police opened fire on a peaceful protest, killing 69 people. The protest had been intended to start from the statue of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square, but was moved a couple of hundred yards away to Old Palace Yard, Like him the protest celebrated "the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and equal opportunities."

The march led to a rally in Trafalgar Square with a long list of speakers, as well as some music and poetry. I didn't stay for the whole of it, but among those scheduled to speak were

Diane Abbott MP, Ladislav Balaz of Europe-Roma,Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Christine Blower, General Secretary NUT Zita Holbourne, PCS NEC / Black Activists Rising Against Cuts | Bruce Kent, VP Pax Christi | Jean Lambert MEP | Max Levitas, Cable Street Veteran | Gloria Mills, National Secretary Equalities, UNISON | Claude Moraes MEP | Farooq Murad, Secretary General, Muslim Council of Britain | Grattan Puxon, the 8th April Movement | Maz Saleem, daughter of Mohammed Saleem | Mohammad Taj, TUC President | Tommy Tomescu, Alliance Against Romanian and Bulgarian Discrimination | Ava Vidal, Comedian | Maurice Wren, Chief Executive, Refugee Council | Sabby Dhalu and Weyman Bennett, Unite Against Fascism

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SOAS Cleaners Strike Again

SOAS, London University. Fri 21 Mar 2014

SOAS cleaners at the rally with Luis speaking
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Cleaners working at London's School of Oriental and African Studies but employed by contractor ISS held a one day strike and rally today demanding respect and equal treatment to other staff by being brought back into direct employment by SOAS.

The cleaners, supported by students and many other staff working at ISS have campaigned for several years to be treated equally to other staff at SOAS and to be brought back 'in house' and employed directly by the university.

The 'Justice For Cleaners' campaign has enjoyed overwhelming support from academic and service staff and students at SOAS but the demand had so far been rejected by SOAS management. A two-day strike earlier in the month showed that their work was vital to the running of the university, but failed to produce any movement by management, and a further one day strike took place today

At the moment they are employed by the outsourcing cleaning contractor ISS, a multinational company that has a reputation for bullying workers. Yesterday evening the company tried to bring in scab workers to do the work of the cleaners, which met with opposition from the students, some of whom were shown on video being assaulted by ISS managers. The ISS director Paul Cronin has also threatened to stop paying the cleaners the London Living Wage which they gained through industrial action several years ago.

Outsourcing never results in an improvement in service, and always involves cutting both the hours of work and the conditions of service of those doing the work. There are high profits for the contractor, at the expense of the workforce. SOAS could not possibly itself be seen to employ people on the poor pay and conditions that the contracting company does, but seems happy to benefit from the exploitation of people who work in its building by others - even though this also means an inferior service. To many who study and work at SOAS this 'two-tier' workforce is unacceptable.

As a worker in the Justice for Cleaners campaign stated:

"SOAS is known around the world for promoting dignity ad equality. Yet, its maintenance, cleaning, security and catering all have less rights than other workers, because they are outsourced. At the moment SOAS is built on inequality and exploitation."

The strike ballot among the cleaners had a high turnout, over 60%, and a virtually unprecedented unanimity, with 100% of those voting backing strike action.

The unity of the workers is impressive, and so too is their picket, with many arriving early for the official 4am start this morning, and by 6am virtually the whole normal morning shift were there taking part. The picket was continuing until 5pm tonight,

I arrived for a rally at lunchtime, with various speakers supporting the strike, including a number of students and trade unionists, as well as several of the strikers. The cleaners in SOAS are in Unison, and as well as SOAS UNISON Branch Secretary and union secretary for the London Higher Education Executive Sandy Nicoll, there was a strong message of support from a number of speakers including Maddy Cooper and George Binette of Camden Unison. Max Watson, the Unison NEC Rep for HIgher Education, John McLaughlin from Unison Tower Hamlets, NUT Deputy General Secretary Kevin Courtney and Lambeth NUT's Sara Tomlinson, as well as a UCU speaker from SOAS.

There was a truly rousing speech from one of the 320 part-time teachers at SOAS who do most of the teaching at the university - and are also in dispute over their 'fractional' contracts which, when preparation time is allowed for, often result in rates of pay below the statutory minimum wage. Another inspirational speech came from the President of the Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), Ian Hodson, who related how solidarity among the workers had enabled them to get a proper settlement even for the contract workers who had been brought in by the employer to replace his members.

David East, co-president of SOAS students union reminded us of the huge support for the cleaners' demands from everyone inside SOAS, with a 98% vote backing them in a ballot, and Georgie Robinson, a final year student heavily involved in the SOAS Justice for Cleaners Campaign also spoke. There were also contributions from a number of the cleaners, including SOAS Cleaner's Rep Lenin Escudero and Consuela.

The rally and the support from Unison, as well as from other unions, including the IWGB who earlier today had occupied the offices of another cleaning contractor Cofely GDF-Suez, the SOAS community and others was obviously a great morale booster for the cleaners at SOAS, and hopefully will persuade the SOAS management that they need to take action and to talk with the strikers and meet their demands.
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Japanese Dolphin Massacre Protest

Japanese Embassy, Piccadilly, London. Thu 20 Mar 2014

Protesters with posters across the road from the Japanese embassy

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Sea Shepherd activists protested at the Japanese Embassy against the annual slaughter of over 20,000 dolphins and small whales at Taiji Cove in Japan, calling on them to ban this cruel massacre.

The Japanese government claim that the annual slaughter there is an ancient traditional practice, but opponents of the slaughter claim that these dolphin drives only began in 1969, when dolphin hunters learnt how to confuse dolphins surrounding the migrating pods of dolphins, putting down metal poles into the sea and banging on these loudly so as to frighten them and upset their 'sonar' navigation systems.

The dolphins are herded by this method into a cove, where fishermen attack them with steel spikes in the shallow water, stabbing them through their spinal cords which results in a slow and painful death. The water becomes red with dolphin blood.

The real money for the fishermen comes from selecting the best-looking bottle-nosed dolphins and catching them alive for sale to marine mammal parks around the world where they can perform circus acts. These selected dolphins fetch $200,000 or more, while when sold as food the dead dolphins are only worth around $600.

Dolphin meat may contain high levels of mercury, and eating the meat can lead to mercury poisoning.

The documentary film 'The Cove' exposed the massacre of dolphins to a wider audience when it won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in 2010. The protest by 'Sea Shepherd' today was a small one - a few weeks ago there were a thousand protesting at the London Embassy calling on Japan to stop the slaughter, but is part of an international campaign backed by Sean Penn, Gwyneth Paltrow an other stars. The protests also ask the public to boycott marine parks which use dolphins in live acts.
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Druids celebrate the Spring Equinox

Tower Hill, London. Thu 20 Mar 2014
The Druids enact their ceremony in a circle on Tower Hill
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The Druid Order celebrated the Spring Equinox at noon with a sacred ceremony at Tower Hill, forming a circle in their white robes and celebrating the cycle of nature. They have carried out similar ceremonies for just over a 100 years.

The Druids robed in a hall next to Tower Hill and then processed in single file to the open space, where they formed a circle, with the Head Druid and the banners at the east.

A long horn was carried to the middle of the circle sounded to the four corners of the world and then the sword was held aloft to North South, East and West in turn, pulled loose from its scabbard with the call "Is it Peace?" and on receiving the reply "Peace", pushed back.

The lady, representing the Earth Goddess Ceridwen then requested permission to enter the circle with her two attendants, and it was granted. They brought a horn containing cider and a plate of seed to the chief druid. The cider was tasted, then carried around the circle with libations being poured onto the earth. The seeds were received and were then distributed around the circle.

The names of companions of the ancient order no longer with us were read out, including that of the artist William Blake and other well-known historical figures. We all observed a minute or two of silence and their was a fairly long address, a message of peace and human understanding.

The Druid Order are peace loving and free-thinking and their main aim appears to be to develop themselves through being rather than through intellectual learning. Near to the close of the event, the druids joined hands around the circle and renewed their druid vows. In a final act of the ceremony, four druids came to the centre of the circle and raised the hands in turn to the four points of the compass to proclaim peace.

Everyone present was thanked for coming and an invitation issued to those who want to find out more about the order to attend their regular public meetings. The druids then left the circle in order through a gate made by two of their number and filed away.
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People's Assembly Budget Day Protest

Downing St, London. Wed 19 Mar 2014
Terry with his hat - and some placards - at the protest
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The People's Assembly held a national day of protest on Budget Day, ending with a protest at Downing Street where they handed in the 'Peoples Budget' calling for an end to cuts and privatisation and for a budget for social justice.

It was beginning to get dark as the protesters gathered in the protest area opposite the gates to Downing St, and by the time the speeches started it was too dark in most areas to work without flash. There were a number of PCS members supporting the event, including John McNally who spoke at the event. Other speakers included Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Labour MP Katy Clark, Dot Gibson - National Pensioners Convention, Paul Peters - DPAC, Aaron Kiely -NUS, Kate Hudson - CND, Lindsey German - Stop the War, Sam Fairbairn - The People's Assembly and Clare Glasman - Winvisible; James Meadway of the New Economics Foundation gave us an economists rundown of Osborne's budget and some arguments against the Chancellor's approach.

Paula Peters had arrived holding a copy of the People's Petition for the alternative to austerity which is still open for signatures - the People's Assembly aim to get 100,000 signatures on for their national protest in June:

The Government should reverse damaging austerity, and replace it with a new set of policies providing us with a fair, sustainable and secure future. We will no longer tolerate politicians looking out for themselves and for the rich and powerful. Our political representatives must start governing in the interests of the majority. We, the undersigned, demand:

After the speeches, Katy Clark and a small deputation went across and into Downing Street to present the petition there, while the rest of those at the protest stood outside the gates.
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Protest over Uganda Gay Hate Laws

Uganda House, Trafalgar Square, London . Wed 19 Mar 2014

Dancing in front of the protest in a Uganda shirt
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The African LGBTI Out & Proud Diamond Group and Peter Tatchell Foundation held a noisy protest at Uganda House calling for the repeal of Uganda's draconian anti-gay laws.

It was a high-spirited protest, with a great deal of loud chanting, drumming and dancing, and made a lively spectacle for workers on their way home at the corner of Trafalgar Square. There were quite a few non-African supporters who mostly kept well to the back of the protest, including Peter Tatchell.
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Fracked Future Carnival at Shale Gas Forum

Honorable Artillery Company, London. Wed 19 Mar 2014

Anti-fracking protester at the gates of the Honorable Artillery Company on City Road
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Protesters including those from protest camps at fracking sites in Sussex and Salford protested outside the Territorial Army base in the City where the Shale Gas Forum was taking place, moved to a more secure location because of the planned protest.

They were only a handful of protesters when I arrived at the exit from Old St where the protest had been told to meet, and clearly some had got lost in the Underground or decided to go elsewhere, while others had stopped off to buy coffee or sandwiches. But people soon began to turn up and the march started off, turning down Bunhill Row and shortly arriving at the rear gates of the Territorial Army Centre, which were locked and guarded by a few police.

Inside, at the Shale Gas Forum, the CEOs of IGas, Cuadrilla and various government officials were plotting new ways to bring fracking to the UK, and the changes in our laws that will be needed. Freeholders will no longer be able to stop dangerous undermining below their properties if the proposed changes are made, and it seem likely that companies will be allowed to proceed without proper concern for safety and environmental consequences and possibly given some indemnity against damages as well as promised a high price for the gas.

Outside the event, people danced to Rhythms of Resistance, and there were speeches by Vivienne Westwood, Tina Louise from Residents Action on Fylde Fracking, Vanessa Vine from Britain and Ireland Frack Free Bristol, an others, some of whom had also spoken at Knightsbridge.

It was then suggested that some people go round to the other gates on Old Street, and we walked through Bunhill Fields cemetery to do so. A quarter of an hour or so later, most of the other protesters had come there too, and there was a further rally.

After a few speeches, people were beginning to drift away and the protest was winding down. As I was preparing to leave, police who had simply watched the proceedings and cleared a path for people and vehicles entering and leaving the site decided to enforce parking regulations on the bus, threatening to tow it away. It was parked on a double yellow line but there was hardly any traffic on the City Road at the time. Though things obviously were going to get a bit busier as the rush hour was approaching.
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Fracked Future Carnival in Knightsbridge

Jumeirah Carlton Tower, London. Wed 19 Mar 2014
It was easier to read the message 'Frack Off' when two protesters came together for a kiss
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Several hundred activists opposed to fracking marched from Knightsbridge station to the hotel were the Shale Gas Forum had been due to meet. After speeches there they went on to protest at the new 'secret' location in a Territorial Army barracks.

When the Climate Revolution march reached Knightsbridge station there were a number of other protesters waiting, and after a short halt, everyone joined together to march to the hotel. I took yet more pictures of Vivienne Westwood walking back down Sloane St, and was slightly surprised when the march turned off and into Lowndes Square. Apparently those at the front of the march had no idea where to go and had almost reached Knightsbridge before shouts turned them back, and eventually we all arrive opposite the Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel in Cadogan Place.

There we found the protest bus and a public address system set up for the rally, which then proceeded, with a number of speeches, including those by Vivienne Westwood and Vanessa Vine of BIFF (Britain & Ireland Frack Free). But I spent most of my time photographing in the crowd of protesters - now in their several hundreds.

At the end of the rally, people were told that we were going to take the tube to Old Street to protest outside the new secret (and still undisclosed) venue for the Shale Gas Forum, and to follow the Rhythms of Resistance samba band to Knightsbridge station. As we made our way there more protesters arrived, including some from the camp at Barton Moss.

I waited to photograph some of the protesters coming down into the station and then got on a train to Kings Cross. It was too crowded to move most of the way (including a large school party) and I was only able to move and talk to a small group from Wales towards the end of the journey.
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Climate Revolution March to Fracked Future Carnival

Battersea Bridge to Knightsbridge. Wed 19 Mar 2014

Vivienne Westwood at the head of the march on the King's Road
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Vivienne Westwood led a march of around a hundred people from Battersea Bridge to the Fracked Future Carnival at Knightsbridge. Marchers included some from camp opposing fracking at Barton Moss and supporters of her 'Climate Revolution.'

I took far too many pictures of Vivienne Westwood on the march, but she has got a very expressive face. As the march came up Sloane St there was some confusion as to whether it should go direct to the hotel outside which there was to be a protest (though we knew the Shale Gas Forum had moved to another venue) or go to Knightsbridge station where other protesters were meeting - which after a short discussion it did.
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SOAS Insight Day - Justice for Cleaners

SOAS, London. Mon 17 Mar 2014

Waiting to hand out leaflets to the prospective students
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Prospective students visiting SOAS University for their 'Insight Day' were given an insight into the reluctance of management to end their discrimination against cleaners and the two tier workforce.

Students, staff and cleaners protested on behalf of the cleaners across lunchtime, talking to the visitors and handing out flyers against the exploitation of cleaners at the university.

They told the prospective students that SOAS was a great place to study, but was hypocritical in its failure to treat essential workers there with dignity and justice. The future students were introduced to the Justice 4 Cleaners campaign and invited to join it when they come to SOAS.

SOAS makes great claims to be a progressive university that promotes equality and human rights, but despite these public values, behind closed doors the management systematically discriminates against the workers that keep the buildings clean and fit for use.

They do this by not employing the cleaners themselves but by outsourcing the cleaning to ISS, a major multi-national corporation which treats the cleaners, who are largely migrants, as second class citizens.

The cleaners want to be treated with the equality, dignity and respect which SOAS claims as its values, and which it promotes across the world. They campaigned for 4 years, gaining the almost unanimous support of support staff, academics and students at SOAS, for equivalent sick pay, holiday and pension entitlement as workers directly employed by SOAS, as well as to an end of the disrespectful treatment and bullying from their ISS managers before deciding their only option was to take strike action.

SOAS Unison branch represents over 95% of the cleaners at SOAS, and got the best support ever in the history of British trade unionism, with a 100% vote for strike action from the 62% of members who responded to the ballot, and their strike on March 4th and 5th met with fantastic support from the SOAS community. Despite this, ISS and SOAS management are still ignoring the cleaners, and there is to be a further strike this Friday.
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Save Our Lions - Ban Canned Hunting

Trafalgar Square. Sat 15 Mar 2014
Save our Lions marchers in front of a Landseer lion in Trafalgar Square
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Hundreds in London took part in the Global March for Lions, coming from different starting points to meet in Trafalgar Square and call for a ban on the 'canned' hunting of captive lions by wealthy trophy tourists.

Legal but unscrupulous, 'canned hunting' is apparently big business in South Africa, with more than 8,000 lions in captivity, bred on lion farms for the industry. Rich visitors pay large sums to take part in lion shoots, where the targets are unable to escape, often raised to be tame and used to human presence and often drugged to make them easy kills. Over 160 such canned lion killing camps have been set up in South African in the last 15 years.

The lions heads - almost entirely male lions - are then mounted as trophies, while the bones are sold to the far East for use as 'medicines' or 'aphrodisiacs' (they have no known value as either) at high prices.

Lion farms take the cubs away from the lionesses soon after birth - and are exploited with people paying to 'pet' and play with them, though female cubs are often killed unless needed for breeding. When the cubs get too big for petting, people will pay for the experience of 'walking with lions'. Once they outgrow this, they are crammed into overcrowded cages, usually in very poor conditions until they are mature and can be shot.

It is a terrible way to treat a wild and noble animal, but it also greatly threatens the wild lion population. To prevent the inbreeding that is rife in captive lion populations, wild lions continue to be captured, while the growth in the Asian lion bone trade increased poaching.

The Global March for Lions was taking place in over 60 cities in 25 countries, including in London, where it was given the title 'Save Our Lions'. Marchers gathered in smallish groups in half a dozen places around central London, marching to meet up in Trafalgar Square.

I arrived there with a group of around a hundred people, which was joined by several others. We walked through Trafalgar Square and up onto the North Terrace, where there was a large crowd and some singing of the Lion song and shouting of slogans, as well as handing out leaflets to the many people walking past.

The marchers then led a walk on the pavement outside the square. stopping briefly close to one of Landseer's famous lions around Nelson's column, before marching up through the square again, past some worried looking Heritage Wardens, and up to a longer rally on the North Terrace, along with another large group of marchers that had now joined us.
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English Volunteer Force march in London

Westminster, London, Sat 15 Mar 2014

The EVF march paused at the Cenotaph for a short silence to respect the dead
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The English Volunteer Force, combining a number of right wing 'patriotic' groups marched down Whitehall to a rally opposite Parliament against various issues mainly concerned with what they see as increasing Muslim influence in Britain.

I arrived at the Lord Moon of the Mall where the EVF were gathering just a minute or two before the march started. I'd had to make my way through a loose line of police across the top of Whitehall to get there, who were making sure that they kept the anti-fascist opposition to the march well away.

The EVF march, which went down Whitehall towards Parliament was fairly loosely policed, although there were probably almost as many police around as the around a hundred EVF marchers.

But the police were today concentrating their attention on the anti-fascists, with a large force blocking them around 50 yards away down Whitehall Place as the EVF march passed. A few did manage to get closer, and many on the EVF march surged towards them, but were stopped both by police and by some of the EVF leaders who urged marchers not to cause trouble.

The anti-fascists then ran back and along Whitehall Court into Horseguards Ave, where a large group were surrounded by a rather larger force of police and held for around an hour, before being allowed to leave having been warned they would be arrested if they tried to go towards Parliament where by that time the EVF rally was due to end.

As I walked along with the march I talked to one or two of the marchers who know me from the many right-wing events I've covered over the years. One joked with me about my left-wing sympathies, but seemed pleased that I was covering the event. Several of those taking part realise that although there are many things on which we don't agree I aim to report accurately and fairly - and I've been personally invited to cover some 'patriotic' events for that reason.

But one man came over and shouted at me, pushing my camera into my face. I complained to police at this assault but they simply pushed me away. Later the same individual came and threatened me, and a police officer did ask him to stop, though it seemed rather half-hearted given that he was clearly breaking the law. Right-wing protests do seem to attract some with a very negative attitude towards the press - and incidents like this will of course get recorded. However much the organisers may try to seem moderate and reasonable, they seem to always be let down by the behaviour of a few of those taking part.

The march halted for a few minutes at the Cenotaph, where a silence was observed before the march moved on to Parliament. In Parliament Square there were a few small groups of counter-protesters shouting out 'Fascist Scum' and other insults, and police again had to stop some of the EVF from rushing to confront them. Police kept the two groups apart, and some moved to disperse the counter-protesters. As the march reached its destination in Old Palace Yard there was another rush by some of the EVF towards a group of counter-protesters, and several people brought to the ground and led away by police.

The EVF rally then took place, with some minor interruptions by shouts across the road by counter-protesters, who the police kept well away, while some EVF protesters shouted and gestured at them from behind the police lines.

The EVF brings together a number of groups - it lists them as "SEA, MFE, EAP, NEI, NWI, Casuals United and Bristol Defence League" and on Facebook described the protest as "highlighting multiple issues from immigration, Islamic hate preachers, sharia law, Sharia zones, Sharia patrol groups, banning the Burhka!, Halal meat, endless applications for more mosques etc."

They insist that they are 'patriotic' and are not racist, and claim not to be against Muslims but simply against Muslim extremists. Although I heard none of the clearly Islamophobic chants that have been a major feature of EDL protests, it still seemed not to accord with some of the views I heard expressed before I left the rally. And of course it isn't mainly extremists that want to build mosques, or eat Halal meat.

Most of us in the UK - including the great majority of Muslims - are opposed to the tiny minority of a few hundred Muslim extremists whose leader is thought by some to be sponsored by our secret services who carry out stupid stunts. Most of us too want to uphold traditional British values such as fair play, tolerance and moderation, and want to get on well with our neighbours, whatever their religion.

As I walked away and up Parliament St to meet the anti-nuclear protesters at Downing St, a group of around a dozen anti-fascists passed me on their way towards the EVF rally. They and a few others had managed to evade the police, but it was really the police's day. They had managed to keep the two sides more or less apart, at least while I was there.
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Fukushima Nuclear Melt-down Remembered

Hyde Park and Downing St, London. Sat 15 Mar 2014
Marchers dressed as yellow fluorescent drums of radioactive waste start their march through London
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On the third anniversary of the nuclear melt-down at Fukushima, protesters dressed up and paraded through London, to reminds everyone of the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

I joined the protesters as they gathered for the march in Hyde Park, and left them on their way to the Japanese embassy. Later I met them again as they came up to Downing St, on their way to a final rally at Parliament.
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Syrians March for International Action

Hyde Park and Downing St, London. Sat 15 Mar 2014

Some of the protesters had faces painted with the Syrian flag
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Syrians marched from Piccadilly to Downing St. on the third anniversary of the start of their fight for freedom to show their commitment to the cause and their solidarity with fellow Syrians inside and outside Syria.

The event was organised by National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and the UK Syrian community and as well as calling for Assad to go, they were also appealing to the international community to help them to get rid of him. They stated:

"Syria, once proud of its contribution to culture, its distinguished history and its beautiful mosques and churches has been overwhelmed with a brutal dictatorship. Syrian homes have turned to rubble, echoing the unheard screams of its inhabitants. The regime has tried to silence the call of freedom by murdering over 150,000, injuring 500,000, imprisoning 250,000, making 1.5 million refugees and caused over 4.5 million internally displaced people within Syria, and recently started using chemical weapons. These people simply want freedom from a wretched, tyrannical regime that has ruled over them with an iron fist for over 43 years."

The marchers gathered on Piccadilly close to Hyde Park corner, and many of them were waving the Free Syrian flag when I arrived. Others were wearing the flag draped around their shoulders, and a few had it painted on their faces.

I met the march as it made its way down Whitehall to a rally opposite Downing St, where there seemed to be well over a thousand people.
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London March for Freedom for Tibet

Downing St, London. Sat 15 Mar 2014
A Tibetan monk holds a picture of the Dalai Lama
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The annual Tibet freedom march in London commemorated the 55th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising, with around a thousand people, including many Tibetans and supporters gathering at Downing St before marching to a rally at the Chinese Embassy.

As on previous years, this was a noisy and colourful protest, with many carrying or wearing the Tibetan Freedom flag. The event started with the singing of the Tibetan national anthem opposite Downing St, after which they came onto the road to begin the march through London.

At the front of the procession a man carried a photograph of the Dalai Lama, and behind him pranced a bull with large black horns. Then came banners and around a thousand protesters.

Tibet was an independent country with its own government, postal system, languages, laws and treaties with foreign governments - including Britain - until 1949/50 when China invaded. Since then over 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a result of the occupation and thousands have been imprisoned and tortured for their political and religious beliefs.

Tibet's political and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, escaped to India with 120,000 others in 1959 and established the Tibetan Government in Exile. Among those held in prison by the Chinese in Tibet is the Panchen Lama, named by the Dalai Lama in the traditional way when he was six in 1995 and imprisoned shortly after. The Chinese drew the name of another young boy out of a Golden Urn and recognise him instead as the Panchen Lama.

The protesters want Tibet to be free and in charge of its own destiny again, calling for an end to the illegal Chinese occupation. They see China developing Tibet as a police state and increasing the Chinese occupation of their country. China is attempting to destroy Tibetan culture, and Tibetans are rapidly becoming a minority as thousands of migrants are brought in.

Peaceful protests by Tibetans are met by arrests, torture, death and lies. China's huge economic power has led western countries to adopt what they have called a policy of 'constructive engagement' with China, which has effectively meant them turning a blind eye to the occupation and to human rights abuses in Tibet.

I left the marchers shortly after they went through Trafalgar Square on their way to the Chinese Embassy in Portland Place where they were to hold a rally.
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Ukraine Vigil

Downing St, London. Thu 13 Mar 2014

Ukrainians are mounting a permanent vigil opposite Downing St
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Ukrainians have decided to hold a permanent vigil opposite Downing St, hoping to get the UK Government to stand up against Russian aggression. There wasn't a great deal happening when I dropped in briefly, and I think it most unlikely the UK government will take any action that might hurt the City's financial interests.

End Persecution & Sexual Abuse at Yarl's Wood

Home Office, Marsham St, London. Thu 13 Mar 2014

Protesters with placards outside the Home Office
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A protest at the Home Office called for an end to the psychological, sexual, physical and legal abuse of women asylum seekers and immigrants held there and for the detention centre to be closed down.

The protest was supported by the Movement for Justice, Southall Black Sisters and the All African Women's Group, and protesters included women who had been held there while their asylum claims were being considered.

Women who arrive in this country having escaped from abuse, torture and persecution in their own countries find themselves locked up in this high-security prison without a release date although they have committed no crime. Many are in desperate need of protection and counseling and treatment, but instead are placed in a hostile environment while the Home Office try desperate measures to deport them back to the horror they have escaped.

Many of the women have made complaints of sexual abuse by male prison staff. One women who was awarded compensation for her sexual abuse in Yarl's Wood by an officer was horrified to learn that he was still employed there, free to commit further offences.

In its hurry to deport some of these women, the Home Office often fails to properly meet the legal requirements, deporting them without prior notification despite the legal requirement to issue written Removal Directions. Many of those employed as 'escorts' to put women who are being deported onto flights seem little more than thugs, and in a number of cases women have been injured so that the flight crews have refused to carry them, demanding they be removed from the planes.

The terrible conditions, as well as the threat of removal back to a situation which they fled because their lives are in danger leads to the risk of suicide. One reason for today's protest is that "women in Yarl's Wood believe a detainee called Saba from Pakistan, has died or committed suicide and it is being covered up. On 5th March the women were suddenly put on lock-down about 10.00am; this continued to about 6.00pm. Saba has not been seen since. Her room-mate has been moved to another room and apparently told not to talk to anyone. Their room (Avocet 127) remains empty and locked. Staff put up a notice on Friday denying that anyone had died and saying the lock-down was because of a bomb hoax - but they won't say what has happened to Saba."

Other cases highlighted by the protesters include that of Cisse A, a political refugee from the civil war in Mali, unlawfully deported on 20th Feb. An earlier attempt to deport her on Feb 15th had failed as she had resisted strongly. On Feb 19 she was called to the office for a monthly report and locked in a room without windows, unable to contact anyone and was deported the following day; she is now in hiding in Mali, where her brother has disappeared.

Rabia C, a Kurdish trade union activist who had escaped from a threatened 'honour killing' was deported to Turkey in a similar manner. She had been removed from a previous deportation flight at the insistence of the pilot after being injured by her 'escorts' and her lawyer was preparing a Judicial Review application. Neither she or her lawyer were given Removal Directions before the deportation on March 4th. She is now in hiding in Turkey and has attempted suicide.

There are other recent reports of violence against women inside Yarl's Wood. The protesters state:

Yarl's Wood women are fighting back against attempts to deport them or their sisters to persecution and death and exposing sexual abuse by male staff. The frightened response of the Home Office and its agents is to increase the repression in Yarl's Wood, breaching even the present, inadequate legal rights of detainees and creating an environment that can drive women to suicide.

They called for a public inquiry into the conditions and abuse of women in Yarl's Wood and for the Yarl's Wood to be shut down.
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Badger Army Says End Culls

Old Palace Yard, Westminster, London. Thu 13 Mar 2014

The Cull must Stop and so must the Deceit and Lies
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Many were in badger-themed costumes at a rally at Parliament as MPs discussed the future of the badger cull after the failure of the pilot culls and the growing weight of scientific evidence that vaccination, not culling, is the best defence against bovine TB.

Among those taking part were Bill Oddie and several MPs including Kerry McCarthy, Labour, Bristol East, Tracey Crouch, Conservative, Chatham & Aylesford and Caroline Lucas, Green Party, and organisations including the 'Badger Army' who had done their best to prevent the cull by direct action.

Informed opinion now seems clear that the pilot cull has failed, it was ineffective and inhumane and was well below the level where it could have lowered the incidence of bovine TB - and will almost certainly result in an increase. The protesters called the cull a cruel failure and urged the government to 'move on and vaccinate'.

DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson has stated he remains committed to a wider cull despite the Independent Expert Panel’s report of the failure of the pilot culls. The protesters suggest DEFRA stands for Do Everything Farmers Representatives Ask, and the NFU leadership seems to be unable to understand the scientific evidence.
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Pay UAL Cleaners a Living Wage

Chelsea College of St, London. Tue 11 Mar 2014

Vice-Chancellor Nigel Carrington on the defensive as students tell him to pay cleaners a living wage
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Students, staff and trade unionists protested at UAL Chelsea College of Arts today and spoke with the Vice-Chancellor before the staff forum, demanding that cleaners, employed there by Bouygues Energy & Services, are paid the London Living Wage.

Currently the cleaners get the national minimum wage of £6.31 per hour (for over 21s), considerably less than needed to live on in London. A recent Labour party survey found that over nine out of ten Londoners agreed this was not enough to live on in London. The London Living Wage, calculated annually by the Greater London Authority is set at £8.80 per hour.

The protest started across the road from the college in John Islip St, next to Tate Britain, with banners and GMB flags, but a group soon moved across into the college square. A small group went briefly into a reception area to ask if the Vice-Chancellor had left, but went back outside when asked to do so.

Shortly afterwards, Vice Chancellor Nigel Carrington came out on his way to the meeting and stopped to talk with the protesters, telling them that he thought that they had some good points, but that he did not employ the cleaners and could not grant them the living wage.

He said too that he had too consider the wider implications; if the cleaners were paid more then there would be less money to spend on other things, including the student courses and provision.

The protesters were not satisfied with his answers. They know that many organisations insist that contractors pay the living wage to all employees, and that contracting out of services is simply a way to exploit employees - paying lower rates and giving them worse conditions of employment - while keeping the institutions hands clean. Contractors can only make the large profits they do by offering sub-standard wages and conditions, and also generally cut costs by giving poor levels of service. If the workers are not squeezed and service levels were the same, then an in-house service would be cheaper, as there would be no profits to be taken away.

The protesters were told that they could attend the meeting if they left their banners and megaphones outside, and the students decided to do so. The other protesters and I decided to leave.

The campaign for all workers at the UAL to get at least the London Living Wage is backed by the GMB, which is recruiting staff at the University of London. It was launched last November with an art installation at the London School of Fashion, another college of UAL. As well as cleaners, there are also other staff, mainly in catering, who are also paid at below the living wage. All staff employed directly by the university are already paid a living wage and it seems illogical to allow contractors to pay staff who work in these institutions below this.
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Stop Hospital Killer Clause 119

Parliament, Westminster, London. Tue 11 Mar 2014

NHS Not for Sale
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Protesters with a large vulture called Jeremy and a display van held a rally opposite Parliament against Clause 119, tagged onto the care bill to change the law after courts found Jeremy Hunt had acted illegally in trying to shut A&E at Lewisham.

The clause would give the trust special administrator (TSA) appointed when a hospital is in financial difficulty the power not just to close, merge or alter that hospital but to close down, merge or alter services at any other hospital to close the financial gap, with no proper consultation or regard to the social and health effects.

The consequences could be truly disastrous, and the clause was a panic measure drafted in a fit of pique after Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was defeated in his attempts to raid the thriving Lewisham Hospital to meet the huge PFI debts of some other hospitals in South East London.

A powerful local opposition brought doctors, local councils, Millwall Football Club and the whole local community out onto the streets, with many thousands marching to save their local hospital, and the backing and funds to take the Minister to the courts, whey they won, and won again after Hunt appealed.

The clause also goes against the stated government policy; the local commissioning groups it intends to be at the centre of local health provision will have absolutely no say over what happens to the services that they commission when this clause is invoked.

The protest today was supported by the GMB union and Unite as well as by the Save Lewisham Hospital campaign and other hospital protest groups, including those from Ealing and Charing Cross and other campaigners hoping to save the NHS. The protest began with a period of silence to mark the death early today of RMT General Secretary Bob Crow.

Among the speakers at the rally were a number of Labour MPs, including Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham who said that the Labour Party would vote against Clause 119 and if they failed to stop it completely would support the all-party amendment which would give commissioning doctors at the non-involved hospitals a right of veto over the TSA's plans to plunder their hospitals to solve financial problems elsewhere.

Other MPs who spoke included Andrew Gwynne, a member of the Shadow health team, Katie Clark, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, MP for Hammersmith and Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter and Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham Deptford since 1987. Other speakers included consultant Jackie Davis of the National Health Action party, Rachael Maskell, Unite Head of Health, and several NHS activists including Jill from Lewisham and Sandra from Charing Cross.
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Reopen Chase Farm A&E

Enfield, London. Sat 8 Mar 2014

Campaigners march through the centre of Enfield on their way to Chase Farm
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A protest march around the centre of Enfield and on to Chase Farm Hospital called for the recently closed A&E department there to be re-opened following the death of a two-year-old taken to Chase Farm in an emergency.

After a long struggle by local people against the cuts in services, the A&E department at Enfield's Chase Farm Hospital was closed on December 9th 2013. The maternity unit there had been closed in the previous months. The cuts were largely a money-saving measure by the Barnet and Chase Farm NHS Hospitals Trust, and in the consultations were supposed to have been accompanied by a substantial investment in community health provision, which has not occurred.

The campaign was possibly the reason for the election of Nick de Bois in the 2010 election, with both de Bois and David Cameron becoming involved with the 'Hands Off Our Hospital' campaign with Cameron promising to stop the closures.

There are now no emergency services at Chase Farm and when on January 15th this year a desperately ill 2-year-old Muhammad Hashir Naveed was brought there by his mother she found the Urgent Care Centre was locked up. A nurse tried without success to resuscitate the child and rang for an ambulance to take him to North Middlesex Hospital in Edmonton, just under 6 miles away. It's a journey which on clear roads takes just under 20 minutes, but traffic can often double this, and the ambulance was slow to arrive at Chase Farm. By the time the medics had got to the North Middlesex it was too late.

So far the response from the Hospitals Trust has simply been to replace the rather small sign outside Chase Farm Hospital saying it has no emergency facilities with a very much larger sign about it.

Both North Middlesex and Barnet Hospital (a similar distance away) were already severely over-stretched and are likely to be unable to cope with the extra demand in a severe winter, and more deaths because of the closure seem inevitable.

Around a hundred protesters gathered at the war memorial at Chase Green including a number of workers from Chase Farm Hospital, people on mobility scooters and a woman carrying an oxygen cylinder to enable her to breathe. The main banner was from the organisers, the North East London Council of Action, set up in 2007 to oppose hospital closures in the area, and there was also a Camden Unison banner as well as flags from the Save Chase Farm campaign.

The protesters want the A&E department at Chase Farm to be reopened immediately and are asking for greater support from the trade unions. They say that this government's cuts are endangering lives and must be reversed.
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Million Women Rise March

Oxford St, London. Sat 8 Mar 2014

A woman at the front of the march with a poster 'Imagine a World Without Sexual Violence
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Around a thousand women took part in an all-women march through central London to a rally in Trafalgar Square on International Women's Day, part of the international Million Women Rise movement against male violence against women.

Recent reports have made clear the appalling level of violence against women that still exist in Britain, both inside and outside the home, and the situation is of course much worse in many other countries. There was a strong international presence on the march, and close to the front a group of women asylum seekers who have come here because of the violence against them in their own countries.

The organisers say:

A woman’s right to live free from violence and / or the fear of violence has not been achieved. Women continue to be attacked and violated in many different ways, in our homes, on our streets, on our public transport, at our places of work. The government, the TV and newspapers do very little to address this issue; instead they often blame women for wearing the wrong clothes or being in the wrong place.

They called for women to join them and to unite to end male violence against women and children, and suggested they wear red to synbolize "the colour of Woman and her blood, the blood of our sisters who have been murdered and raped, our blood which contains life, courage, respect, dignity and protection."

A few men who had come with their partners were told they were not welcome on the march, as was also a small mixed group protesting on behalf of women and children in Syria and calling for peace there. Before the start of the Million Women Rise movement there were marches for International Women's Day in London and elsewhere where women and men united in calling for women's demands, a tradition which started with more than a million women and men in over 20 countries marching in 1911.

Most of the women on the march seemed pleased to be photographed and a number recognised me from other protests. I had to leave the march as it went down Oxford Street to go to another protest.
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Outraged Lawyers Legal Aid Protest

Parliament & Ministry of Justice, London. Fri 7 Mar 2014

Many at the protest wore their legal wigs
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Around 2000 barristers, solicitors and other supporters of justice held a rally at Parliament before marching behind the figure of Justice and an effigy of Grayling with a 'Magna Carta' to the Ministry of Justice.

The protest packed Old Palace Yard in front of the Houses of Parliament, with many of those attending wearing their legal wigs. There were many speakers from across the legal profession, including Sir Ivan Lawrence, QC, who for 23 years was a leading Conservative MP, but now told the rally he was ashamed of this government over legal aid. Minister Chris Grayling has managed to unite the whole profession, solicitors, barristers, senior and junior, young and old, probation workers, academics and everyone involved in the delivery of justice against his proposals, and in particular of his response to consultation over them.

The opposition is largely not because they will reduce incomes in the profession, although many are convinced they will result in many of the more skilled and experienced advocates are likely to have to leave criminal practice altogether, but that it will become very difficult for those who need legal aid to find any qualified or experienced support.

Although there was as could be expected, a very high level of advocacy, the most powerful speeches came from those who had been victims of injustice and had been saved because of legal aid; Francis, a man accused by police of assault after he had been the subject of an attack by a youth outside his home, Noella Clay, of Women Against Rape, Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six, freed when thanks to legal aid his conviction for the pub bombings was quashed, and Janis Sharp, the mother of Gary McKinnon who fought extradition to the US for 10 years. As she told us, without legal aide he would now be dead.

Perhaps the only disappointing note in the whole rally came from Shadow Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Minister for London, Sadiq Khan MP. Although his speech was full of party political condemnation for the Conservatives and Chris Grayling, it signally failed to give any clear message that Labour would reverse the cuts or in any way act to restore justice if they came to power after the next election.

Also speaking at the event were Shami Chakrabati of Liberty and Laura James from the Howard League for Penal Reform as well as Blur drummer, now a solicitor, Dave Rowntree. Present supporting the protest was Maxine Peake, TV barrister Martha Costello QC in Silk, along with the writer of the drama series Peter Moffat.

After the rally, there was a march led by the Scales of Justice and he large effigy of Chris Grayling that had been in front of the stage. It went through Parliament Square to deliver documents stating their case to the Liberal Democrat HQ in Great George St, and then on to the Ministry of Justice, where a small delegation went in to deliver a 'Magna Carta' for Chris Grayling, with the message 'To no one will we sell to no one deny or delay right or justice' from 1215, with the signatures of the leading figures in today's protest. There was some hilarity at least among the press when the large Grayling effigy was refused entrance to his ministry.
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London is not for sale

City Hall, London. Thu 6 Mar 2014

"Southwark Council sold off 900 council homes @ auction since 2010..." one of the notes pegged on the line
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Around a hundred people from most London boroughs protested at City Hall against Boris Johnson and local councils selling their homes for development to enrich investors and developers and producing London's housing crisis.

Some of those attending had brought estate agent signs from their boroughs and there was a competition for the borough who had brought most, won by Hackney with 33, closely followed by Islington with 30.

The protesters laid these out on the pavement in front of City Hall in the shape of a house, putting on each of the notices a sticker with 'London Is Not' in front of the 'For Sale'.

There were then speeches were various people talked about their problems with housing, with people being evicted so councils could sell of whole areas for private development, or having only two months security of tenure in private rented accommodation and being forced to leave. Many councils are now targeting the homeless, and rough sleeping - which few if do if they have any alternative - is now a crime. Even being on the street with a sleeping bag in your bag is now criminal, with the Metropolitan Police putting 'Operation Encompass' into effect in Camden, Islington, Lambeth, Southwark, Westminster and Croydon.

The protest was called by the Radical Housing Network, who have released two case studies showing the disastrous effects of agreements between local councils and developers on the lives of Londoners.

One concerns developer Lend Lease's relationship with the London Borough of Southwark, which led to the deliberate social cleansing of a whole neighbourhood next to the Elephant and Castle. The Heygate Estate was an award-winning estate when built in 1971 and was home for 1200 families. The council carried out a campaign over 20 years to create a fictional and distorted image of the area, and even deliberately moved in a number of people and groups with mental health and other problems as well as failing to carry out proper maintenance. They lied about the results of surveys and employed PR companies to lie for them, hid vital documents about the proposed demolition and redevelopment even from councilors on the planning committee.

The 1200 families had to move. The council broke promises about their rehousing. Leaseholders who had bought properties on the estate were treated shabbily and probably illegally, given compensation well below the market value of their properties.

The true nature of the deal only came into the public domain by accident, and revealed that when the costs of displacement were taken into consideration the loss to the public purse from the sell-off is in the region of £500 million.

The protest comes a week before the MILIM world property market festival in Cannes, France, where London Mayor Boris Johnson "will examine how the extraordinary growth in London's housing market, coupled with huge changes in population and the UK's emergence from recession, places ever more urgent demand on the capital's housing supply" and will encourage investors to come and buy up yet more of London's housing, making the housing situation worse.
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Anniversary Tribute to Chavez

Trafalgar Square, London. Wed 5 March 2014

A woman holds up a Wiphala of Qullasuyu, of the native people of the Andes & an alternative flag of Bolivia
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Protesters including many Latin-Americans held a rally to celebrate former president Hugo Chavez on the anniversary of this death and support the people of Venezuela under threat from a US backed right wing coup.

The Venezuelan right have been out of power since Hugo Chávez was elected as President (in what is, perhaps rather confusingly to us named the Bolivarian Revolution, after Simón Bolívar, the early nineteenth century leader in the wars of most of northern South America from Spain) in 1998. With the alleged aid of the CIA they engineered a brief coup in 2002, but after 2 days of popular protest Chávez was restored to power by the people and the army.

Elections after the death of Chávez in March 2013 led to a narrow but convincing victory by Nicolás Maduro. The right wing contested the victory, with a number of large protests as well as an unsuccessful legal challenge and his election was ratified by the Venezuelan Supreme Court.

More recently the right wing have held more mass protests, mainly in middle class areas, and have also been spreading false reports blaming the government for attacks by right wing paramilitary groups and the hoarding of foods by large private corporations. A part of this campaign has involved the spreading through social media of images said to be of atrocities in Venezuela but actually taken in other countries at other times which have been exposed in some web features. Again there are allegations that the campaign is supported by the USA.

The protesters at tonight's event in Trafalgar Square expressed "a heartfelt tribute to comandante Hugo Chavez, on the first anniversary of his death. A tribute to a Bolivarian leader who, with his struggle, determination and social conscience in favour of the poor, helped to forge the dream of independence and sovereignty for people across Latin America and the world." They also stated that the Venezuelan right are lying when they claim to act "in favour of democracy, economic prosperity and against dictatorship. In reality their actions are part of a destabilisation plan, promoting violence and US military intervention in a country with one of the largest oil reserves in the world. Venezuela, along with other Latin American countries, has set out to build a more just, democratic, Bolivarian and anti-imperialist society." It has not been a course with which middle-class Venezuelans generally have much sympathy - hence the continuing protests.

There were a rather bewildering number of flags on display at the protest from groups showing solidarity with the Venezuelan people. The included the national flags of Bolivia, Ecuador and Algeria as well as from the RMT trade union. Some also had the square emblem (Wiphala of Qullasuyu) of the native people of the Andes with its patchwork colours, used as an alternative flag of Bolivia.

At first the protesters tried to set up at the front of the North Terrace, but were soon moved on by the Heritage Wardens who told them that they needed permission from the Mayor of London to protest there. They moved back into the area in front of the National Gallery, an area under the control of Westminster Council, but again received complaints, this time for sticking posters onto the wall belonging to the National Gallery, which they had to remove. By the time I left, there were around 20 or 30 people at the protest, with more arriving after leaving work.
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Ash Wednesday Act of Resistance

Defence Ministry, London. Wed 5 March 2014
Writing 'REPENT' in water and charcoal on the pavement outside the Ministry of Defence
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Christians today protested around the Ministry of Defence in a liturgy of prayer and resistance against the deployment of weapons of mass destruction, marking the pavement and the walls of their buildings with charcoal.

This annual non-violent peace protest has taken place every year since 1982 and is organised by Pax Christi, Christian CND and London Catholic Worker. The organisers state:

Our liturgy and witness today is undertaken in respectful opposition
to the MoD’s preparations for the deployment of weapons of mass
destruction. We have never sought permission from the police to
engage in the act of prayer and resistance which has taken place here
every year since 1982.

Around a hundred people turned up for today's service - and it very much is a Christian service, beginning with a call to worship and repentance a Lenten prayer, a Bible reading then a blessing of ash and charcoal. Those taking part are then marked with a cross in ash on their foreheads by representatives of the organising groups. One woman carried a poster with a quotation from Pope Francis, who on World Peace Day this year said: "I make my own the appeal for the non-proliferation of arms and for disarmament of all parties beginning with nuclear and chemical weapons."

After this the group marched in silence to the wide area of pavement opposite the Defence Ministry and outside the Old War Office (in the past people were less euphemistic) where there was a further set of readings and prayers around a cross, to which people came and tied purple ribbons "in memory of a place/people in need of peace" while singing John Bell and Ian Maule's song "A touching place", which talks about how Christ is present in the love shown by us to others.

The group then moved off in silence to the tope of the road, across it and back down to the Ministry of Defence, forming up outside its entrance, in front of barriers erected by the police for the occasion.

Here the word 'REPENT' was written in water on the pavement, and then the letters were also made with charcoal. All those present were then invited to come and add ashes to the letters. There were more prayers and songs, and then everyone present offered "one another and those around a sign of peace" shaking hands and saying "The peace of the Lord be with you always" or something similar, with the response "Amen' or "And with you".

The procession then moved off to the Embankment gardens on the river front of the Ministry of Defence where the service continued. At its conclusion, those present joined hands and spread out along the fence of the Ministry and said the Lord's Prayer together.

A man taking part then jumped over the fence and made for the wall of the building, but was tackled by a couple of the police who were in a spread out line along the wall. One of them led him away, but he managed to twist away and draw a cross in charcoal on the wall before he was again wrestled to the ground. He was then led away but was released a few minutes later.

One or two others had walked towards Whitehall with the intention of writing on the walls of the War Office. One managed to get inside the main doorway and started to write the word 'Repent' in charcoal, and I saw him a few minutes later being put into a police van to be taken to Charing Cross Police station. From the pavement I could see where he had started to write on the wall, with the letters 'REP' clearly visible, but police would not allow me to enter to see if he had been able to write more.
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SOAS Cleaners strike for Equal Treatment

SOAS, Thornhaugh St, London. Tue 4 Mar 2014
Cleaners dance to Colombian music on the picket line
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Cleaners at London's School of Oriental and African Studies began a two day strike to gain equal treatment to other staff and claiming a lack of respect from SOAS management and bullying from their employer ISS.

Cleaners, supported by students and many other staff working at ISS have campaigned for several years to be treated equally to other staff at SOAS and to be brought back 'in house' and employed directly by the university. The 'Justice For Cleaners' campaign has enjoyed wide support.

At the moment they are employed by the outsourcing cleaning contractor ISS, a multinational company that has a reputation for bullying workers. Yesterday evening the company tried to bring in scab workers to do the work of the cleaners, which met with opposition from the students, some of whom were shown on video being assaulted by ISS managers. The ISS director Paul Cronin has also threatened to stop paying the cleaners the London Living Wage which they gained through industrial action several years ago.

Outsourcing never results in an improvement in service, and always involves cutting both the hours of work and the conditions of service of those doing the work. There are high profits for the contractor, at the expense of the workforce. SOAS could not possibly itself be seen to employ people on the poor pay and conditions that the contracting company does, but seems happy to benefit from the exploitation of people who work in its building by others - even though this also means an inferior service. To many who study and work at SOAS this 'two-tier' workforce is unacceptable.

As a worker in the Justice for Cleaners campaign stated:

"SOAS is known around the world for promoting dignity and equality. Yet, its maintenance, cleaning, security and catering all have less rights than other workers, because they are outsource. At the moment SOAS is built on inequality and exploitation."

The strike ballot among the cleaners had a high turnout, over 60%, and a virtually unprecedented unanimity, with 100% of those voting backing strike action.

The unity of the workers is impressive, and so too is their picket, with many arriving early for the official 4am start this morning, and by 6am virtually the whole normal morning shift were there taking part.

I arrived for a rally at lunchtime, with various speakers supporting the strike, including a number of students and trade unionists, as well as several of the strikers. The cleaners in SOAS are in Unison, and as well as SOAS UNISON Branch Secretary and union secretary for the London Higher Education Executive Sandy Nicoll, there was a strong message of support from Jon Rogers, UNISON branch secretary in Lambeth and a member of the Unison national executive council, who praised the cleaners for the best picket line he had ever seen.

Many staff at SOAS had cancelled their classes for the day, and many other staff and students refused to cross the picket line. Lectures and tutorials were rescheduled, no registers were taken, and library fines and deadlines were postponed. For the second day of the strike, the cleaners are asking students and staff to work as normal so that the effect of the building not being cleaned can be seen.

After the rally came some Colombian music, and soon many of the cleaners and students were dancing. The picket was continuing until 5pm, after which the SOAS Union bar - which along with the Union offices and shop had been closed for the strike was due to open for a post-picket party.
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City of London Pancake Races

Guildhall Yard, London. Tue 4 Mar 2014

It was a toss-up whose hat was silliest
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The City of London's 10th annual Shrove Tuesday pancake races took place in Guildhall Yard between teams representing the livery companies, wearing guild robes, white gloves and hats.

The races, begun in 2004 by the Worshipful Company of Poulters are now an annual event, with members of the ancient and more recent livery companies dressing up to run a short course in the Guildhall Yard, tossing the pancake at the centre of the outwards and return leg. With over a hundred livery companies now in existence, there is great competition to take part in the event.

This is a charity event, with surplus funds from the event and pancake sales being donated by the joint organisers, the Poulters’ Company and ‘The Cook and The Butler’, to the annual Lord Mayor's Appeal. This year, Fiona Woolf, a lawyer specialising in electricity industry reforms at her CMS Cameron McKenna and the 686th Lord Mayor of London had chosen to support four charities, Beating Bowel Cancer, the Princess Alice Hospice, Raleigh International, a charity using the passion and energy of young people to drive positive change in sustainable development, and Working Chance which transforms the lives of women ex-offenders by finding them jobs with quality employers.

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

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

The event is held in Guildhall Yard by permission of the Chief Commoner.
As often in the City, despite the civility and formality - somewhat undermined by the contestants for the fancy dress race - competition was extremely fierce and the regulators had plenty of work to do keeping up with the infringements. If only they had paid as much attention to what the banks and other city companies were doing!
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Against Worldwide Government Corruption

Trafalgar Square & Ecuadorian embassy. Sat 1 Mar 2014

Anon and Mitch Antony in front of police on the steps of the Ecuador embassy
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Hundreds of people, many in Anonymous masks, protested against the corrupt systems governing the world, bankers and the military-industrial complex, marching from Trafalgar Square to the embassy where Julian Assange is trapped and on to Parliament.

This was a protest organised, attended and led by people who are appalled at the present state of the UK and the world, and who are convinced that a better world is possible if we got rid of the greedy and corrupt who currently are in change - the party politicians and their governments, the bankers and the corporations, the warmongers and the spies.

In its place they want justice and a fairer society, one that doesn't oppress the poor and disabled, that doesn't spy on everyone and doesn't use the media and the whole cultural apparatus as a way of keeping blind to what is really happening.

There were placards and posters about quite a wide range of issues at the protest, but this was an event with a wide-ranging perspective. Before the march, one of the organisers, Mitch Antony of Aspire Worldwide (Accountable System Project for International Redevelopment and Evolution) gave a speech about the purpose of the event - and here is some of what he said:

Today we march
united as one
against worldwide government corruption

Cameron and Clegg
you are just puppets
part of the show
to deceive the people

We are not deceived
we hear your lies
we know your hypocrisy
we feel your austerity
your policies against the poor
your propaganda and division

Today we march
united as one
against worldwide government corruption

We know the bankers
you bankroll with our taxes
we know the elite
you work with in the dark
conspiring against the people
the military industrial complex
you support, warmongers
without our consent

We know the state controlled media

You spy on us
but we see you
corporate servants

We know you
you are not us
you do not represent us
we do not accept your government

We will not stop
until you gone
we are here
to spread the word
coming for justice


We march against Global Government Corruption
We march against ideological austerity
We march against privatisation for profit
We march against the bedroom tax
We march against bankers bonuses
We march against the corrupt MPs
We march against state spying on the people
We march against state controlled media
We march against government misrepresentation
We march against warmongering
We march against global tyranny
We march against state sponsored terrorism
We march against the military industrial complex
We march against the militarisation of the police
We march against the suppression of alternative energies

At first the event seemed to be poorly attended, but it took some time for people to find the start, as the closure of Trafalgar Square in preparation for a commercial Russian event the following day made it impossible to meet at the agreed place. Not everyone managed to find the new location - there were some aggrieved posts on Facebook from some who failed.

Eventually a reasonable crowd arrived and the march set off on the dot at 2pm, with police facilitating. It passed down Pall Mall and onto Piccadilly and past the Ritz without any friction, and it was only as it reached Harvey Nicholls in Knightsbridge that there was some action, with a short protest against the store by the Campaign Against the Fur Trade, with a crowd gathering around the main door and shouting at this company that still deals in fur and fur-trimmed garments.

After a few minutes of protest the march moved on to the Ecuadorian embassy. Here police tried and failed to keep the protesters in the pen on the opposite side of the road. It was obviously bound to fail as the pen was simply too small to hold all of them had they wanted to go in it. Soon the protest surged across the road, and police rushed in to fill the steps with officers.

The protest here was in support of of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden and other whistle blowers and over the continued refusal to grant Assange safe passage to Ecuador, something that seems to be an personal vendetta by Home Secretary Teresa May which is costing the tax-payer a fortune - around £5.3 million to the end of last year - which many feel should be personally surcharged to Ms May.

I stayed there with the protesters for almost an hour, leaving just before they were due to march to Parliament Square for a further rally, although by this time quite a few others had also left.
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All pictures on this section of the site are Copyright © Peter Marshall 2014; to buy prints or for permission to reproduce pictures or to comment on this site, or for any other questions, contact me.

my london diary index

March 2014

Keep Soho Sexy
World Sindhi Congress Protest
Mothers Against Fracking
Fellow Students Fight for Yashika
Kilburn Uniform Day
Mothers march for justice
Teachers March on NUT Strike Day
Wandsworth Panoramas
Kites Not Drones Solidarity with Afghanistan
Stand Up to Racism
SOAS Cleaners Strike Again
Japanese Dolphin Massacre Protest
Druids celebrate the Spring Equinox
People's Assembly Budget Day Protest
Protest over Uganda Gay Hate Laws
Fracked Future Carnival at Shale Gas Forum
Fracked Future Carnival in Knightsbridge
Climate Revolution March to Fracked Future Carnival
SOAS Insight Day - Justice for Cleaners
Save Our Lions - Ban Canned Hunting
English Volunteer Force march in London
Fukushima Nuclear Melt-down Remembered
Syrians March for International Action
London March for Freedom for Tibet
Ukraine Vigil
End Sexual Abuse at Yarl's Wood
Badger Army Says End Culls
Pay UAL Cleaners a Living Wage
Stop Hospital Killer Clause 119
Reopen Chase Farm A&E
Million Women Rise March
Outraged Lawyers Legal Aid Protest
London is not for sale
Anniversary Tribute to Chavez
Ash Wednesday Act of Resistance
SOAS Cleaners Picket Line
City of London Pancake Races
Against Worldwide Government Corruption


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