my london diary index
 

March 2009

Put People First: Jobs Justice Climate
Eid Milad-Un-Nabi Celebrations
Love Theatre Hate Racism Protest at NT
Olympic Update - March 2009
Cleaners for Justice at Willis Again
Druids Celebrate the Spring Equinox
Brent St Patrick's Day Parade
Invade Jersey, Invade Tax Havens Now
End Child Poverty - 10 Years
St Patrick's Day Parade
Kurds celebrate Newroz
One Law For All - No Sharia in Britain
Million Women Rise 2009
Tibet Freedom March - 50 Years
Union Busting - Just SO Last Season
Cleaners for Justice demonstrate at Willis
Climate Rush at RBS

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Put People First: Jobs Justice Climate

Embankment to Hyde Park, London. Sat 28 March

The head of the march at Westminster

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The first of several major demonstrations aimed at influencing the G20 meeting of World leaders at the Excel Centre in east London later this week was backed by a very wide range of organisations, both from this country and abroad. Police put the number attending at 35,000 (usually you can double this to get closer to the real figure), and some were only just coming to the end of the long march - over 4 miles - to Hyde Park which started at 1pm when the rally there ended at 4.30.

Somehow the march got split into three - with police leading the front section off at a fast walking speed. The rear of this leading section reached Hyde Park corner while I was only just approaching Hyde Park corner with the middle group of around a thousand marchers. Looking back behind us down Piccadilly there was no sign of what was probably the bulk of the march behind us. Four miles is a long march and it would have been more impressive if the leading group had ignored the police and kept their pace slow and the march had stayed together. But I understand that the real holdup came when police reacted against a few anarchists who staged a sit-down and stopped the demonstration at that point for around half an hour.

The march was supported by over 150 organisations - trade unions, charities and pressure groups - as well as many other less organised groups and individuals. Police attention very much focused on an 'autonomous' block of around 800 in the centre of the march, which was escorted along the whole length of the march, but there was little intervention and although the FIT did emerge a few times to take pictures they generally seemed to be keeping their distance.

Marchers in all the disparate groups were united in calling for a new approach to social justice for the world as a whole, and for urgency in action by world leaders not just to find a solution for the current financial problems, but to tackle the even deeper problems of global inequality and of climate crisis.

Among the highlights of the rally - which took place amid heavy wintry showers - for me were two impassioned addresses from Kumi Naidoo of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, a blisteringly funny performance by Mark Thomas and a hard-hitting speech by environmentalist Tony Juniper. Campaigning author Susan George was another fine speaker, along with a number of trade unionists and justice campaigners from the UK and abroad, and musician Daby Toure gave an exciting set which could have gone on much longer for me. I've included at least one picture of all those who spoke or performed in this report.

Although there was a great deal of anger evident - as speakers including TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said, we were right to be angry - it was a well ordered event with at times a carnival atmosphere, which made some of the police prognostications look rather silly. It amused many of us to see them lining up in front of McDonalds in Whitehall - around nine years too late, as there were none in sight when it was trashed on May Day 2000.

And when the officer I was walking beside heard a few of the autonomous group calling out about having "tea at the Ritz" as we turned into Piccadilly, I wasn't surprised to hear him making an urgent radio call and then the police vans rush up to park outside it as the group marched calmly by on the opposite side of the road.

Later I'm told things got a little blacker as a mysterious 'man in black' rushed into the alternative rally the autonomous block was holding at Speakers Corner and tipped half a dozen small tightly wrapped packages from a black bin bag at the bottom of the stepladder from which people were speaking before exiting rapidly stage left. Someone opened one of these packages with a foot and found it contained a catapult, and all of the packages were quickly kicked away under the fencing around an area under maintenance behind the speakers.

Surprise, surprise, around 20 minutes later a policeman entered that area and collected the packages; the anarchists saw what was happening and dispersed. At least one man - who had been filming the protest - was stopped and searched.

Earlier in the week a police spokesman had given a widely broadcast media interview in which he predicted that there would be violence - and that some protesters would use catapults. It seems as if someone was determined to make this loony-sounding prophecy come true.
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Eid Milad-Un-Nabi Celebrations

Sunni Muslim Association, Tooting, London. Sat 21 March 2009

Men at Prayer
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I was delighted to be able to share with the Sunni Muslim Association in their annual Eid Milad-Un-Nabi celebrations to mark the anniversary of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. It was a celebration that brought together the traditional and modern and a community event to which all - Muslim and non-Muslim - were invited, although unfortunately few non-Muslims took the opportunity to attend. The SMA certainly seem very to be "building bridges across community and cultural divide..." but there seem to be few taking the opportunity to cross them from the other side.

In previous years I've enjoyed the procession the SMA have held through the centre of the town - you can see the pictures I took in 2007 and 2008 (and I also spent some time at the cultural event in 2007, when I was particularly impressed by the whirling dervishes who were again performing today.)

The big advantage on being on the street is that of visibility to the community as a whole, although of course the weather at this time of year isn't always kind. Although Tooting Leisure Centre is a part of Wandsworth's borough leisure faciilities, it isn't a very public place, tucked away in Greaves Place off Garratt Lane.

It was a very friendly event and although much of the first half was in Urdu or Arabic, there were some fine voices to listen to in the recitations. There was also a very well-produced exhibition about Islam. But it was the performances in the second half of the event that would I think have been enjoyed by a much wider audience. The evening started with a very spirited and tuneful performance of religious songs by a Sudanese group, and continued with an extremely funny set by Muslim comedian Prince Abdi that very much connected with the experience of many who have made their home in this country.

The Whirling Dervishes are just amazing, their dance a kind of spiritual rebirth, with their tall hats representing the "tombstone of the ego" and the wide white skirt it's shroud. The right arm lifts towards the sky to receive God's blessings and the left palm on which he directs his gaze is turned towards the earth.


They whirled and whirled and whirled ... As we were told "don't try this at home... and never on a full stomach"

Tayeba, "The Princess Nightingale of Burma" (though I think another South London talent) has a powerful and tuneful voice and sang quite a range of work. But the most polished and professional performance of the night came from two Afro-Caribbean women from East London, 'The Pearls of Islam', drumming and performing their own poetry and songs - and it was no great surprise when, at the end of the entertainment they were awarded the prize by the jury of four - who included one of several neighbourhood police who attended the event in their time off. Theirs was a hard act to follow, but Spitz, a rap poet and activist who became a Muslim four years ago gave a very forceful performance, beginning with an a capella performance about life in Gaza, written shortly before the recent attacks, which turned out to be uncannily prophetic. The rest of his act used loud rock backgrounds that I found less appealing, but that's my age showing.

It was a fine night's entertainment - and one that showed (unlike some religious events I've attended in the past) that being profoundly spiritual doesn't mean not being highly talented or not having a good time.
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Love Theatre Hate Racism Protest NT Play

National Theatre, South Bank. Saturday 21 March, 2009

East-Enders object to racial stereotyping in 'England People Very Nice' and call for a public debate
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East End artists and community activists held a protest on Sat 21 March outside the National Theatre where the play 'England People Very Nice' was being performed. Their demand for an open debate on the play has been refused by the Theatre.

They have set up a Facebook Group 'Love Theatre Hate Racism' and claim is that the play, set in Bethnal Green over the last three centuries is anti-Bangladeshi, anti-Irish, and Islamophobic.

East-End playwright Hussain Ismail, who organised the demonstration, made his views clear last month in an on-stage protest during a talk by the author Richard Bean before a performance of the play. Along with teacher Keith Kinsella, their protest - the first on-stage in the 32 years of the National Theatre - lasted 10 minutes before they were removed by security.

At Saturday's demonstration, Ismail showed the tickets he had bought for Saturday's performance, but after buying them he had been told by the management that the tickets were cancelled and he wouled not be admitted.

A member of the National Theatre's security staff came out as the demonstration started and attempted to prevent the demonstration, which was taking place on the public walkway in front of the theatre. He also told a cameraman who was videoing the event that he was not allowed to take pictures. But after a few minutes he walked away and the protest carried on.

While I was there a number of people read the posters, listened to what the protesters had to say and took leaflets. One man who had seen the play stopped for a few minutes to argue that it was not a racist play. It was very much the kind of discussion that I felt the National should be hosting - and that the demonstrators were calling for but that the theatre was not prepared to have.

I've not seen the play, or read it, but I could certainly hear the distress it had caused. If the NT puts on controversial work such as this - and I think it is a proper part of its remit to be controversial - then it should also provide a proper forum to explore that controversy. I very much support the protesters who challenge what they see to be racism and the motives of the playwright and the NT in putting on this work.

The best account that I've read about the play is on the 'Love Theatre Hate Racism' Facebook pages and comes from the Brunei Times, written by Esther Addley.
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Olympic Update - March 2009

Stratford Marsh, London. Friday 20 March, 2009
The Waterworks River at the southern boundary of the site, with development around Warton House
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For once the sun was shining as I walked along the Greenway to view the progress on the Olympic site. There seemed to be considerably more security men around than on previous occasions, including one man with a dog who very definitely was not going to move out of his way to let me pass, and I had to step across the path to go past him.

Work on the stadium is clearly progressing, as you can see by comparing the pictures here with those from previous months (so far I've managed to repeat my visits at roughly monthly intervals.)

Today I walked into Wick Lane at the end of the Northern Outfall (Greenway) and then down Wick Lane and across the footbridge over the East Cross Route to Old Ford Road, where I caught a No 8 opposite the 'Donnybrook Quarter', new social housing designed by Peter Barber for the Circle 33 Housing Association (now Circle
Anglia). His aim was to blur the boundary between house and street to encourage a feeling of community and ownership; estate agents describe the intense white small blocks - each unit a flat with a maisonette above - as 'Spanish-style.' Unfortunately I didn't have time to take a proper look at the development.
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Cleaners for Justice at Willis Again

Lime St, London. Friday 20 March, 2009

Cleaners make a noise opposite the Willis HQ in Lime St
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Cleaners for Justice! are continuing their series of noisy lunchtime demonstrations outside the HQ of insurance brokers Willis in the heart of the City of London, opposite the Lloyds Building. Cleaners wages are low and many have more than one job to make ends meet. The cleaning contractors, Mitie, decided without negotiation to cut down the cleaning staff and change from part-time to full-time night shifts in the offices.

They have been holding demonstrations on a regular basis since Feb 12 - you can see a report of the March 5 demonstration lower down this page.
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Druids Celebrate the Spring Equinox

Tower Hill, London. Friday 20 March, 2009

Druids enter the circle walking between two standing druids in an ancient ritual with modern backdrop
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Although I've now seen and photographed it on several occasions the annual ceremony performed at the Spring Equinox by the Druid Order remains a fascinating occasion to watch.

This year it was a bright, sunny day, making it a pleasure to stand on Tower Hill, but sometimes creating problems photographically. This year the druids met at the hall adjoining the courtyard on which the event took place and although convenient for them meant that there wasn't the slow procession through the city that we saw last year.

I've written about this in previous years - 2008 and 2007 - and here's the paragraph where I described teh celebration last year:

The horn was sounded to the four corners, and then the sword was raised, and it was peace from the North, South, West and East. The Earth Mother, Ceridwen and her attendants brought a horn for a libation, seeds to scatter and flowers into the circle, and those departed were remembered.

But I think the pictures tell the story.
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Brent St Patrick's Day Parade

Willesden Green, Tuesday 17 March, 2009

St Patrick blesses the photographer

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Brent St Patrick's day parade is smaller than the main London event but on the several occasions I've been I've enjoyed it rather more. It is a friendlier event that takes place on the actual day itself and some of the more interesting floats and people from the London parade were there, along with lots of people from the locality. The parade which I photographed was followed by a number of events at Willesden Green Library, but I had to leave before those.
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Invade Jersey, Invade Tax Havens Now

Ministry of Defence, Horseguards Ave, London. Tue 17 March, 2009

Mark Thomas and other protesters outside the Ministry of Defence
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Around a dozen demonstrators held a protest outside the Ministry of Defence on Tuesday lunchtime (17 March) calling for a British invasion of Jersey, and the recover of the deeds of the war office from that tax haven. Most of the visitors and workers going in and out of the building refused to take the leaflets Mark Thomas was handing out, though others did and some were amused.

This was the third in a series of demonstrations organised by Mark Thomas aimed at the ridiculous situation that many of the buildings which our government departments are housed in no longer belong to us but are owned by companies whose profits go to offshore tax havens.

Barclay's Private Equity who have hit the news for their extensive measures taken to avoid paying UK tax own the Treasury Building. The Home Office is owned by HSBC Infrastructure in Guernsey and today's target, that Orwellian-named Ministry of Defence is half owned by John Laing which avoids most UK tax by basing itself in Jersey and Ireland.

Thomas called on the UK to invade Jersey for six great reasons:

Journalist Richard Brooks of Private Eye also spoke (he was one of the two winners of last year's Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism,) and gave some of the background about the ownership of the building and its connection with Jersey from his reseaches.

I understand that this event was treated by the police as a 'media event' and not a 'demonstration' and thus did not need authorisation under SOCPA. As well as 'My London Diary', Channel 4 News were also there, and a broadcast a 4 minute item on PFI featuring the demonstration (I tried to keep out of the way but put in a brief appearance taking a photo near the end.) Later in the day Thomas was organising another 'media event' at New Scotland Yard to try to establish exactly how much of a policeman we can now photograph and still remain legal. I'm sorry I wasn't able to get to that one.
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End Child Poverty - 10 Years

Parliament Square, London. Tuesday 17 March, 2009

1 in 3 children in poverty - UK shame. Demonstrators with bill-boards in Parliament Square

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Ten years ago today the Labour Government made a promise to eradicate child poverty by 2020, and to half it by 2010. The Campaign to End Child Poverty turned up today with a birthday cake to mark the 10 years as well as a small demonstration on Parliament Square with men and women dressed in black with bill boards reminding him of the pledges and the organisations involved in the campaign, and a petition with 5000 signatures.

Urgent government action will be needed to meet the target, and it will need perhaps £3 billion pounds - which would also help to boost the economy by being spent on food, clothing and essential items to bring children out of poverty.

Taking the cake and the petition to Downing St were a small group of 10-year olds from Newham, accompanied by End Child Poverty Director Hilary Fisher, Colette Marshall (no relation) the UK Director of Save the Children and David Bull, the UK Executive Director of UNICEF. I left them in Parliament Square as I was on my way to another event.
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London St Patrick's Day Parade

London, Sunday 15 March, 2009

St Patrick (left) and one of the men who carried banners at the front of the parade
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The weather was fine and sunny on Sunday for the St Patrick's Day parade (a couple of days before the day itself) in London, which was bad news for photographers. As it formed up on Piccadilly, most of the pictures were into the sun and the shadows were harsh and it was a struggle to avoid flare.

The procession seemed a little less full than in previous years, and some of those I've come to look out for were missing. Some of the groups came very late and almost missed the start and I didn't really get much of a chance to photograph them.

I walked up to Whitehall after the end of the march had set off, almost catching up with the front of it as it dispersed. But by then I was feeling tired, and after having some lunch in Embankment Gardens decided to go home rather than photograph the events in Trafalgar and Leicester Squares. So my pictures are all of the parade.~
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Kurds celebrate Newroz

Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 14 March, 2009

Kurds demand freedom for Ocalan in Newroz celebrations in Trafalgar Square
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Newroz is the Kurdish version of the ancient Iranian New Year holiday, celebrated (as we used to) at the Spring Equinox, and since the 1980s it has become widely celebrated as a symbol of Kurdish identity.

Turkey brought in its own official Spring celebration in 2000, Nevruz, in an attempt to replace the celebration of Newroz. It’s now a crime to use the name Newroz or celebrate it in Turkey. Newroz celebrations there, supported by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have at times led to mass arrests and killings, and the same is true in Syria where although in theory it is allowed, in practice the security forces clamp down on it because of its political overtones.

I’ve photographed many events involving Kurds over the years and come to admire their fiery determination and appreciate the dream that unites and energises them as a people. Their immediate goal is the release of the man who has become a symbol of their nation, Abdullah Öcalan (pronounced ‘erdjerlan’), and the dream is of a Kurdish nation, Kurdistan.

London now has a Mayor who has made bumbling idiocy an art form, and one he has used to great political advantage, not least in defeating Ken Livingstone. As we are seeing it’s a smokescreen that hides some policies which will make London a worse place to live in, particularly for those on low incomes and who rely on public transport. His gaffe over Newroz is a curious one, and suggests to me some serious confusion at City Hall.

Here is a part of Ken Livingstone’s message about Newroz in 2006:

‘Newroz is an important opportunity for the size and contribution of the Kurdish community in London to be recognised, and with a celebratory concert in Finsbury Park this weekend, an ideal opportunity for Londoners of all backgrounds to celebrate, explore and educate themselves about London’s Kurdish communities. It is my pleasure to wish you a Happy Newroz.’

And here is some of what Boris Johnson had to say in a press release that doesn’t appear to be on the extremely confused official London government web site:

‘I have the pleasure to announce that a Newroz Festival will take place for the first time in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 14 March. I’m proud so many people of Turkish and Kurdish backgrounds, like my paternal grandfather, have made London their home and have brought the rich history, culture, cuisine and trades of Turkish speaking communities to the capital’

Ilhan Genc, in an open letter to Boris on KurdishMedia, prints the whole of the message Boris sent to the London Kurdish Community, but with a deliberately unsubtle difference to point out the offence his message caused: ‘the words Turkish and Turkey have been substituted with German and Germany, and the words Kurdish and Newroz substituted with Jewish and Hanukkah.

This results in Boris’s final paragraph now reading:

‘I am proud to be the Mayor of Londoners from every community and I’m extremely proud of my GERMAN ancestry. HANUKKAH is a wonderful opportunity for strengthening the links that exist between City Hall and everyone marking HANUKKAH.’

Genc ends his letter:

‘I hope I have made my feelings clear, and look forward for an apology from the Mayor.

An extremely angered and insulted Kurdish Londoner’

Boris is of course rightly proud of his Turkish great-grandfather Ali Kemal, a liberal Turkish journalist and politician, editor of the anti-Nationalist paper Sabah. Kemal was sentenced to hang by the Military Governor of Smyrna “In the name of Islam, in the name of the Turkish nation … as a traitor to the country” but was seized and torn to pieces by a mob of women with knives, stones, clubs and cutlasses as he was being taken to the gibbet. As the New York Times commented at the time of his death in Nov 1922, he was known as one of Turkey’s most enlightened and most impartial citizens.

Had Boris been at Newroz, he would clearly have seen that it was Kurdish and not Turkish, viewing the event through a sea of flags with pictures of Abdullah Öcalan, in prison on Imrali Island in Turkey since his kidnapping in Kenya in 1999 and heard the chanting “We are the PKK” and the calls for Öcalan’s release. As the finale of a highly energetic folk dance display on the stage, each of the troupe of young women pulled out a flag with his image and danced around the stage to tumultuous applause.
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One Law For All - No Sharia Law in Britain

Trafalgar Square, London. Sat 7 March, 2009

After the rally the protesters marched off towards Red Lion Square
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Over 200 people turned up in Trafalgar Square on Saturday afternoon for a rally against the introduction of Sharia Law to the UK before marching to a public meeting at Conway Hall.

One Law For All was launched at the House of Lords on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2008. Those allied to it include prominent civil rights activists, lawyers, feminists and academics as well as the National Secular Society. They include many who have experienced living under Sharia, including both Muslims and ex-Muslims, some of whom have had to flee their home countries because of their political activities or refusal to accept religious domination.

As speakers at this International Women's Day event pointed out, One Law For All is not anti-Islamic and certainly not racist. Before I arrived they had turned away a couple of people who had turned up wanting to display anti-Islamic placards.

One Law For All objects to the setting up of Sharia courts in the UK, on the grounds that Sharia law is discriminatory and unjust, particularly against women and children. Even if set up on a voluntary basis, there would be extreme pressure on some women to go to them and accept their decisions, with those who refused to do so risking being made to feel guilty and being treated as outcasts by their communities. Rather than promoting minority rights and social cohesion, they see Sharia courts as a cheap short cut to injustice. The objection to Sharia is a part of a wider objection to any faith-based laws and they call for one secular law to govern all of us.

Speakers at Trafalgar Square included a representative from the International Labour Solidarity Committee, members of the Worker Communist Party of Iran, Terry Sanderson, the President of the National Secular Society, Fariborz Pooya of the Iranian Secular Society, Sargul Ahmad of the International Campaign against Civil Law in Kurdistan Iraq.

After roughly an hour of speeches the meeting closed with a final address by Maryam Namazie, the One Law for All Spokesperson and the group formed up into a march. By now there were around 250 people present and they set off at a brisk pace towards Red Lion Square. I'd been on my feet since around 10 am and decided it was time to go home.
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Million Women Rise 2009

Portman Square, Oxford St, London. Sat March 7, 2009

"Yes means Yes and No means No" Women march along Oxford St
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The global United Nation theme for this year's International Women's Day was 'Women and men united to end violence against women and girls'.

In London the major celebration was 'Million Women Rise 2009', a women-only march to end male violence against women. It followed on from last year's march when around 5000 women and children marched through London. Its Co-ordinator, Sabrina Qureshi, was awarded the Emma Humphreys Memorial Award 2008 for her activism against male violence.

This year the numbers seemed rather smaller, despite the predictions of a much larger event, but it was still a lively event and one that made a greater impact with its route through London's major shopping streets - Oxford Street and Regent Street and across Piccadilly Circus to a rally in Waterloo Place.

As they marched the women chanted their main message: "However we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no!" and called for an end to male violence against women.

This was a national march with coaches bringing women from Birmingham, Bradford, Hebden Bridge, Wales, Nottingham and Todmorden as well as other groups coming from around the country. There was also a strong participation by Kurdish and Turkish groups based in London.

One of these groups marched behind the cycle powered 'chariots' at the end of the main procession, as it chose to follow the global theme rather than be a women-only event. Led by women and children, the European Confederation of Workers from Turkey (ATIK) Women's Commission group included men marching (as their placards proclaimed in Turkish) in a spirit of socialist equality, fraternity and freedom.

It was good to see right at the front of the march a group with a banner proclaiming themselves as Anti-Capitalist Feminists, who included someone I'd photographed earlier in the day protesting in support of Turkish leather workers at Prada (and another of the women there was in this demonstration, taking pictures.)

I left the march as it made its way down Regent Street, well before the rally at Waterloo Place.
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Tibet Freedom March - 50 Years

Chinese Embassy - Trafalgar Sq, London. Sat 7 March, 2009

China stole my LAND
-protesters on the Tibet Freedom March in London
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Fifty years ago, Palden Gyatso was a young ordained monk in Lhasa, where he took part in peaceful demonstrations that were met by brutal repression from the Chinese authorities. Over 80,000 Tibetans were killed in this 'Tibetan People's Uprising' and while the Dalai Lama fled the country and began to make the truth of what was happening known to the world, many others were jailed.

Palden spent 33 years in prison and labour camps from 1959 to 1992, where he suffered beatings and inhumane torture that have left him permanently damaged. His Buddhist principles kept him going through his imprisonment and torture and his autobiography is the basis for a film, 'Fire Under the Snow', which received its London premiere on Sunday.

Fifty years on, Tibetans still suffer the same kind of brutal repression, with thousands missing after the demonstrations in Tibet last year, and hundreds serving lengthy prison sentences.

Many of the several thousand taking part in Saturday's 'Tibet Freedom March' carried Tibetan flags; two months ago, a young Tibetan, Pema Tsepak, who carried one in his own town was beaten to death.

At the start of the march, opposite the Chinese Embassy in Portland Place, Palden took a letter to the Chinese Ambassador, Madam Fu Ying, but police would not allow him to deliver it (it was sent later.) In it Palden told her that when he came to the UK in 1995, the then Chinese ambassador wrote in a letter to a newspaper "Palden Gyatso's story of how he was tortured by prison guards is untrue,. Torture is forbidden in Chinese prisons." With his letter Palden includes documentation confirming his torture and his autobiography and comments that the denial of the facts about how Tibetans are treated is shameful of the Chinese government.

Palden ended his letter to the Ambassador by noting that although the Dalai Lama has declared that the way forward for Tibet is not independence but a "Middle-Way" approach of Tibet living within China, the Chinese "government continues to kill Tibetans. Your government must be accountable to all these deliberate actions."

After the trip across the road to the Chinese embassy, the march led of down past Oxford Circus and on to a rally in Trafalgar Square. Among the placards they carried were those saying '50 years of Resistance - Tibet will never die' and 'Stop the Torture in Tibet', but one that stood out for me was hand-written: 'Olympics been & gone - Where is One World One Dream Now?'
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Union Busting - Just SO Last Season

Prada, Old Bond St, Mayfair, London. Sat 7 March, 2009
Protesters outside the Prada shop in Old Bond St
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Prada began as a small shop opened by Mario Prada in Milan and has become a fashion success story run by his grand daughter Muccia Prada, one of the best-known luxury brands around the world with shops on the most expensive streets of the most expensive world capitals, including one on Old Bond St in London's Mayfair.

Few Prada customers are aware of the conditions under which the ridiculously expensive luxury goods on sale are made - not in Milan but in factories such as the DESA factory in Turkey.

Even some of these rich customers wouyld probably be appalled to learn about the unsafe and unsavoury working conditions, the terribly low pay and the long hours - with shifts up to 40 hours long. They might even be concerned that the workers are denied the freedom to defend their rights through trade union organisation. In April last year when workers at DESA decided to join the Turkish leather workers union, 44 were sacked and 50 forced to resign from the union. Demonstrations at the factory in Turkey have led to repression and arrest, and when a union leader refused a bribe her family was threatened, and later that day men on a motorbike attempted to kidnap her 11 year old daughter. It might pain them to know that when they carry a Prada handbag they are supporting practices like this.

Labour Behind the Label, part of the international 'Clean Clothes Campaign' supports garment workers' efforts worldwide to defend their rights by educating consumers, lobbying companies and governments, raising awareness, and encouraging international solidarity with workers. On Saturday morning around a dozen of them turned up outside the Prada shop in Old Bond St, mainly smartly dressed in black, to demonstrate, handing out leaflets to Prada staff, passers-by and customers.

Prada is not the only company selling high-price luxury goods to benefit from the shameful exploitation of these Turkish workers at the DESA factory in the Dzce Industrial Zone - they also make goods for Mulberry, Louis Vuitton, Samsonite, Aspinal of London, Nicole Farhi and Luella.

I don't think I've ever bought anything from any of these companies, nor am I likely to, but one of the first things I did when I got home was to send a message to all of them asking them to insist that "DESA immediately reinstates the dismissed workers with back pay to date of dismissal, halts the ongoing campaign of intimidation and harassment, implements proper industrial relations, including recognised grievance and disciplinary procedures and starts to negotiate with Deri Is as a social partner."

You can do this very easily on the Labour Start web site where you will find details about the campaign and an e-mail form to send the above message (and more) to the companies involved.

It's hard to understand why so far the companies have taken no action. The increase in cost to them would be marginal given the incredibly high markup by the time the bag reaches the customer, and surely more than compensated for by being able to market their goods as ethically sourced, unlike the cheap, virtually identical fakes you can pick up for rather closer to the factory price in many markets. Fashion victims might even begin to feel
proud of having bought the genuine item rather than smug about having bought a replica at a knockdown price.

Of course it isn't just the high price designer labels that support sweatshops. On the Labour Behind the Label site you can also find out about the explotation supported by Matalan and other cheap suppliers and supermarkets.
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Cleaners for Justice demonstrate at Willis

Lime St, London. March 5, 2009

Reinstate the sacked cleaners - lunchtime protests continue at Willis in the City of London

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Cleaners at Willis, a huge building for insurance brokers opposite Lloyds in the City of London are pretty dissapointed with union. Although Unite supported a campaign for Justice for Cleaners for a couple of years and had some success in getting London's cleaners a living wage and better conditions, this campaign has now ended.

The cleaners at Willis are employed by contractors Mitie Cleaning and Support Services Ltd, and when they wanted to demonstrate outside the Willis offices they clean after five cleaners were sacked for trying to organise cleaners to protest, the management informed them that their union had agreed not to hold demonstrations outside the offices; it was the first the cleaners had heard about it.

Eventually the cleaners decided to go ahead and organise their demonstrations without union support, with a series of lunchtime protests a couple of times a week that started on 12 Feb. Today there were about 20 cleaners and supporters with banners, placards and whistles, handing out leaflets and making a lot of noise for an hour across lunch. They demand the reinstatement of the five workers who appear to have been dismissed illegally, better working conditions and hours and a living wage.
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Climate Rush hits RBS HQ

RBS, 250 Bishopsgate, London, March 5, 2009
Tamsin talking outside the RBS in Bishopsgate. Give us our money back and stop trashing the planet.
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The banks would have gone bankrupt but the government stepped in and paid off the former bosses - including Sir Fred Goowin of RBS - with double gold plated platinum pension pots as a reward for their greed, incompetence and dodgy investments. But even under the new management - unfortunately not of the people who are still just ripped off - the banks continue to bankroll the trashing of the planet, backing schemes such as a coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth.

So the Climate Rush came to the HQ of the RBS in Bishopsgate to protest (and party), drawing media attention to the bank's crimes against the planet. Around a couple of hundred protesters, some in various costumes, a cycled hauled sound system for speeches and music and some lively dancers made it an enjoyable protest for those taking part and those passing by - and a little more to remember and talk about than a simple static protest.

I was sorry that I had to leave before the end to photograph another event.
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All pictures on this section of the site are Copyright © Peter Marshall 2009; to buy prints or for permission to reproduce pictures or to comment on this site, or for any other questions, contact me.

 

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