Tag Archives: protest

Housing for all protest at City Hall & ACAB

22 Feb

The Counihan family and their supporters held a lively protest outside Boris’ building this afternoon demanding ‘housing for all’ and standing against the massive housing benefit cuts that will come through in April.

In freezing temperates, we chanted and sang non-stop for almost two hours, attracting curious glances and support from passing tourists. The family had made up a particularly brilliant song about their housing situation – which I’m sad to say I cannot find a youtube video of to link – which saw away the bitter cold as we bopped about.

The Couihan’s were denied housing benefits and made homeless last April by Brent council for declaring £18 a week income from land they had inherited from Ireland. Brent Housing have told them to go and live in an empty field in Ireland and their local MP Glenda Jackson told them to move to Wales as it would be cheaper. They have been living in sub-standard temporary accommodation since April where there is damp in every room.

Whilst fighting for their own housing rights, they have taken on campaigning against the housing crisis that we are all affected by.

The protest culminated in the Cunihan’s handing in a letter for Boris to City hall followed by supporters. Boris has ignored their many emails about taking action on housing in London so they didn’t hold much faith.

What had been a fun and good natured protest was suddenly marred by aggressive security in the lobby. One security guard pushed a young girl in the back, when she complained of this to those around her, the guard was heard saying that she was lying. The young girl was visibly distressed by the push and the false accusation made against her. About 10 police then arrived in the lobby and ordered protestors out with the threat of arrest. A mass arrest of children under 16 would have been interesting.

When the young girl made a complaint to a police man about the assault the scum of a policeman refused to do his job and investigate and take action. Instead he made up a load of lies saying that as we were trespassing the security guard was allowed to use force. We pointed out that he had pushed her in the back before we had been told we were trespassing. The policeman then offered her the options of either taking down everyone’s details (we protested that this had nothing to do with anything) or leaving it be. Most horrific of all, he said to the young girl in an accusatory and almost threatening tone ‘now to make it clear, you haven’t said anything about this being sexual’ as if he were implying that she might later claim it was sexual. We shouted back at him outraged that he was making such assumptions that she would do this, when she’d made it quite clear what her complaint was. He was putting words in her mouth that she had not uttered. This policeman was making the assumption that this young girl might later fabricate assault of a sexual nature. This is what women do, was the clear assumption. God knows how he treats women who are reporting sexual assaults.

So, after we were all threatened with arrest for being inside City Hall, the police overlooked a real crime and used sexist victim blaming instead. Rather aptly we’d been chanting earlier on: ‘This is what democracy looks like’.

Check out this report and photos from People’s Republic of Southwark.

Like the Counihan’s facebook page here.

I’ve got some photos that I’ll upload soon.


Disrupting Southwark council’s planning meeting and holding our own

6 Feb


Enough! Local campaigners make their way to the front of the room to show their opposition to the plans.ImageThe committee get ready to flee, check out that man with his hands on his hips, he means business.


The committee are ambushed by red ‘rip-off’ t-shirted campaigners.Image


The committee have gone, leaving behind a ‘Warning’ on their power point slide.Image

Local campaigners hold an alternative meeting in the foyer to discuss what we do now.Image

Yesterday evening Southwark council’s planning committee met to rubber stamp a Detailed Planning Application for ‘phase one’ of the ‘regeneration’ of part of the Heygate estate between Rodney Road and Balfour Street.

The room was packed with local residents showing their opposition to the scheme and the farcical process which has seen residents’ views ignored as Southwark Council push through with the plans to demolish a working class neighbourhood and replace it with yet more yuppie flats.

As was to be expected, the meeting lived up to the farce promised by Southwark Notes Archive Group as developers described a car park which would act as communal amenity space and how a colour palette of ‘flamboyant’ and then more ‘subdued’ brickwork of the proposed buildings would retain the character of the area. On hearing the developer describe the intricacies of the brickwork colour scheme, local residents had MEGA LOLZ.

It also turned out that council officers have been denied access to a viability report – adding another secret document to the 2010 Regeneration Agreement that had been confidential until it was accidentally leaked by Southwark Council online this week. This latter document shows what a real rip-off Southwark council have willingly signed up to getting just £55 million from the 22 acre site when a nearby 1.5 acre site recently sold for £40 million, as well as breaching their own policy of 35% affordable housing in large developments.

Shortly after a female officer was rudely shouted down by the chair, local residents decided we had had enough. 40 of us, wearing red t-shirts with an elephant and the words ‘rip-off’ printed on them, made our way to the front of the room in order to have our voices heard. The planning committee called for the meeting to be adjourned and quickly exited the room, terrified of being confronted by the people they are hoping to displace.

Our group made our way to the foyer where we sat together and held an open discussion on about the situation and what we wanted to do next now that we have fully disengaged from their process. We discussed the draining, individualising, and futile nature of working on their terms; that power lay with us, but also their in that room where we knew that the application would go through; finding pressure points and leverage that we could use; the importance of working in our communities and the hard work and long-term basis of this; not being intimidated by the language and the boring way that they speak in meetings – what they are saying is not complicated to understand; that people do know and understand what is happening when they see that their housing benefit goes no way to cover their rent and that the local corner store has been turned into a chain store, and so the question is where do we go from this; the importance of learning and linking with other campaigns – some discussed and represented were Earl’s Court campaign, community organising in LA, squatting in Spain, Library Street Social Centre and Crossbones graveyard; how our actions are co-opted by the Council and consultation industry, for example if we were to ask residents what they wanted, this information would be sure to be hijacked; the importance of story-telling as a way to share the knowledge we have and to inspire action, particularly using the Heygate experience to organise with the Aylesbury estate. I also wrote down the word ‘love’ in my notes but with no further explanation.

Workfare at the British Heart Foundation

5 Sep

Forget second hand furniture – the British Heart Foundation is the place to go if you want to understand the reality of workfare. I popped along to my local store this afternoon in the hope of speaking with someone about their experience of workfare. The policy director of the BHF had announced that every store had people on work placements from the government’s various schemes and so this seemed like a good place to start. Speaking with the manager, she looked around the room and counted those on Mandatory Work Activity, ‘1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 today’ she informed me, adding ‘we do have pure volunteers as well’. I certainly had come to the right place to witness workfare at work. Three men were at the back of the room hammering at a wardrobe, a young woman was answering the phone and arranging for donations to be collected by the van, another woman was sticking price tags on sofas – all of these people were here because, as one of them put it, ‘there is no choice’, if they refused they would lose their benefits.

Before I could even ask a question, the young woman at the desk hearing why I was there, said quietly and emphatically ‘it’s not nice here, it’s not nice here’. She went on to tell me that she had a qualification in retail and so ‘it’s not benefiting me at all’. She wanted to work with animals but had been told by her job centre advisor that they would not help her in pursing this interest, instead she’s found herself stuck here for a month. I mentioned to her that Boycott Workfare were protesting against BHF’s involvement in workfare this weekend and she became very excited ‘come here and protest when we’re here! That would be so fun!’

I went over to the three men who were fixing a broken wardrobe. ‘It’s a punishment’ one of the men told me as he hammered a nail into the wardrobe ‘it’s nothing to do with work experience, if you miss a day your benefits are stopped, it’s about stopping people from claiming benefits…Yes, I really appreciate this work experience, the 13 years of work I’ve done managing clubs in London really wasn’t enough’ he says good naturedly. ‘It’s a punishment because you are in the same boat as a probation person’, he turns to the man who is hammering the wardrobe with him who is there on probation ‘no offence’ he says. ‘I’m unemployed and he’s a criminal’.

I speak with a black woman who tells me workfare makes her feel ‘mad…it’s absolutely slave labour – absolutely – it’s the 21st century. They took me out of slavery and put me back in slavery.’

Charities are the new face of workfare with politicians stressing the words ‘community benefit’ in order to make workfare seem more acceptable and friendly as they attempt to expand it on an incredible scale. But as is clear from the people I spoke with whoever workfare is for, it is a punitive, degrading, and exploitative practice.

 This Saturday join Boycott Workfare’s UK-wide day of action against charity involvement in workfare. The London action will be meeting at 11.30am outside Nat West which is opposite Camden town station and will take a tour taking in the charities involved in workfare on the high street.

Barking and Dagenham Against the Cuts First Meeting

10 Jun

I headed out to Barking yesterday afternoon to attend the first meeting of Barking and Dagenham Against the Cuts, which awesomely shortens down to BAD Cuts, to give a short talk about Boycott Workfare. They had organised an afternoon conference with talks from groups such as Keep Our NHS Public, Defend Council Housing, and the Coalition of Resistance. We then broke down into smaller groups in order to discuss jobs, benefits, pensions, health, housing, and multiculturalism in more depth and to generate ideas for local action.

I attended the session on housing and jobs, benefits, and pensions where we had some lively and inspiring discussions. It was a great opportunity to listen to people’s stories about the local area and the difficulties they are facing but also to come up with ideas together of how to resist the cuts. One woman described how it was becoming common for her to see families outside their homes with all their possessions having been evicted and that other families were living crammed into one room. Listening to stories like these really brings home the reality and horror of the cuts.

After both sessions we had generated a list of action points for local action. People seemed  genuinely interested in taking action against workfare in the local area – with workfare sleuthing and workfare walks of shame – which was great to hear. And it was empowering to have generated this list of things that we can do. Expect some activities in Barking and Dagenham soon and if you live there – get involved!

One man in particular had a moving story of how the cuts are personally affecting him – I won’t detail it all here as I didn’t get the chance to ask him if he’d mind me writing about him. He works at the local Remploy factory but his job is now under threat. He spoke of his fears of being unable to pay his rent and what he would do without his job. ‘There are no jobs out there, we’re being put on the scrap heap’. Our group came up with plans on how we can organise resistance to the closure. Keep checking BAD Cuts website and if you’re in London, get ready to hop on a train at Fenchurch street to Barking to help defend their factory!

Although the number attending the conference wasn’t too large, it’s exciting to see a new anti-cuts group form and come up with lots of action plans. No doubt, as the group hit the streets with various actions – the numbers will grow.

UK Uncut anti-cuts street party at Nick’s

28 May

Some notes from last weekend’s street party

What with all the crap from this government bent on destroying all the good things in our society and the upcoming Jubilee and Olympics farces – UK Uncut’s call for a street party against the cuts was perfectly timed. We would take our party to the doors of the ‘architects of austerity’ in an act of collective resistance.

At Waterloo station we met our liaison officers for the day. The woman introduced herself and told me she would be with me for the entire day. I seriously doubted this, hoping that I would be able to shake her off, but she was true to her word, re-emerging at several points during the street party. The liaison officers provided their own form of entertainment – mingling amongst us and striking up conversation, playing some bongos, doling out potato salad – their cheeriness and over-friendliness was incredibly creepy but also quite funny. I don’t know where these folk came from but they were really getting into the party spirit…(they seemed to take a particular fondness to @tylershark who has some great Tweets detailing their interactions)

Hundreds of protestors piled onto the train at Waterloo which saw us heading out south to our secret target. The welfare block got off at a different stop from the others and were lead to a quiet road where we met lines and lines of police and saw the street party at the other end. We managed to break through the lines and join the party outside Nick Clegg’s £1million house.

Bunting was hanging across the street, the samba band were playing and people were sitting and standing around talking and eating together in the sun – the weather is definitely on our side and taking a stand against austerity. We sat down in some shade and iced ‘fuck Clegg’ onto a Victoria sponge cake which we shared out. UK Uncut had even produced a zine which they handed out which I think is an ace addition to an action – we should see more of them at actions. Slam poetry was provided by Pete the Temp and two women gave some powerful speeches about the NHS. One of these was the woman who told Andrew Langsley ‘No, you listen to me’. She told us how her doctor had tried to refer her for treatment with a private company – she refused but the company called her up day after day, but she still refused and encouraged us to all do the same in order to resist the privatization. She later on came and discussed campaigning tips with us. Another woman pointed out to us that we were in Putney home of the Putney Debates. This provided a nice contextualisation to our party protest, looking back at the previous struggles in the area over democracy.

A man from Occupy encouraged us to get into groups to come up with a short message for Nick Clegg – seeing as we were standing outside his house. I have got to a point where I have nothing to say to them at all, but it was a nice idea to get people talking together about politics – creating real street politics outside Clegg’s house. A general assembly later on continued this attempt to reclaim politics as something that we do together rather than allow politicians to do and mess up without our participation.

Nick Clegg’s house is surrounded by the homes of other millionaires out in leafy Putney. When a friend called my phone to ask where we were, I replied that we were ‘somewhere in the countryside’ as this place did not resemble any London that I knew. Our party on his doorstep was an attempt to remind him that although he cannot see it out here, his austerity policies are causing great harm in other parts of London and the rest of the country. It was also a chance to come together, make new friends, enact our own politics and have fun.

Central London shut down of workfare stores

4 Mar

Running is one of my worst things. But yesterday afternoon I found myself running up and down Oxford Street with one hundred other workfare protesters. We’d gathered in Central London to take action against high street stores profiting from forced unpaid labour for benefits. After two weeks of online and street protest, this Saturday was our National Day of Action Against Workfare with actions happening all over the country.

We weren’t convinced by the government’s ‘concessions’ this week – and were also clear that this was not the end of workfare as there were four other workfare schemes that had been overlooked by the media. We wanted to remind people of these and to show the high street stores that our campaign had not ended with the weak government response. If they continued to participate in workfare schemes, we would be outside and inside their stores raising this issue until they stopped.

We met outside BHS which had since pulled out of workfare schemes, reflecting the impact of the last two weeks of public pressure. From here we would head to our secret location. In the quickest example of consensus decision making ever we decided there and then that we would shut down a workfare store and set off following two Boycott Workfare flags that were held above the crowds. In a wonderful police radio conversation reported by @thinktyler one was heard saying ‘they don’t seem to have a leader’.

We passed Topshop which was heavily guarded by gigantic security guards – they’d clearly got this action confused with UK Uncut. We left them be and headed further on. Our group surged along the streets with the police jogging to keep up to form a moving kettle around us. We ran around them trying to get in front of them so that we’d be able to enter the high street store to fully shut it down. But they seemed to have done some research because when we approached Pizza Hut, two police officers had managed to get in front of us and block the doors.

Pizza Hut was our first target because it is part of the Work Programme – the government’s much lauded workfare scheme that is costing billions of pounds of tax payers money but will do absolutely nothing to alter the unemplopyment figures and is basically about bullying unemployed people and pushing them onto workfare. The Work Programme gives billions of pounds to companies such as A4e who are being investigated for fraud and G4S which was involved in the murder of Jimmy Mubenga.

We stood outside Pizza Hut and unfurled our huge banner declaring ‘If you exploit us – we will shut you down’. From here it was put to the group whether we deemed the Work Experience scheme to be workfare still, in the light to the government’s ‘concessions’. Considering the direct and indirect sanctions that are still in place in the Work Experience scheme there was immediate agreement that companies involved in Work Experience were still fair game. We passed out maps of the area which had helpfully marked all these companies and encouraged people to decide where we wanted to go next. The flags were raised and we were off. The police joining in too trying to get to the stores before us but not knowing which one it would be. Everywhere we looked seemed to be a company involved in workfare.

All of a sudden I was in McDonalds – looking behind me I could see police blocking the doors and pushing protesters away, in front of me were surprised looking customers and staff. I explained we were there because of workfare that was forcing people to work unpaid and was undermining people’s jobs before being bundled out by the police. It was a shame that the encounter in McDonalds was so short as we were unable to have meaningful discussions about why we were there and to hand out leaflets.

Another splinter group had managed to get into Pizza Hut but were quickly removed. The action was so fast paced and fluid. It was very effective as we were able to target stores and get into them to effectively shut them down. Perhaps it sounds a little silly – dodging the police, getting into stores, getting chucked out. But I genuinely believe that this sort of direct action is one of few effective actions that we can take. Ideally we would stay in one store and shut it down for a couple of hours, using it to hold discussions on workfare. But the police were under strict orders to not let this happen – and also we wouldn’t want all the other workfare stores to get let off.

We were off again – this time rushing along the back streets of Oxford Street. People had got into the Holiday Inn, which is involved in the Work Programme, and also, one woman informed us, used to employ illegal immigrants for very very low wages, before this new flow of free labour from the Job Centre. The police removed the protesters and lined the steps of the Holiday Inn looking like a rather strange football team photo.

Our tour came to an end here as we were exhausted from all the running. But we reminded the Holiday Inn that we would be back until workfare was scrapped. Workfare is a punitive policy which exacerbates issues of unemployment and poverty – there is strong public feeling against it and yet the government are still trying to roll it out. However, yesterday, actions took place all over the country against workfare. And will continue to do so until it is ended with living wages and welfare rights secured for all.

Be sure to check out other reports, tweets etc. from other actions across the country. The media have done an appalling job on reporting workfare (just watch Jeremy Paxman’s inept chairing of a workfare debate on Newsnight) and particularly the National Day of Action. It’s up to us to report the news ourselves.

Stopping the Welfare Reform Bill

28 Jan

DPAC and UK Uncut protesters block busy West End road in action against the Welfare Reform Bill

Disabled People Against Cuts with the support of UK Uncut had called for this afternoon to be one of direct action against the welfare reform bill – an incredibly punitive bill which seeks to make the poorest and most vulnerable members of society pay for a crisis which they had no role in. Whenever I think about this bill, I am always absolutely horrified by it – that a government could ever seriously think that this is an acceptable thing to do – to actively cause harm to the people in our society who deserve additional support. I am baffled sometimes why the whole of the country is not out in the streets protesting against what the government are doing. Whilst the Lords are kicking up a fuss against the bill which is warmly welcomed- it is important that the rest of us take to the streets to show our opposition. The consequences of this bill are so serious that direct action is absolutely necessary.

We were to meet at Holborn Station at 11.30am to travel to a secret location. We piled into the tube station and emerged at Oxford Circus to join a group of protesters who had chained their wheelchairs together to form a road block across the top of Regent Street. This was a truly incredible act of direct action. As DPAC and UK Uncut noted, today the invisible would become unmissable as they confronted, and befriended, thousands of west end shoppers and brought the busy traffic to a halt. Hundreds of people moved in behind the road block and took over the street for the afternoon to come together in solidarity against the government’s welfare reform bill – demanding that this bill be stopped. Seeing these people chained together in a determination to have their voices heard was inspiring – I’m a complete wimp of an activist and it was incredibly poignant to see people show such courage. But, as a woman points out in John Domokos’ wonderful video of the day (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/video/2012/jan/28/welfare-reforms-protest-oxford-circus ), it was also sad and shameful that they had to take to the streets in the first place.

There was a brilliant atmosphere on our people-filled road – a samba band played, people danced, people chanted, people talked together. Whilst the atmosphere was upbeat and determined, the space was full of lots emotions – for some, this was their first protest and so understandably it was quite a scary experience for them. In John’s video, one woman described how she had had to prepare all week in order to come to the action. To be amongst such determined and friendly people was a wonderful experience – even the police seemed won over – we overheard them saying ‘let’s just leave them’. (Although later on they did attempt to move our group on – they spoke through a megaphone, which as one protester pointed out made them sound like a duck, furthermore, as another protester pointed out, they did not communicate the message in sign language.) A community megaphone was passed around and one man started chanting ‘we’re all together’ – it was incredibly moving because this was exactly what our action was showing. In the middle of a space dedicated to pointless consumption, we were demonstrating the other values which we hold in society – caring, friendship, and community – these are our tools that we will use to stop the cuts.

This incredible direct action is a strong message to the government that we will not accept their welfare reform bill – they cannot ignore us. And if they do, well, we’ll be out on the streets again, and with growing numbers.