2022 was a tumultuous year at many levels. So much has happened that has changed here in this disunited kingdom and internationally—and at the same time, the weight of much of the previous years has continued to constrain and shape much of it. Deciding to compile a review of the year organised around visual images has been fascinating, reminding me, and hopefully those looking at this, of forgotten or moments half-remembered, or occasions whose context or juxtaposition we hadn’t previously considered.
On January 8 Anti Capitalist Resistance called a demonstration outside the Kazakh embassy in solidarity with the revolution there which was chaired by Simon Hannah from Lambeth UNISON and the ACR. Afterwards we went to nearby Trafalgar Square where there was a gathering of the Kazakh community. See a more detailed report here.
On the evening of January 31, I joined around 100 other protestors outside the Russia Today offices in central London as Russian troops were already visibly massing on the Ukrainian border. Speakers at the event called by the Ukraine solidarity campaign included Nadia Whittome, Labour MP for Nottingham East, Yuliya Yurchenko (pictured here), Fred Leplat speaking for the ACR, journalist Paul Mason, and others. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 – this was the last protest called by the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign before that horrendous event, which many suggested would not actually happen, took place.
See a fuller report here.
The campaign to restore the Labour whip to Jeremy Corbyn began in January – and sadly continued throughout the year. See more here.
Early in the morning of February 1, I joined health campaigners from across London outside the high court which was hearing a judicial review of the involvement of US healthcare giant Centene in running 37 GP practices across London. I certainly would have passively supported the protest anyway but it was more personal than that because one of our local surgeries was involved – and one of my local Labour councillors, Anjna Khurana, was bringing the case. Despite a lively picket and a well-argued case, the High Court found against us later in the month. However, for us locally in Islington there was some indication that our campaigning had not been in vain when in October the NHS North Central London Integrated Care Board decided not to renew the contract for Operose, Centene’s subsidiary for the Hanley Road practice. While of course we would much have preferred a defeat in principle in the courts, nevertheless it was a relief to see those privateers kicked out of this local surgery.
On February 26 I chaired a rally at Highbury Fields on behalf of Islington Keep our NHS public (KNOP). Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn was one of the speakers, together with a number of other local campaigners and health workers. The rally was part of a national day of action demanding extra emergency funding for the NHS – 20 billion – to end staff shortages and end low pay, to repair and rebuild our hospitals, to replace obsolete equipment and lost beds and to stop privatisation. The rally was organised by SOS NHS. Before the rally we organised a number of stalls across the borough to get signatures for the petition and to encourage people to join the rally.
On March 6 I attended a memorial celebration for Mick Gosling, a friend and comrade from the International Marxist Group at Stoke Newington cemetery. Mick had died in April 2021 at a point where the pandemic meant it was not possible for many of his friends and comrades to come together and remember his life. Read more about Mick’s life here in a powerful tribute from Penelope Duggan who was at Kent University with him, and who is pictured speaking above at the memorial event.
On March 12, I heard of the death of Alain Krivine, a leader of the Fourth international and of its French section. His funeral was announced to take place in Père Lachaise in Paris on March 21 (see picture). I did not know Alain very well though I had met him a number of times at meetings and demonstrations in different parts of Europe, but also been strongly influenced by his writings and his actions. I was not able to attend the funeral but I determined that I would attend his memorial meeting at the end of April. You can read many tributes to Alain here and here.
On April 3, ACR held an online memorial for founding member Neil Faulkner who had died on February 4. Neil was a hugely influential member of the organisation, and his death was a difficult thing for many comrades, especially those who were closest to him to deal with. It was also difficult for ACR as a relatively new organisation to grieve his loss and at the same time learn to live without him, as he would have undoubtedly have demanded of us. I think in the circumstances we have made a reasonable job of it but there is plenty of room for improvement in the months ahead. You can watch the video of the memorial here and read Phil Hearse’s tribute to Neil here.
The Maison de la Mutualité is a vast space in central Paris – probably the same sort of size as Central Hall Westminster. As you can see, it wasn’t absolutely full but a fair crowd assembled to celebrate Alain Krivine’s life. There were a substantial number of speakers most in person, but also a significant number of comrades from abroad who were not able to come in person had sent videos. It was impressive to hear in particular from the range of comrades in France, many of whom came from very different political traditions from Alain, speak about the contribution he had made and the value in which they held him.
One of the consequences of going to Paris for Krivine’s memorial was getting to spend May Day in another country. May Day in London, especially when it falls on a working day, is generally a rather routine event, with more participants from migrant communities – but often the most Stalinist wing of them – than of the British labour movement. Pete and I did once look forward to May Day in Mexico City many years ago – but that was before swine flu closed the whole city down so the event was cancelled. May Day in Paris is hugely impressive – an event that no active trade unionist would miss, it seems. I don’t remember how long it would have taken to pass if the police hadn’t been in a particularly – by British standards – confrontational mood, but I know I was completely exhausted by being on my feet so long and that meeting up with comrades took many hours too.
Some Unite members working for Hackney council started taking strike action from April over their rates of pay. My Unite community branch worked to support the strikers, particularly those on the dust on early morning picket lines, at rallies at the Town Hall and in canvassing support across the borough.
With the first weekend in June being designated an extra Bank holiday in 2022 to mark Elizabeth Windsor’s platinum jubilee, Pete and I determined to escape to a republic – and settled on a trip to Dublin. On June 3 we visited the burial plot of a number of leaders of the Easter Rising at Arbour Hill cemetery and then, on June 5, walked along the Liffey and went to the Emigration Museum – which includes this wonderful sculpture on the riverside to those who migrated during the potato famine.
The TUC called a demonstration around the slogan Britain deserves a pay rise on June 18 which saw the most significant mobilisation of trade union members across many different industries than had taken place for many years.
While it was good to have some initiative, it was clearly inadequate to just call on people to parade round London. The RMT had started taking strike action earlier in June and other ballots were in progress. The Johnson government was in crisis over Partygate as well as the economic situation – though no one could have predicted that Johnson would finally resign within weeks. That glorious June day was also the first outing for a new ACR banner and an attempt to work with others to popularise slogans around the theme ‘working class people won’t pay for the crisis’.
June 24 was the day that we heard that something that I and millions of other women across the globe had been dreading – the US Supreme Court had overturned Roe v Wade, thus depriving women of our bodily autonomy. While we knew the decision was coming for months, this didn’t make it any less of a heart stopping moment. Along with several hundred others I dashed to a protest at the US embassy with only a couple of hours’ notice. Read more here.
On July 8 I spent the evening in the Bridge hotel in Newcastle upon Tyne celebrating the life of friend and comrade Pete Burnett. Pete had died two years earlier in July 2020 when it certainly had not been possible to celebrate his life in a fitting manner. Pete was someone I had known for a long time through politics – for example, I joined him and other comrades on the first leg of the Euromarch in 1997 starting in Jarrow and ending in Amsterdam where there was a European summit. He was hugely committed to Palestinian politics and PSC conferences were often an occasion for him to visit London.
But what was particular about our relationship was that he lived in the North East (Newcastle and then North Shields) and that probably for the last decade of his life, as his health deteriorated, he and I mainly met when I visited the region. Those one-to-one conversations over hot drinks in a series of coffee bars – were always thought-provoking as while he was less actively involved than earlier in his life, his questions were enormously incisive. A couple of times we went for walks in different parts of the North east coast, but he was a much faster walker than I so it was difficult to match our steps. We never spoke about that, just both stopped suggesting walks. He loved the Durham Gala – it was certainly fitting to hold his memorial the day before it, but though we usually managed to connect there for 5-10 minutes before each of us were swept up in other tasks. I miss him whenever I think of him – and certainly I can never walk near North Shields metro without thinking of him as our last meetings were in the Co-Op coffee bar there – and that moved a couple of years back so the metro is the most solid thing to hang on to…
It was great to be back in Durham on July 9 for the Big Meeting otherwise known as the Miner’s Gala after two years when the pandemic meant it couldn’t take place. It’s a unique experience and one I don’t think I will ever tire of, even if on this occasion the heat was so overwhelming that I had to spend time with the St John’s ambulance and their ice packs. But despite that I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to listen to the bands, be part of the crowds and catch up with many friends and comrades. You can read a fuller account here.
Photos of the wonderful Robb Johnson – one of the many reasons I love Tolpuddle so much, the appreciative crowd and participants protesting the Tories heartless plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. Another annual event which had been hit by Covid-19 was the Tolpuddle festival and march in deepest Dorset. When we started going many years ago, we used to camp – and there were less than a hundred tents over the weekend though many more turned up for the demonstration on the Sunday in coaches from across the south west and beyond. Now there are so many campers that the festival has spread across the road as the music and meetings from Friday night and across Saturday have become a bigger and bigger draw. But a number of years ago Pete and I got to the point where our bones ached too much – and we were too bad sleepers – to carry on camping. For a few years we found a wonderful bed and breakfast a couple of miles down the road which we could walk to – although it was a little nerve-wracking doing so in the dark. Sadly, that place stopped being available a few years ago meaning that we now have to stay in Dorchester – which this year meant we had to get a taxi back on Saturday night after the festivities. Sadly, my health didn’t allow me to return to the site for the march on Sunday – hopefully I will manage a full weekend in 2023.
Started out picketing with both RMT and TSSA members outside Euston station on July 27 where there was a good crowd – and, it seemed, most of the media. Then on to Kings Cross, where one of the striking cleaners reminded people that the media spin about overpaid workers is bullshit.
During August the campaign to elect a new Labour National Executive was in full swing with the ballot closing on August 30. Most but sadly not all of the Labour left were campaigning to elect five left candidates For many of us there was a particular determination to see Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi of Jewish Voice for Labour succeed in the face of the increasing witch hunt and the instumentalisation of antisemitism accusations, often targeting those who are deemed by some to be the ‘wrong type of Jews’ because of their determination to fight for the rights of Palestine and Palestinians. You can watch one of the videos that Naomi made in support of her campaign here.
I was pleased that when the results were announced on September 1, Naomi had been successful along with 3 other left candidates (Jess Barnard, Gemma Bolton and Yasmin Dar), but sad that Mish Rahman had not. The fact that Naomi was then suspended three weeks later as Labour Party Conference started and then expelled – on her 70th birthday as it happened – was not a surprise given the depth and width of the witch-hunt. It leaves me feeling furious with Evans and Starmer.
Pete and I spent a chunk of time in August in Yorkshire – staying In Whitby, Helmsley, Pickering and Leeds. From the latter our friends Jean and Bob took us to Halifax for the day where we visited Shibden Hall, an impressive building in very beautiful grounds. The hall is better known these days as the home of Anne Lister , whose fame was spread widely by Sally Wainwright’s TV series Gentleman Jack. Calderdale museums present Anne’s lesbianism in pretty much a matter-of-fact way – though I’m curious about how much this has changed since the TV series. The second photo is a sculpture of Anne by Diane Lawrenson in the piece hall in Halifax town centre – another place which is definitely worth visiting.
Back in London, Friday August 26 was the first day of strike action by 115,000 postal workers who are members of the CWU. The union called a midday rally at Mount Pleasant, the biggest sorting office in London attended by hundreds of postal workers many of whom who had been on early morning picket lines – as had I. They were joined by significant contingents from the RMT and the UCU as well as other supporters. You can read more about it here.
The only bad news was that I was reminded of one of the things I have not missed about in-person outdoor gatherings during the worst days of the pandemic – the increasing use of fire flares on demonstrations. Its true they are very beautiful – and maybe that they make dramatic photos – but for those of us with chest conditions it means we either have to leave events or end up being unpleasantly and possibly seriously ill for days to come.
On August 31 a group of us met by the National Covid Memorial Wall on the South Bank to hold a rally to mark the transformation of what had been the Zero Covid Campaign into Covid Action and then march to Westminster distributing masks as we went. The memorial wall is a powerful reminder of how many people have died during the pandemic – so many of them as a result of government failure to follow the science. ACR had been committed to and centrally involved in Zero Covid from the beginning, while I personally have become more involved this year.
The change of name did and does not represent a switch away from the principles on which the campaign was founded which have always been based on a vaccine-plus approach but was a recognition that the context of the pandemic had changed to some extent and therefore it was important to reposition ourselves in this situation. Check us out on social media @covidactionuk https://www.facebook.com/covidactionuk and sign up for email alerts here: https://covidaction.uk/join-the-campaign/
My friend and comrade Sarah Parker had died on August 23 when I was in Yorkshire. The severity of her condition had become apparent some days before and I was pleased that I was able to send her a message, which I did not know would be the last, via another friend and comrade who read it to her on a visit to her in hospital. I’d known Sarah for many years, been involved in many meetings and campaigns with her and from time to time spent chunks of time just chewing the fat with her. Her funeral on September 6, as so many celebrations of people’s lives do, made me aware that there were several of her interests I hadn’t known about, more conversations I wished we’d had. You can read tributes to her here and here.
Enough Is Enough was launched in response to the deepening Tory attacks on working class people. It was good to see a number of trade unions and campaign groups coming together, and the day of action on October 1 produced a series of powerful rallies across the country including this one at Kings Cross in central London which Apsana Begum MP is addressing above. It was also good to hear from campaigners around issues such as food poverty and homelessness as well as MPs and trade union leaders.
But what is sadly lacking from this new organisation is the democracy which is essential to allow a real debate on how to take the movement forward. See here for a roundup of some of the actions on the day.
October 5 was a very long and wet day but a rewarding one. 3 of us left London by car at the crack of dawn to join the Disabled People’s Alliance demonstration at Tory Party conference in Birmingham because Tory lies cost people’s lives. The rain caught us just as we drove into the city but didn’t dampen our spirits. We held a die-in and distributed post cards setting out the reasons for the protests. We had time to unwind over food and drink afterwards and evaluate what we had achieved before setting out for London. I must get our driver Jenny to bill me for her costs as one of my New Year’s resolutions. You can read more about what motivated us here.
I joined a small protest outside the UK Supreme Court in London called by the Radical independence campaign (RIC) as the court debated whether it was lawful for the Scottish government to hold a second independence referendum. Two of our gathering had caught the overnight coach from Dundee so determined were they to mark this occasion. Personally, I have been a supporter of Scottish independence for many decades and have closely followed Scottish politics since the campaign to re-establish a Scottish parliament which resulted in the opening at Holyrood in 1999. The ACR has not agreed that position, but does agree with the right of the Scottish people to decide their future, and so I brought a message of solidarity from the organisation. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the Supreme Court ruled against the right of Scotland to self-determination on November 23. You can read RIC’s response here.
The last Saturday of October, this year Oct 29, is another annual event – for the last 23 years – protesting against deaths in custody at the hands of the state organised by United Families and Friends. The coalition brings together those whose loved ones have died at the hands of the state – in prison, in police cells, in immigration detention, in mental health institutions and on the streets. This is how we advertised the procession in advance.
I often leave marches before listening to speakers – as many events see the same list of the great and the good telling participants things they already know. This is definitely not the case at UFF events. I was disappointed that this year I had to leave before the last two families had spoken as I had to go to something else.
These occasions are very powerful. It’s unusual to attend political events where both speakers and participants may well break down in tears as the pain of vile miscarriages of justice, ranging from those that happened decades ago to others a matter of months ago, are relived as if they were yesterday. This year’s event was impacted by the recent murder of Chris Kaba by the Met in September which swelled numbers with people who were impacted by that event because they knew Chris or members of his families or followed the case.
What is so impactful on these occasions is that while each person who has been murdered has a unique story, there are at the same time significant patterns – including the proportion of Black deaths, but also the brutality of the mental health system and the callousness with which the bereaved are treated by the authorities. Put the last Saturday of October 2023 in your diary now. I have.
The demonstration called by the People’s Assembly for November 5 quickly changed its main slogan from ‘Britain is broken’ to ‘General election now’, after Truss’s disastrous budget. However, with Truss’s resignation on October 20, while the call for a General Election was and remains an absolutely correct slogan, Sunak was already beginning to portray himself as a safer pair of hands and the mobilisation wasn’t able to reach much beyond the organised left. Later in the afternoon a number of ACR comrades and others from the far left joined Iranians protesting in Trafalgar square. Simon Hannah of Lambeth Unison and ACR is seen addressing the crowd below.
November 12 saw demonstrations across Britain, indeed across the world during COP27 taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt. While it was obviously going to be difficult to repeat the turn out in Britain we saw for last year’s summit in Glasgow, it was nevertheless concerning that this event seemed to be absent from the labour movement’s agenda despite the urgency of the environmental crisis, the fact that there are no jobs on a dead planet and the growth of groups such as XR trade unionists working to link the climate and cost of living crises. Nevertheless, there was a spirited march through central London dominated by young people. Links had also been maintained with anti-colonial and anti-racist movements and of course with the movement in Egypt in particular. Pictured above are family members and other supporters of the British/Egyptian political dissident Alaa Abd el-Fattah, who was on hunger strike during COP demanding consular access which has been denied him ever since he has been imprisoned in 2019, speaking to the rally in Trafalgar Square.
November 23 was a busy day for me and others from Islington North Labour Party as we packed in three solidarity visits before lunch. We started off at the CWU picket at North Road, which has been a regular visit during the many days of postal workers strikes. Then a number of us jumped on the tube for one stop to join the first day of the UCU picket line at London Metropolitan University at Holloway Road and share some delicious homemade vegan cookies. Finally, some of us caught a bus to City University in the south of the borough where strikers had called a lunchtime rally. A series of UCU and Unison strikers spoke, other trade unionists notably from the NEU and CWU brought greetings and Owen Jones (pictured) and Jeremy Corbyn MP also addressed people. A common message was that the action was not only about pay but also about the state of education – well summed up by the placard ‘my working conditions are your learning conditions’.
Thousands turned out at Kings Cross for a rally called by the University College Union (UCU) on November 30 addressed by a raft of speakers including Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP (pictured), Jeremy Corbyn MP, RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch, Kevin Courtney of the NEU, CWU’s Dave Ward and UCU’s Jo Grady. Most participants joined a march through central London afterwards and several hundred went on to a picket of Birkbeck afterwards where the governors were discussing savage cuts.
December 10 saw us in Bridgewater in Somerset celebrating the 71st birthday of our friend Dave Chapple. This was another event that should have taken place last year but didn’t because of Covid. In a wonderful community centre decked with trade union and political banners (which sadly didn’t photograph that well) we were entertained by Dave himself on the decks playing highlights from his extraordinarily extensive collection of Black music (we got the playlist too) and two performances from the fabulous Banner Theatre.
December 15 was the coldest picket of the year – my hands and feet took a long time to thaw out afterwards after 90 minutes in -7 degrees on the picket line at Great Ormond Street hospital. It was also historic because it was the first time ever the Royal College of Nurses had taken industrial action. You wouldn’t have known this at first from most of the nurses on the picket line who seemed very confident of their case which focuses not only on their pay but on patient safety.
December 23 was both the wettest – and for me the shortest picket on the year. After a bad night with insomnia and the rain teeming down, I made it to the N7 delivery office to join the CWU picket line just after 8.30am. I’d brought a bag full on mince pies to share some festive cheer but my fellow activists were not interested – either because they didn’t like them at all or because it was too early in the morning. I still have three left almost ten days later but mainly because others have been feeding me. And the posties were determined to start their celebrating early – normally they wind up that picket around 10am – that morning it was before 9am so I was home within an hour of setting out – but it still look several hours to dry out.
I spent time on December 24 and 25 along with over 100 others on virtual picket lines organised on zoom by the civil service union PCS. The events were both addressed by PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka and a series of striking members including border force members from Heathrow airport. John McDonnell MP addressed the first meeting and Sarah Wooley, General Secretary of the Bakers Union, the second. Especially on Xmas day when there is no public transport this was a good opportunity to raise morale by sharing stories of how working-class people are fighting back against the cost-of-living crisis.
This was a longer and more ambitious project than I realised when I started it. That’s probably a good thing, otherwise I might not have done it. I certainly learnt things about the shape of my year I had not otherwise absorbed including the ambition of ACR to make a positive impact on the key issues we organised around and the amount of time I spent with comrades from Islington North Labour Party. In such a tumultuous year, it’s inevitable that one individual’s activities do not map the key developments.
Not only will you have noticed an almost complete absence of the Windsor family except as something to escape, but Westminster doesn’t get that much airtime either. And of course, many international events from the ongoing devastation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, devastating floods in Pakistan to the uprising in Iran, Lula’s victory in Brazil and much more don’t get dealt with at all or only in their pale reflection in some events I attended.
And even from the things I attended not everything is here. Early in the year I demonstrated in Edmonton against the poisonous new incinerator seven London boroughs including mine are wedded to – but I’m damned if I can find the pictures. I also thought I took photos at Sarah’s funeral in September but seem to have mislaid them too. And then there was the wonderful twinning event organised by my friends and comrades in East London Unite Community to launch the Lydd- London solidarity group with a live link up to Palestinians in Lydd. I don’t have photos – just powerful memories of a very motivating event.
So I think this sort of venture is something I might attempt again but with more time set aside – and a much better filing system for photos taken on my phone that don’t just sit there for months so they take forever to find – or even remember…
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