The photograph shows the end of Saturday’s demonstration against the Olympic missiles; a march of about 200-250 people from Mile End Park to Fairfields Road. Our destination was the old Bryant and May factory, outside which the strikers (all women, many Irish, most under the age of 16) met Annie Besant in 1888 and set in train New Unionism, that wave of working-class protest that led to the launch of the general unions, the foundation of the Independent Labour Party (and eventually Labour itself), the start of the welfare state, etc.
It was loud and confident demonstration, with a marching band, and a good chorus of “Say Hey, say Ho, Get your missiles out of Bow”. There were small delegations from Save Leyton Marsh, from SLAM (the South London anti-missile group), and from every large group on the left (SWP, SP, Counterfire), as well as plenty of Occupy veterans. The speakers included two Respect councillors, a local vicar, Chris Nineham of Stop the War and Brian Whelan, the journalist and Bow Quarter resident who first broke the news of the intended missiles (for this small act of heroism he has now been evicted by his landlord). There was also a solicitor from Howe and Co, whose judicial review of the Leytonstone Olympics Missiles will be heard in the High Court on Monday week.
The Olympic organisers’ decision to place missiles here, of all places in East London, with all its resonance to the left, reminds me of nothing so much as a line from Walter Benjamin, “not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious”.
I’m proud to note that Stop the Olympics Missiles is one of the groups supporting the next big demo in East London, on July 28th: