The vote count for the 1892 General Election for the West Ham South constituency was held here (now the Old Town Hall, Stratford). When it was announced that Keir Hardie was the winner he went on to the balcony and addressed a crowd of between 15 – 20,000 people.
“On taking his seat on 3 August 1892, Hardie refused to wear the ‘parliamentary uniform’ of black frock coat, silk top hat and starched wing collar. Instead he chose to wear a plain tweed suit, red tie and deerstalker’. (Pamphlet about Keir Hardie here)
Hardie was involved in establishing the Independent Labour Party in 1893. He lost his seat in 1895 but continued his life long commitment to campaigning for the rights, conditions and dignity of the working class. In 1898, West Ham Council became the first in the UK to be controlled by socialists.
Former Transport and General Workers Union office, West Ham Lane
Formed in 1922. Ernest Bevin was its first general secretary. It included a Docks Group to represent workers who had been members of:
Dock, Wharf, Riverside and General Labourers’ Union of Great Britain and Ireland
Labour Protection League
National Amalgamated Coal Porters’ Union of Great Britain and Ireland
National Amalgamated Labourers’ Union of Great Britain and Ireland
North of England Trimmers’ and Teemers’ Association
It also represented white collar staff who worked in the docks. In 2007 it merged with Amicus to form Unite the Union. The nineteenth and twentieth history of Stratford and West Ham was greatly shaped by the influence of the docks, particularly the Royals.
Homeless hostel, formerly ‘Focus E15’. There are 210 studios and rooms in the block. It is owned by Newham Council.
I rang the bell and the concierge let me in. They were reluctant to talk at first. Why would they not be? There are vast resources spent on spying on the workers in underhand and mean ways. Hundreds of pounds will be spent on checking the work of someone paid £10 (or less) an hour. Nothing is spent on checking the work of a person being paid hundreds of pounds a day as a ‘management consultant’.
They explain that they are struggling to find somewhere to live in the area.
‘Most places are about £1,500 a month to rent. But most people round here take home £1,500 or maybe a bit more. How is this supposed to work?’
‘Every penny you get, they take away’ (Rosa Luxemburg makes this point, in I think, The Accumulation of Capital – An Anti-Critique). It’s a piece of folklore, a grass roots social-ist phrase. I bet Rosa heard it from a German or Polish worker. And realised how serious it was to that class of people.
‘It’s a big machine’, I make a turning movement with my arm and hand, ‘and we’re all inside it but what do we get out if it?’
The concierge told me their name and the detail I was interested in hearing. A dangerous conversation. Workers aren’t supposed to talk about their conditions to people outside the company and corporate culture. Whatever next; there might be a mutual sharing of experiences and ideas. Organisation can stem from such dialogues. And from organisation, anything is possible.
Ground level workers know a great deal about housing. But they are never asked their views. Instead expensive management consultants are bought in. They drive big SUVs (they * need* to have one), they live in detached houses without traffic noise, they have big statement holidays. They have never been in a homeless hostel let alone lived in one. But apparently they know all the answers. They must do, they cost a lot of money.
Whales Yard. 20 flats behind a gate.
This house believes
Shop front in Church St North
It was tempting to walk further south, past the site of the Curwen Press, towards the docks, towards the river. But that would be another walk.
Angel Pub, 1910. Built in obsolescence or toxic neglect?
Luxury apartment infill, dominating and bullying existing housing. The space could have made a good community garden.
Luxury apartments. Luxury is a curious quality. There is no criteria by which to judge the use of the term. The real need in Stratford and West Ham is for good quality, low cost housing; something that can be described as modern housing. Housing which is by definition, social, and for people. Rather than property as a form of exploitation which can be described as luxury. But luxury is relative.
Capital confronts labour as an alien force. The expansion of capital is the destruction of the creativity, dignity and independence of workers.
An unusual open space, and all the better for that. Must all land be classified as derelict, vacant, waste, surplus, productive? This seems to lack any purpose. But then so too does much art. Perhaps it’s an art work? Who would have thought; landscape as sculpture, or the existence of land in an urban space purely for aesthetic pleasures.
Stratford Square. Another gated community. The gates are broken and the man who was trying to fix them explains that everything is about money.
‘The rich have never got enough’, I respond. ‘Even if they have £100 million pound its not enough. They always want more’.
He looks up. He is wearing a shapeless black suit, a white shirt, a shapeless cardigan, a shapeless red hat.
‘Are you talking about the Conservative Party?’ he asks.
The church continues to play an important part of the life of east London. A Sunday morning is a good time to experience the breadth and scope of what the church continues to do in the area.
A group of street addicts are using the top of a litter bin as a bar. An empty clear glass bottle and a can. Vodka and coke? Gin? I am wary. I do not want to get pulled in. While taking photos of the church I sense a presence. It’s difficult to work out if it’s malign or not. Someone has approached me from behind.
‘What are you taking photographs for?’
‘I’m writing about housing’,
‘What about housing?’ Is this aggression or just a way of speaking?
‘Look at all this’, I sweep my hand around the housing on the Romford Road, ‘it’s too expensive for most people and if you don’t pay your rent you’ll be on the street’
‘I like being on the street’, comes the reply, ‘I can make a lot of money’.
‘I’m thirty eight, and a grandad’.
This is so incongruous. The statement should have either a exclamation mark or question mark but I’m not sure which. I’m not sure the speaker knows either. It’s like a line from a comedy show.
The expression is difficult to read. Smart? Funny? Angry? For a moment the expression seems to be, ‘I know this isn’t right but ….’ The ‘but’ isn’t explained. I walk off, they walk off and as they do so they start shouting. Crazy, drugs, addicted, volatile behaviour. It’s a tricky one.
The sadly neglected Passmore Edwards Museum which was closed in the 1990s. Newham has a population of around 350,000 people. That’s bigger than the cities of Belfast, Cardiff and Nottingham. And yet it has no museum or art gallery (that I’m aware of).
There is a comprehensive overview of the buildings here.
Sarah Bonnell School. The building is from 1897. Note the large windows which reflect the high ceilings of the class rooms. A deliberate policy of light, air and sun was followed. It is worth noting that in these late nineteenth century schools it is possible to open the windows. Something which is impossible in many of the PFI constructed schools of recent years. Fresh air continues to be of importance in fighting infectious diseases including Covid-19.
Morrisons and car park.
The supermarket chain Morrisons has recently been bought by Fortress
“….which is owned by the Japanese investment giant SoftBank, has teamed up with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and the Koch family, billionaire US industrialists who are known for their libertarian and conservative activism”.
The former pattern of terraced housing and local shops, pubs, parks, amenities is being replaced by gated housing and the dominance of motorism. Alienation, isolation and social immiseration.
That same afternoon, this car transporter, the Prometheus Leader, was sailing through the channel from Drammen in Norway to Vigo, Spain.
As capital continues to concentrate and centralise supermarkets become larger, car parks become larger, cars become larger. Giant ships are needed to move all this around the world using masses of fuel and energy. Vast industries of car manufacturing and oil production.
And yet curiously, some people find themselves living in a shelter constructed of an old sofa, cardboard and plastic sheeting. Are all these things in some way connected?