It makes me sick

Two hundred protesters stage a die-in during Wednesday's rush hour to speak out against air pollutio

London hums with activity. It is always doing more, never stopping to draw breath.

Or so I thought until last night. At 6.30pm, two hundred protesters lay down in the middle of the thronging Euston Road during rush hour and brought traffic to a halt. The aim was clear: to make a poignant statement about the inadequate measures currently in place to address air pollution in the Big Smoke.

Chalk marks line the protesters. 

"Boris's policies are failing us. It's a no-brainer - Boris needs to get the most polluting vehicles out of the most polluted places", said Alice Haworth-Booth, spokesperson for Climate Rush.

The die-in itself was a moment of clarity in the midst of six-lane chaos. Having met in Soho Square - where large numbers of police had also gathered, intrusively filming and photographing everyone present - the crowd set off through the streets of Central London, many wearing the red sash that has become a tell-tale style of a Climate Rush action.

Bike bloc sets off through the streets of London. 

On reaching our destination, we forged forward, onto the road, 'dying' for fresh air, and for several minutes we owned that patch of tarmac; no cars, lorries, motorbikes or buses could stop us. The police were not happy, one in particular taking it upon himself to pick up people's bikes and lug them off sans-owner, tussling with people if they tried to hang onto their trusty steeds. His colleagues followed suit but the protesters were unperturbed, not willing to let themselves be distracted by those paid to keep the streets clear of political protest.

A FIT poilceman makes his presence felt. 

As we lay on the road - an incredibly odd experience at the best of times - nurses drew chalk silhouettes around us, marks aptly doused in car exhaust fumes minutes later, marks that sustained our message even once we had gone. And that message is a clear one: "atmospheric pollution is an invisible and unacceptable health hazard that few in power are taking seriously", said Mark Blake, cycling off into the traffic on his way home.

Air pollution in London is a two-fold problem. On the one hand, it poses significant problems to human health. On the other, it is leaving us vulnerable to extensive EU fines for failing to comply with legal limits. Where public health is concerned, NHS reforms have been under the spotlight recently as austerity measures have spread their suffocating tentacles into the far-reaching corners of some of the most fundamental of services. What has been apparent throughout is the misguided political will, which favours corporate profits and privatisation over quality and equality of services. The minority at the top - the Sir Philip Green's of this world - benefit from significant tax avoidance while the rest of us need to accept the closure or restructuring of local health services that play a critical role in our communities.

Where the economic aspects of air pollution are concerned, the UK is currently paying out approximately £2bn annually to address air pollution, with much greater fines in the pipeline if we do not start to address the issue head on. This is not what we need at a time when financial instability reigns. Mayor of London Boris Johnson's scrapping of the Western Extension Zone is a perfect example of the way in which people-pleasing - particularly of those who live in the wealthier Conservative constituencies - has taken precedent over the overall social and economic health of London's population.

Placards kept protesters on message. 

Nearly 5% of all annual UK deaths are attributed to poor air quality yet what is being done about it? Green Party candidate for London's Mayoral elections Jenny Jones was there last night making it clear that there are things that can and should be done immediately to improve London's air quality, including establishing very low emission zones and pushing ahead with Stage Three of the Low Emission Zone. Demonstrations such as the die-in push the issue into the public arena, as Haworth-Booth made clear:

"With the support the Roadblock got from the public, the media and from mayoral candidates Jenny Jones and Ken Livingstone - who sent us a message of support via Twitter - a spotlight has been shone on the public health emergency caused by poor air quality in London. We're incredibly impressed by the number of people who showed up and we will continue to put pressure on Boris until meaningful progress starts to be made."

So, are our politicians and Mayor going to do the right thing? Unless air quality improves, you might just have to hold your breath.

Protesters wearing suitable garb. 

Tess Riley is a freelance journalist and social justice campaigner. She also works, part time, for Streetbank, and can be found on Twitter at @tess_riley

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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.