Tax protests: at last people have a way to express their anger

Posted on

As the Guardian has reported this afternoon:

With superglue and megaphones, pop-up protests forced several branches of Topshop and Vodafone around the country to close today on one of the busiest trading days of the year.

Security guards in Oxford Street bundled protesters and journalists, including Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee, out of the London store before the group of about 70 to 80 protestors, chanting "Philip Green pay your tax", left voluntarily and moved on the Arcadia's BhS store, which also had to be closed briefly to shoppers, as did a Vodafone shop. The demonstrations remained good-natured and peaceful with many of those out shopping fairly sympathetic.

The billionaire Green, recently made an adviser on cuts by David Cameron, is under fire because his wife, Arcadia's direct owner, lives in the tax haven of Monaco.

The latest tax avoidance protests took place in Birmingham, Glasgow, York, Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham, under the banner of UK Uncut – a fast-growing movement that is gathering support via social networking sites

One protester, Ed Greens, 20, from north-west London, said: "Topshop ... together with companies like Vodafone owe billions. We are taking direct action on companies like Topshop which avoid large amounts of tax."

Eileen Smith, 78, had come along to join the protesters. "I support anyone who is fighting against these terrible cuts. How dare this government say we are all in this together when 24 members of the cabinet are millionaires and men like Philip Green and his cronies are feted. The hypocrisy is sickening."

The group held similar protests against Vodafone in October after the telecoms group settled a large tax avoidance claim with the government but ended up paying a lot less than had been expected.

James Kelly, a spokesman for UK Uncut said: "Tax avoidance is a big issue and we believe this is the alternative to the cuts the government are making. Philip Green is a well-known tax avoider and today we're bringing our campaign right to the heart of his empire."

Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research UK, said he thought that UK Uncut's actions were justified. "I do think that what they're doing is appropriate, I do think there's a problem. Large businesses are paying a smaller proportion of their income in tax than many individuals and small businesses in the UK and that's unacceptable."

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "People are rightly angry that the government is targeting the most vulnerable in our society with massive cuts in spending, and yet it appears to be very relaxed about rich and powerful tax dodgers."

I wasn’t at a demonstration: family commitments prevented it. Sorry, that’s the way it is sometimes.

But I’m delighted about three things. First that these demonstrations against cuts and against tax abuse happened. These are of course sides of the same coin. Second I’m pleased they could and did use my work. Third I’m delighted that legitimate protest that seeks to uphold the law and society has found a voice through the tax justice campaign – and in the process is making clear that the arguments of right wing neoliberals are unjust, unethical and abusive of society at large in the self interest of a few. If tax justice is the mechanism for giving that voice – fantastic! Long may it continue.