Today hundreds of campaigners have taken over several high-street stores in cities and towns across the UK. The campaigners are protesting against tax avoidence by big businesses who are costing the UK billions of pounds in missed tax, coming at a time when the coalition government has announced massive cuts to the welfare system and public services.
Topshop branches across the country have been closed temporarily, with campaigners arranging sit-ins and demonstrations both inside the shops and outside the front. Branches in the UK that have been targeted include Topshop’s Oxford Street store, London, as well as stores in Glasgow, Birmingham and Brighton to name but a few.
The movement, known as UK Uncut, only began this year but has gained huge support – organising sit-ins and demonstrations predominantely through the use of social networking sites such as Twitter. This allows mass demonstrations to be organised with relatively short notice, whilst also allowing a huge audience to be reached with people texting, tweeting, re-tweeting and sharing information with each other over the internet.
Topshop boss Philip Green has been accused of avoiding millions in tax which should have been paid to the government. His wife, the company’s direct owner, lives in a tax haven. Big businesses are said to be costing the UK billions of pounds in missed tax each year, enough to make up for the proposed cuts in public services and then some. Critics claim that the poorest are suffering whilst the wealthiest are being let off, despite the rhetorical claims by the coalition that their proposals were “fair”. Philip Green runs the Arcadia Group which also owns Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans and Miss Selfridge.
Despite the fact that the demonstrations and sit-ins are mostly peaceful, Topshop security guards and police have been seen to be man-handling protestors and violently removing those in store, even a few who appeared to be “ordinary shoppers” according to some reports on Twitter. Apparently the police seem to be protecting the interests of the business, rather than those of the people. Who knew, eh?
Nobody can argue that this is not a worthy cause. Whilst the poorest are going to feel the cuts the hardest, the wealthiest are being “let off” with untold billions of pounds, whilst the police are protecting the tax-dodgers, rather than the people. Not to mention it has come out recently that more MP’s have been fiddling their expenses and stealing more money from the State. The boundaries between “fair” and “right” are shifting – you would be hard-pressed to find many people on the stret who would agree that this is fair.
Vodafone is another company that is reported to owe the government unpaid tax. It is claimed that Vodafone owes between £1.2bn and £6bn, with HM Revenue and Customs reporting that the £6bn figure is “an urban myth”. However, last week Vodafone was told to pay a similar figure to the government in India. The tax-dodging company was told to pay 112bn rupee, working out to around £1.6bn of tax. Vodafone has been given 30 days to pay the taxes.
Today, UK Uncut has organised mass demonstrations of many stores claimed to be avoiding their taxes, and as such Vodafone stores have also been targeted up and down the country. At the time of writing, demonstrators have shut down a Vodafone branch in Birmingham, Vodafone and Topshop stores in Brighton, a Vodafone branch in Newcastle, and several stores in Oxford Street: Topshop, BHS, 2 Dorothy Perkins branches, Boots, 2 Vodafone branches and a Miss Selfridge store. There are other demonstrations in other parts of the UK, so if you are following the live updates on Twitter, expect to see more closures!
The only disheartening aspect of all this is the police response*. Understandably they need to ensure that violence does not break out, and property is not damaged, but they should play the role of quiet enforcers, observent watchmen, honourable guards. Instead they have been aggressively removing people from the stores alongside security guards, who are actually paid to do that. They should not be getting involved like that, and are instead sending a clear message that the police support the tax-avoiders, rather than the people. The police are there to uphold the law and to support the people, not to take sides and protect big business owners from facing the people they have “swindled”.
The closures and protests are only temporary, the stores will be open and functioning again in a few days. Most likely. But hopefully it will send a message to both the tax-avoiders and the government, that the people will not stand for it. Perhaps the coalition government is to blame, really. After all their talk of “fairness” and of those with the “broadest shoulders bearing the brunt”, perhaps the people took them for their word.
Those of you who sympathise but can’t get involved, just remember it is just as important to “vote with your wallet”. Next time you go past a Vodafone store, a Topshop store, a Dorothy Perkins, a Miss Selfridges, a Boots, a BHS store… just remember where your money is going (or more importantly, where it isn’t going) and perhaps walk a little further on. Eventually they will get the message, and you can feel guilt-free as you shop with a clear conscience.
*Update: 15:29 04/12/10 –
– According to some reports on Twitter, police in Brighton are kettling protestors and only letting them out once they have their name and address. This is NOT lawful, peaceful protests are defined by law and you do NOT have to give details merely because you attended. Police state they are being detained due to “breaching the peace”, clearly they do not know the DIFFERENCE between breaching the peace and lawful demonstration. Demonstrators being told to give their details or risk being arrested. Is Britain becoming a Police state? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.
Update #2: 15:33 03/12/10
– “Hundreds of protestors in Nottingham shut down two Vodaphone [sic] stores, protested against Topshop and Boots” according to live Twitter feed. Also Newcastle Vodafone store shut down. Many protestors present are tweeting for advice and help as they fear that they will be arrested.
– And I shall leave you with a humorous yet accurate tweet from the live feed on Twitter: “What weird times we live in when it is students and protestors, not govts, urging corporations to act responsibly and pay their tax#ukuncut” [RT sheepbop]. Use the hashtag #ukuncut to follow this story and all live updates. If you don’t have a Twitter account or you do not understand how to use it, check out my Twitter FAQs page for help and advice.
- Tax protesters close main Topshop (bbc.co.uk)
- Undercover police spy on tax avoidance protesters who are targeting high street stores (dailymail.co.uk)
- Join us at Topshop and make Philip Green pay | Alex Pinkerman (guardian.co.uk)
- You: Tax avoidance protesters spied upon by undercover police officers (guardian.co.uk)
- UKuncut to target Topshop on Tax Avoidance day #4thDecember (liberalconspiracy.org)