Daily Archives: February 26, 2011

Guest post: A History Lesson

At the UK UNCUT protests on 26 February, a ‘Big Society School’ was set up inside and outside several banks in central London. Around 100 people, many of them wearing school uniform attended lessons, including an economics lecture by Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation and a maths class by John Christensen from the Tax Justice Network. The history lesson, written up below, was given by Tim Gee, the co-editor of Political Dynamite. His first book, ‘Counterpower’ will be released in October.

A year before his tragic death, American civil rights leader Martin Luther King gave a speech in which he spoke of the human tragedy of the Vietnam War and the deleterious effect it had on funding for the poverty programme at home. But he also spoke more philosophically, declaring:

“We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

His words are as relevant today as they were then.

Banks like RBS-Natwest represent the ‘thing oriented’ society – the promotion of profits regardless of the social costs. We have heard of the role of RBS-Natwest in the financial crisis that in turn precipitated the cuts. But they are contributing to another crisis that is even bigger – the climate crisis.

Since being bailed out by us, RBS has provided nearly 13 billion pounds to fossil fuels companies, including for the Canadian Tar Sands. The Tar Sands project is the most ecologically destructive industrial project on the planet. It is causing the razing of rainforest, the pollution of rivers and the displacement of indigenous people. The refining process is at least three times as energy intensive as conventional oil. At a time that we need to keep oil in the ground, this is devastating. This is an example of the ‘thing oriented’ society at its very worst.

So what is a ‘person oriented society’? At the very least it must involve every human having access to the basics that they need. In the old days we might have proposed to produce as much as possible and either redistribute it, or let it trickle down to the poor. In the context of climate change that is no longer an option. We need to produce less and distribute it further.

Doing this is not complex or new. A library is a perfect example of us producing less of something and distributing it further. Yet it is libraries that this Government is seeking to close.

Another example of the ‘person oriented society’ is the free provision of public services to those in need. However the current Government is trying to commodify what should not be commodified by making these things available to buy and sell.

King teaches us that “There is nothing essentially wrong with power; the problem is that in America power is unevenly distributed”. Power is unevenly distributed today too, but on the global scale – between the financial sector and the rest of us. But we have power too. Indeed in theory no system of rule can survive without co-operation of the many. Therefore every injustice can in theory be defeated. We are about turning that theory in to practice. And there are case studies we can learn from:

On 1 February 1960, four black students in North Carolina decided to disregard the unjust laws of segregation by the simple act of a sit-in at a whites-only lunch counter. As the tactic was repeated over and over, it led to the desegregation of the lunch counters. The movement carried on – occupying libraries, art galleries and parks. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act mandated desegregation in public accommodations in the United States.

Today we are taking a leaf prom their book. Like the civil rights movement before us we are non-violently intervening in the cogs of injustice. We are continuing Martin Luther King’s call for a ‘person oriented’ society rather than a ‘thing oriented’ society’. And just as the civil rights movement before us changed America, we are seeking to change Britain. In the light of the recent emergence of US Uncut, Canada Uncut and France Uncut, I hope that eventually we can change the world.

Press release: Protests against banks across UK and America

07591 992 825
Photos available on request
For Immediate Release


UK Uncut and the newly formed US Uncut are today holding protests inside and outside bailed-out banks in over 100 locations, from London and Dundee to New York and Honolulu.

In the UK, activists have been setting up creches, laundries, school class rooms,libraries, homeless shelters, drama club, walk-in clincs, youth centre, job centres, and leisure centres in more than 40 branches of RBS, Natwest and Loyds acrosss the country [1].

This is in reaction to the bonus annoucements that were released this week. Despite RBS making a loss of £1.1bn, RBS still paid out £950m in bonuses, including a £2m bonus for the cheif executive Stephen Hester [2]. Lloyds TSB also annouced large profits of £2.2bn bonuses, and in addition, because of previous lossess, they paid no corporation tax in the last financial year. [3]. Both banks have also revealed they have 135 and 121 offshore subsidiaries in tax havens respectively [4]

At midday in Islington, North London, 50 activists set up a laundry in an RBS branch in reaction to the Islington Council threats to cut services to the elderly, including a much-needed laundry service. The activist set up washing lines, clothes horses, buckets for handwashing, and a team of window cleaners on the outside. The protest was attended by over 15 pensioners and the local MP Jeremy Corbyn.

A classroom was set up In a Lloyds branch on Oxford street, London, in which Andrew Simms from the New Economics Foundation, John Christienson from Tax Justice and Anna Nolan from the Robin Hood Tax Campaign, gave lectures on the failures of the banking industry, tax avoidance and the alternative’s to the public sector cuts.

Branches of bailed out banks around the country have been transformed; including hospitals in Liverpool and Redhill; a classroom in Cardiff; a leisure centre in Eastleigh; a job centre in Birmingham; and 20 people brought tents and sleeping bags into natwest in Brixton to create a homeless shelter.

Ruth Griffiths, 36, said, “RBS, Natwest and Lloyds would have all collapsed if it were not for the billions given to them by the tax payer. It was their greed and reckless gambling that caused the economic crisis, yet while ordinary people are paying the price in cuts to vital services and benefits, like hospitals, creches and disability living allowance, they are awarding themselves obscene bonuses.”

Aisha Atkins, 32 said, “There are alternatives to the cuts, for example, making the banks pay for a crisis they created or by stopping tax dodging by big business and the super rich. But the government is making a political choice to reduce the deficit by making ordinary people pay with job losses and savaged services. RBS’s bonus pool alone could pay for around 45,000 nurses”

She continued, “We are transforming the banks into schools, leisure centres, laundry services and homless shelters to show that it’s our society that’s too big to fail, not a broken banking system.”

In America, protests are planned in around 50 locations [5] from the East right across to the West Coast, after taking inspiration from the UK Uncut movement in the UK. American activists will targeting the Bank of America which recieved a $2.3 bail-out. It is the largest Bank in the world, and the 5th largest corporation, yet it is a major tax avoider, paying less tax than the average American household [6].

Commenting on the new international alliance, Tim Jones, 28, one of those who founded UK Uncut in October, said, “Tax avoidance, reckless banking, and unjust cuts are international problems that need international action by ordianary people. This international day of action will be one of many to make governments around the world stand up to the banks and make them pay for their crisis, and to ensure the super rich stopping dodging tax .”


[1] The complete list of locations in the UK is Aberdeen, Abergervenny, Ashby de la Zouch, Bedford, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Brighton, Cambridge, Canterbury, Colchester, Cardiff, Coventry, Doncaster, Dundee, Durham, Eastleigh, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Ipswich, Jedburgh, Leeds, Lewes, Liverpool, Brixton, Hanovery Square, City of London, Islington, Peckham, Regent Street, Wood Green, Manchester, Middlesborough, Minehead, Nottingham, Oxford, Portsmouth, Redhill, Salisbury, Sheffield, Southport, Tenby, Tunbridge Well.

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12563720


[4] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2011/02/26/lloyds-pays-zero-tax-despite-2-2bn-profit-115875-22950108/

[5] www.usuncut.org for the full action list

[6] http://usuncut.org/files/US-Uncut-DC-Fact-Sheet.pdf

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