Setting the record straight: Occupying for the Alternative (full length version of Guardian piece)


This is a full length version – with the correct title! – of this Guardian piece.

On Saturday hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of London to protest against the cuts. The turnout was enormous – much bigger than expected and the message was clear that people in this country are totally opposed to the Government’s choice to prioritise the needs of bankers and big business over the needs of ordinary citizens.

Hundreds of thousands marched for the alternative, in a stunning display of unity. Hundreds of people marched as UK Uncut and instead of attending the main rally, went to Oxford Street – the heart of London’s shopping district – to occupy for the alternative. A diverse mass movement of people willing to take action against the governments vicious cuts has been born.

The UK Uncut actions that were organised for 2pm on Saturday included people dressing as doctors to transform tax avoiders Boots into an NHS hospital, in protest of the £20billion cuts to the NHS. BHS on Oxford Street (part of Philip Green’s empire) was closed as actors and musicians gathered outside to protest against arts cuts with Sam and Timothy West performing a high street staging of an extract from The Voysey Inheritance by Granville Barker.

In nearby Soho square an open air comedy venue was created, where comedians Josie Long and Mark Thomas performed to an audience of nearly a thousand. These actions continued in the vein of creative, fun, inclusive action that UK Uncut has become known for, highlighting the tax-gap and injustice of bailing out the banks that caused the financial crisis and awarding their bosses with grotesque bonuses.

The UK Uncut actions were fun and friendly and organised to work in tandem with the ‘TUC March for the alternative’ in order to make space for people wanting to engage in civil disobedience as their way of expressing opposition to the cuts. It was positive. It was in solidarity. We celebrate the hard work of all involved, the unions, their branches and all the individuals who built the TUC march into the huge success that it was. We were not in anyway seeking to grab headlines; we did what we always do, creative sit-down protest. We are all in this together.

At 3.30pm we gathered on Oxford Street and moved toward a new tax-dodging target: Fortnum and Mason, to stage a occupation there. Fortnum and Mason is owned by Wittington Investments Ltd, which also owns a majority stake in Associated British Foods. Wittington run a devious tax dodging scheme, stuffing money in Luxembourg and avoiding £10 million a year in tax. This money could pay the salaries of 500 nurses.

Over the last six months, UK Uncut have creatively occupied shops owned by various tax dodgers. Yesterday was no different. When inside Fortnum and Mason about 150 people sang songs, held banners, listened to music (including the bagpipes!) and many of us sat down to read books. This is what a UK Uncut action: creative civil disobedience against the cuts. We had many of the Fortnum and Mason staff engaging with us and wanting to know more, people in the cafe carried on eating their crumpets quite happily.

Balloons and beachballs were the only things being thrown in the air. A basket of chocolates was accidentally knocked over so we picked them back up and at the end our hazard tape and flags were tidied away by those who had carried them in. We weren’t even asked to leave.

There has been tremendous confusion in the media and on Twitter about what UK Uncut had organised on #march26 – so this is us setting the record straight. We urge everyone to send in their mobile phone footage and pictures and accounts of our creative occupations on Oxford Street and inside Fortnum and Masons so we can build a true picture of UK Uncut’s activities on the day.

Some people on the march felt like it was overshadowed by events elsewhere in London. Indeed our own inspirational occupations were overlooked or distorted by a lazy news media, hungry for sensational pictures of damage in central London. To all those who attended the march, we marched with you and occupied in solidarity with you.

There has been anger directed at us as a consequence of some media outlets deliberately and incorrectly using our name for actions we did not organise, giving every action the name UK Uncut. But is clear from spending two minutes on our website who we are, what we are about and what our plans were. More sensible, accurate and grassroots reporting is emerging that tells the true story of Occupy for the Alternative.

UK Uncut will continue to take creative civil disobedience against the cuts, to ensure government and big business do not get away with making ordinary people pay for a crisis they did not cause.