Daily Archives: March 28, 2011

Guest post: Why I Marched, Why I Occupied

This is a guest post by Adam Ramsay. Read more at Bright Green Scotland.

I spent the best part of the weekend in a police cell in Illford. I’ve been accused of taking part in a peaceful protest at Fortnum & Mason’s, and charged with aggravated trespass. But being locked up for a day is nothing, nothing to the fate of those who will be hardest hit by the government’s cuts and privatisation.

While out promoting the march a few weeks ago, a friend and I met two such people. Both of these people are severely physically disabled. They cannot leave their homes without help. They have a carer who comes, twice a week, and takes them in her car for a trip into town, where they do their shopping, and maybe see a friend.

But the money that pays for the carer’s petrol is being withdrawn by George Osborne. She can no longer afford to take the people we met into town – can’t afford to help them get out of the house. And so both expect to be left imprisoned in their own homes for much of the rest of their lives.

Or let’s look at Martha. Martha is a multiply disabled woman from Oxfordshire. She lives in a care home – has lived there for most of her life. That’s where her friends are, she knows her carers there. It’s her home. Sometimes, she is pushed in her wheelchair around the garden, and she likes this. Her Dad, William, can tell she likes it, because she calms down. She’s not been calm very often lately, because she can tell what’s happening to her. She may not know the details – that the government is launching a radical economic experiment: mass privitisation and the biggest spending cuts in a western country since those that prolonged the Great Depression. She probably doesn’t know that that George Osborne announced massive cuts to the support she needs by telling us that anyone who thinks these cuts are solely about saving money is “missing the point” – that the credit crunch is a “once in a generation opportunity” to change the services she relies on. Martha doesn’t know what these cuts are about. She hasn’t come across phrases like: “shock doctrine”. She’s never heard of Fred Goodwin or derivatives, or sub-prime mortgages.

But she can tell that she is going to be kicked out of her home. The cuts to the Disability Living Allowance mean that she can no longer afford to stay there – her parents can’t afford to subsidise her place. She will be forced into a much cheaper home. One where she won’t be with her friends – friends she may never get to see again. Her trips outside will be much rarer. She will be left lonely and alone, with a rapid turnover of carers she can never get to know. And so she will be too will be imprisoned locked up in an institution she hasn’t chosen, trapped by cuts and by a government who thinks that she can’t fight back.

Or let’s look at my friend John. John is exceptionally talented – as many people are. He works hard and he is diligent and he is passionate. But as a member of the jilted generation, he has been left unemployed. He has been thrown onto George Osborne’s scrapheap of the ‘undeserving’: poor people, disabled people, young people. His plight is the plight of my generation – a fate spelled out in unemployment stats and on a million rems of recycled job applications and a million fading dreams. After months spent searching for work that isn’t there, days carefully filling in forms and updating CVs that end up in the trash, John gets depressed. Nothing knocks his confidence like unemployment. The evidence tells us that joblessness kills. It causes stress, it breaks down communities. And this too leaves people imprisoned – trapped by their own self doubt and self loathing and depression.

In the recent stories about Mark Stone – the police officer who infiltrated the climate movement – we saw the lengths to which the police are willing to go to gain intelligence on peaceful protesters, and to attempt to intimidate us out of activism. And that may be what they are trying to do here. But it won’t work. It won’t work because we know that protesting does work – we remember that every intitution of organised justice in this country had to be fought for. It won’t work because people are beginning to see that these cuts have nothing to do with fixing the economy and everything to do with right wing ideology. And it won’t work because a day in the police cells is nothing compared to a lifetime trapped as a prisoner in your own home. It is nothing to what they are doing to Martha, and what they are doing to John. It is nothing compared to the damage that these cuts will do to our communities and our friends and our lives.

Why Fortnum & Mason?

Tax scam

Fortnum & Mason is owned by Wittington Investments. Wittington Investments has a 54% stake in Associated British Foods (ABF), a multinational food corporation with revenues of some £10bn/year.

Some time between 2005 and 2008, ABF set up a holding company in Luxembourg. It then sent large sums of money – interest free – from ABF PLC and Primark (Ireland), also owned by ABF, into this holding account, from which it was sent straight back, this time with interest charges.

According to tax experts, this has meant ABF’s annual tax avoidance amounts to at least £10m through offsetting interest payments on profits.

Although Wittington is ultimately linked backed to the Weston Family Trust, which has charitable status, ABF is not a charity in any sense. The Weston Family Trust naturally support the pro-corporate, pro-privatisation policies being promoted by the coalition government and are major backers of the Tory Party.

This is just one example of the many super rich individuals and profitable big businesses going out of their way to minimise their tax bills. Some £25bn every year is thought to be lost to the public purse by wealthy tax avoiders. This money needs to be recouped to help save our essential public services.

All in this together?

£15,000 hamper to take to the Henley Regatta anyone?

F&M perfectly symbolises the vast inequalities in wealth that exist in this country, showing just how wrong George Osborne is when he says ‘we are all in this together’.

Travel from the West End of London to the East End or down to the estates in Peckham and Brixton and it is plain to see that we are not all in this together even at the best of times.

£82bn is being slashed from public spending. These cuts will directly hit the poorest hardest – to pay for a crisis that had nothing to do with libraries or social care, and everything to do with a reckless banking system.

Now take a wander around places like Fortnum & Mason and consider the effects of the cuts on the people who can afford to shop there. George Osborne plans to get rid of the 50p tax rate in order to make the lives of the super-rich even easier.

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.