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Sat 18th Dec 2010
Added on Wed 8th Dec 2010, 1:17pm — last updated Thu 24th Mar 2011, 7:38pm
Saturday 18th of December is Pay Day, with actions in cities across the country. Once again our London action will be hitting Oxford Street to take on some of Britain’s biggest tax dodgers. Over 200 people came on our last London action and we successfully shut down both Vodafone and Philip Green’s Topshop, the largest fashion retail store in the world. This time it’s going to be even bigger. Here’s the plan:
There will be two blocs, each bloc focusing on a specific target and a specific cut. You choose which bloc to join.
The Sports Bloc
The Sports Bloc’s mission is to target Topshop and highlight the proposed £162m cuts to school sports. Philip Green’s £285m tax dodge could have funded almost two whole years of school sports in every school in the country. Sports Bloc will meet inside Topshop’s flagship store and hold our very own sports day. At exactly 1.04pm, on the PE teacher’s signal, the games will begin. Bring bean bags, hula hoops, eggs and spoons, sacks, and three-legged race partners. Team up with your friends and organise some games. If you want to join Sports Bloc, come with flyers, banners, and don’t forget your PE kit (perhaps wear it under your clothes?)
The Library Bloc
The Library bloc’s mission is to target Vodafone and highlight the government’s 27% cuts to local government budgets. Vodafone’s £6bn tax dodge could pay for every single cut to every single council everywhere in the country for the next two years. Library bloc will meet inside Vodafone’s flagship store to stage a read-in. At exactly 1.04pm, on the librarian’s signal, everyone will sit down, take out a book and begin reading. If you want to join Library Bloc bring flyers, banners and a book. And remember…shhhhh!
The action will be done by 3pm.
See you on the high streets!
Topshop Oxford Street
Security were quite heavy handed at Topshop Oxford Street, dragging people out into the arms of the police who then took each person's details and issued 3 month bans from Topshop for "trespassing".
Oxford Street - Up and down the highstreet...
Alas, I ended up outside the main Topshop protest today, but managed to get inside on the various later sit-in protests at Vodaphone, M&S, HSBC, etc. And my fellow protestors were a very friendly, humorous, and creative bunch, who managed to maintain pretty good relations with the police (in part thanks to the police also).
A few particular highlights:
Having the subversive santas outside the M&S sit-in lending their support through to those of us inside by singing political Xmas carols (and the police letting them shove a few hymn sheets under the door so we could sing along with them). Not to mention what I presume to have been the head store security guy losing his keys for the store while we were in there. I kinda felt sorry for him, on a personal level, as maybe it's not the career for him, but it was very funny...
At HSBC people filled in lots of dummy payslips, asking for their tax back, and them posted them in the deposits box.
At the Vodaphone sit-in on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street:
- Various protestors both reading, and even better writing and then reading poetry...
- A couple of fellow protestors phoning Vodaphone from inside their occupied store, trying to get through to someone high up in the company to ask about their unpaid tax bill...
And more generally:
The return of the megaphone later in the afternoon, to add a bit more friendly noise to the chanting up and down Oxford Street, as well as the general level of agreement, understanding, and backing by the general public, once we'd explained what we were doing and why we were there. And last but by no means least, wandering up and down the road seeing how many shops preemptively closed their doors just in case we decide to make them the next target.
First time protester
Well, I learnt a lot yesterday. I met quite a diverse array of people on both sides of the action, who all had various reasons to be there. I had to learn the private property law the hard way in Topshop from their sercurity, and had it explained in a discussion with the police after. Surely not knowing the law doesn't make you an idiot, it means you need to educate yourself in the laws of the land where the government hasn't. Having said that I did feel a bit stupid going into protest and not knowing my rights in various situations.
Anyway, after having been removed from Topshop, I ventured to the Vodafone store, where protesters outside had turned up to an already closed shop, and were standing outside with a banner - "£6bn tax owed, £6bn public cuts" - and most reading or holding books. It seemed the threat of a read-in was enough for Vodafone. I got there at around 15:30ish and stayed until we were given a chat from a policewoman who explained to us that they could basically move us on or arrest us under section 14 of the public order act (but as one of us pointed out, we could move our protest to.... speakers corner in Hyde Park.... perhaps the final bastion of free speech). We were given the information about section 14 in a descriptive manner, and decided the protest had done more than expected, and it was cold and all that, and we would leave. We left.
As section 14 goes, doe's anyone have any experience of it, or information to share? There were 5 of us outside the store at that point, 1 banner blocking the closed shop entrance, a few placards, no violence or noise, often outnumbered by the police and very peaceful. Could they have arrested us still if we remmoved the banner, let the shop open and stood on the side of the doors, on the pavement and continued the protest? The policewoman said we would be arrested if we continued in any manner, which seems to be a hollow threat, but I didn't know enough to argue the point. I am going to read up on the law around these issues but any help would be appreciated.
That was my day, it was good to see so many people out making a point and standing up for what they feel is right against the ever rolling system, which spends I have no idea how much on security, extra staff and even loosing half a days trade in the name of trying to hide the protest and making themselves seem to be the victim.
Finally, if anyone reads this far, is it not the government that lets these companies off the hook with their tax? They are actually making the decisions in our name - its great to be showing the companies and their comsumers some anger at what they do, but it is the people we helped to elect, and the people they choose to put into posistions of power in government bodies like the HMRC that are the real criminals here, and they seem to be getting away with it. I imagine that they are quite happy not to be the centre of attention, so may I be as bold to suggest it is the HMRC who deserves the attention of the protest next?
In which the police behave like bent mechanics...http://vyvianraoul.blogspot.com/2010/12/christmas-shopping.html
When I awoke on Saturday morning it was after a Christmas party, three hours sleep and to the prospect of snow, and standing around in it for a lengthy period of time. No matter, I was on my way to shut down Oxford Street on their busiest, most profitable day of the year; a clear window of opportunity, our Death Star moment.
My target in particular was the Vodafone shop at 374 where, to protest their recent let off of a £6billion tax bill, we were staging a read-in. The idea was that protesters would infiltrate the shop and at the allotted time whip out a decent book, sit down and read it. What’s less violent than that universal good, reading? This was to highlight the fact that, if Vodafone paid what they owe – not any extra because they’re super rich, have broad shoulders and can afford it, simply what they owe – it would not only cover the cuts to libraries but actually cover all of the cuts to local councils that were made in the Crazy Spending Review. If all of the high street banditos – Arcadia Group, Boots, Marks and Spencers et al – paid up, we’d probably all find a nice little banker style tax-rebate bonus in our stockings this Christmas.
In the end, Vodafone had seen us coming and closed the shop for us. Apart from the cold, it didn’t really matter that they’d sent the Imperial Fleet to intervene: it was closed and that was the point.
• An American man - entirely missing the point - shouting ‘get a job and pay some tax’. I assume he pays his, somewhere, but given the rage in his voice, perhaps not.
• The perma-tanned business man who has just paid a £200,000 tax bill and was outraged to learn Vodafone have been avoiding theirs. ‘…What? …How? ….I mean, I’m really angry about this.’ Imagine his reaction when I told him the extent to which the high street was at it:’…WHAT?!’ This was a pretty universal reaction.
• The heartening news, from the lady from the Librarians magazine who was stood next to me, that every council must provide libraries by law (the Libraries and Museums Act). They must also be ‘comprehensive’ but this is open to interpretation, and the loophole that will allow the government to make cuts. Still, at least someone has recognised their value at some point and thought to enshrine that in law.
Actually, the most heartening thing was the level of support, and not just the usual protestor solidarity either. We had to do a little explaining but once you pointed out to people that they pay their taxes fair and square, and the super rich companies do not, even those who had no idea previously were on our side. I’d echo what others have said: walking away from the protest, it did feel like a difference had been made, that people were watching and that, above all, there was a momentum. It also seems to me that the word ‘protestor’ is becoming more and more a part of common usage, and the lines between student protestor, tax avoidance protester, anti-war protester, are being blurred - the movement forming into one Rebel Alliance against the both the cuts and the status quo.
In the end our numbers dwindled until there were just five of us left holding the banner outside Vodafone, which meant we each had our own personal police guard. At 17.37 the Chief Inspector came over to negotiate; they’d been quite reasonable in ‘allowing’ us our democratic right to freedom of assembly but now their reasonableness had gone on for long enough. They told us that either we leave now or get issued with a Section 14 and be arrested. A section 14 is normally used when there is potential for violent disorder or damage to property; we argued that five protesters reading in the cold could hardly amount to that. The other incidence in which a Section 14 can be applied is if our actions impinged on the rights of others, and it was explained to us that our right to protest had now become less important than other people’s right to shop. Freedom of association has its limits, and they are dictated by Vodafone’s opening hours, it seems. They were the legal equivalent of a bent mechanic: determined to find something to charge us for. The inspector further threatened us that his chief had a limit to her patience and has arrested people for less us (than reading?), and tried all manner of warmth related pleading. I told him that it would not be the cold that sent us home, but his dodgy threats.
Earlier on I had seen riot vans outside of Top Shop, and scores of police inside; for the first time actually physically protecting property. ‘Hands off that frock’; ‘put that dress down or you’re nicked’. These agents of the state were more into property than your average estate agent, determine to protect people’s right to buy, even if that tramples over people’s right to protest. We discussed whether it was worth getting arrested to make a point but decided that the negative press would harm the cause more than help it. So we left, cold but ultimately content. The Death Star was not destroyed, but it was dented, and the Rebel Alliance will be having another crack at it very soon indeed…
Ps. Apologies for any incoherence in this post: the combination of three hours sleep on Friday night and five and a half hours stood in the snowy slush in my converse on Saturday afternoon has left me in a state of head bounding delirium. I feel like I’m in Crime and Punishment; did I murder someone? I certainly murdered that Star Wars analogy…