Truro was put on the political map on Saturday, with over 20 activists from all over Cornwall shutting down tax-dodging stores in the city as part of the UK Uncut ‘Pay Day’. Demonstrations took place in over 50 towns and cities across the country, with Truro’s protest listed among the most successful in newspapers – from the Observer to Socialist Worker.
Meeting at 11, campaigners marched from Lemon Quay to Topshop chanting ‘Philip Green, pay your tax’, referring to the notorious tax-dodger who is advising the government on ‘austerity’ measures. The police, in stark contrast to the Met in London, were friendly and enabled the peaceful but effective protest to go ahead without intimidation or violence.
The group immediately filled Topshop, leafleting customers and shutting down the whole store for some time. After occupying both floors, we eventually agreed to leave, but maintained a similar level of disruption outside. Though the aim was to pressure Philip Green, a large part of the day of action was about informing the public, so hundreds of leaflets were given out and many interesting conversations took place with shoppers. The level of public support was encouraging, with a number of people thanking and congratulating the demonstrators.
To add to the festive mood the 20 or so activists sang Christmas carols – but with a twist, ‘O tidings of Greedy Billionaires’ one of the more popular anthems of the day. The ‘Big Society Revenue and Customs Entertainment Division’ gave Christmas shoppers a mixture of serious political sentiment and seasonal cheer.
Over the course of the day many other Arcadia-owned stores were closed, with BHS, Evans, Burton and Dorothy Perkins temporarily shutting down as students, trade unionists and other local groups picketing the retail outlets.
The security in all the stores was double or even triple the usual amount. But through quick discussion and fast paced decision-making and mobilisation, we were able to achieve a lot with limited resources, something that is becoming a theme across the country with extremely localised and grassroots campaigns springing up under the UK Uncut banner via Facebook and Twitter.
Towards the end of the day we returned to Burton, which had previously been picketed but not completely closed. Going in one at a time, we were able to fill the store with anti-tax dodging activists and then blockade it from within. With protesters both inside and outside, it became increasingly embarrassing for the often aggressive security to continue keeping the store open.
Surprisingly, the Evans occupation was arguably the most successful, with just five protesters mingling inside the store, and then upon the blow of a whistle blockading the entrance. Posters were put up while a large crowd gathered outside. After around half an hour of singing, chanting and occupying, we were ‘escorted’ out by private security.
Despite the freezing temperatures, actions like these took place all over Britain aimed at forcing Phillip Green to pay the £285m of tax he owes us, for Vodafone to pay back the £5-6bn they recently dodged, and for other companies such as Boots (who avoid £84m a year) to end the corrupt practice of tax-avoidance which takes place while ordinary people struggle to buy food for their families.
There will be more UK Uncut actions in the coming months, and more demonstrations in Truro to come. Democracy is being put into action, and the lack of top-down leadership seems, at least for the time being, a huge benefit to the anti-cuts cause.