Published in the Guardian.
On Saturday hundreds of thousands took to the streets of London to protest against the cuts. The turnout was much bigger than expected, and the message was clear: people in Britain are totally opposed to the government’s choice to prioritise the needs of bankers and big business over those of ordinary citizens.
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 has been born. The UK Uncut actions included people dressing as doctors to transform tax avoider Boots into a hospital, in protest against the £20bn 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 staging an extract from The Voysey Inheritance by Granville Barker.
In nearby Soho Square an open air comedy venue was created, where Josie Long and Mark Thomas performed to an audience of nearly a thousand. These actions continued in the creative, fun and inclusive vein that UK Uncut has become known for, highlighting the tax gap and the injustice of bailing out the banks that caused the financial crisis and are awarding their bosses grotesque bonuses.
The UK Uncut actions were organised to work in tandem with the TUC March for the Alternative in order to make space for people wanting to engage in creative civil disobedience as their way of expressing opposition to the cuts. It was positive. It was in solidarity. We were not seeking to grab headlines – we did what we always do, engage in 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 & Mason, to stage an occupation. This foodstore is owned by Whittington Investments, which runs a devious tax avoidance scheme, stuffing money in Luxembourg and avoiding £10m a year in tax. This money could pay for about 500 nurses.
Over the last six months UK Uncut has creatively occupied shops owned by various tax dodgers. Last Saturday was no different. Inside Fortnum & Mason about 150 people read books, sang songs, held up banners and listened to music – creative civil disobedience against the cuts. We had many of the store’s 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 up. We weren’t even asked to leave. There has been tremendous confusion in the media about what UK Uncut had organised. Some on Twitter have been asking whether we should have organised an action at the same time as the march. Some who attended the march feel we hijacked their event. To this we say: “We are with you, and our occupations were in no way an attempt to grab headlines.”
There has been anger directed at us because some media outlets incorrectly used our name for actions we did not organise, giving every action the name UK Uncut. But it is clear, if you spend two minutes on our website, who we are, what we are about, and what our plans were. More accurate, grassroots reporting is emerging that tells the true story. UK Uncut will continue to take part in 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.