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UK Uncut: direct action spreads against the cuts

The UK UNCUT occupation of luxury goods department store Fortnum and Mason during the March for the Alternative mass demonstration was part of series of stunts and protests the direct action network have organised over the past months. Over 100 protestors staged a mass sit-in and entertained themselves playing music and games.

The network has organised a string of high profile flashmobs and occupations targeting tax-avoiding mega corporations such as Topshop and Vodafone. They have turned banks and shops into hospitals, libraries and theatres with Sam West, Josie Long and Mark Thomas performing.

The actions have been remarkably successful, taken up by numerous groups up and down the country, and has a struck a chord with ordinary working class people.

It is little wonder: their message that big-business should pay their tax has resonated with working people at a time of massive public sector cuts. It exposes the hypocrisy of a government invoking the language of austerity while letting corporations get away with tax-avoidance on an eye-watering scale. There is no shortage of wealth in the UK to pay for public services – the problem is it that it sits in the pockets of big business.

The action on 26 March was met with heavy police repression, with over a hundred activists arrested on trumped up charges of ‘aggravated trespass’. It shows that the state fears civil disobedience.

But UK Uncut faces a challenge if it is to have a lasting impact on the resistance movement. There is a limit as to how far actions can go if they just name and shame the tax-dodgers – we need to develop a critique of capitalism and a clearer anticapitalist message by exposing how tax-dodging is part and parcel of this system, and how we need to overthrow the system, not just curb its excesses.

Anticapitalism

Although many activists in UK Uncut consider themselves anticapitalist, its arguments have been more limited in scope. The positive side is that this has opened up the actions to a range of new people, who haven’t yet come to the conclusion we need to get rid of the whole system.

The negative side, however, is that after the first wave of actions, we need a political discussion as to where to go next.

Without a clearer anticapitalist message, UK Uncut is in danger of falling into the trap of drawing a line between the ‘good’ corporations who pay their taxes and the ‘bad’ ones. This was seen at the high point of its actions, when a group of activists called an action in praise of John Lewis, publishing a manifesto which argued that co-operative-based capitalism was the way to go. Although there was a backlash against this perspective in the network, it shows there is still a debate to be had.

Another difficulty UK Uncut faces is that currently it operates as a loose network, mainly mobilising through Twitter and the social media.

In many ways this has been its strength, allowing it to mobilise groups of people quickly in towns and cities across the country. But if UK Uncut is to send out a more concrete political message, it will needs to have a debate on its aims, goals and methods – just like any campaigning organisation does.
We certainly need militant direct action in the fight against the cuts, and now we need to link it to the mass workers movement.

Imagine how effective it will be on 30 June if actvists occupy the head quarters of companies which are proposing job cuts and a clearer perspective to fight against the government cuts and reform agenda.

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