UKUncut is one of those groups that has previously touched the zeitgeist, and has highlighted and exploited a small piece of news about the methods of tax avoidance used by large organisations. There is never a hint here that anyone is behaving illegally, merely in a way that seemingly does not recognise a wider social conscience. I have written on a number of occasions about the over-simplificatiom of their argument, as well as the lack of any real alternative – do they really expect organisations, or people, to willingly proceed and pay more tax than they are required to do so? Who judges when they have paid enough? There will always be some academic, liberal, who thinks that companies should not make any profit….and so what was a serious political point, which is sustainable for a few weeks, has now deteriorated into a position that is now wearing thin.
The team in London are creative, however there is a hard core of a handful of people who attend the events, and are no doubt the force behind the action – and all credit to them. I have only been to one other event outside of London, and that was in Birmingham, and it was very muted – they did not have the balls to enter the premises of their targets, and resorted to shouting through a megaphone.
Yesterday’s event in London seemed a little tired. About 20 or so people gathered in Soho Square, and made their way to the mystery location which happened to be a branch of HSBC. The crowd walked into the branch, as if they were regular customers….and as if they were invited – sat down and played their music. There was no panic from the staff or the police – it could easily have been a Rag week stunt, or a bet for Comic Relief. This did not feel like an edgy protest.
The songs that were sung were creative with original anti-cut/tax avoidance lyrics to well known melodies. After 10 or 15 minutes the protest agreed to leave and made its way along Regent Street – stopped outside a branch of Nat west ( which was closed) and then onto the now iconic store of Top Shop. This felt like a token visit to an old friend. The store security displayed their testosterone quite well, and there was little problem.
Then onto the “sitting duck” targets of Barclays and Boots in Picadilly Circus. Barclays seemed to be taking the whole thing very seriously with a couple of heavies filming the demonstration, closing the doors and locking in a few customers. Boots, next door were fairly relaxed, and the jolly security man, did point out that they had been very helpful in the Oxford Street demo ( previously, a hospital was set up in the shop – again, with little fuss).
The event came to an abrupt end after 90 minutes – put their instruments away and went off to a pub somehwere.
It was a pleasant walk through London, the interest was limited, and the message becoming less and less relevant. I do think they need to re-assess where they are taking this – I do hope that they build on their enthusiasm for inventive direct action which is the modern form of protest in 2011. We will see if next week at the “March for the Alternative” demonstration, they shine out and manage to emphasise the edginess of their protest, or continue with what is now becoming Rag Week antics.