US Uncut -- a Grassroots Uprising Against Corporate Tax Deadbeats
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A few weeks before he died, Howard Zinn had lunch at the Warwick Hotel in Manhattan with New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. Their topic of conversation was, of course, social justice.
"If there is going to be change, real change," Zinn told Herbert, "it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves. That's how change happens."
A year later, the streets of London erupted with citizens who were engaging in Zinn's favorite pastime: active democracy. Students gathered in protest at Parliament Square, but there were also other protests in Oxford, Scotland, Glasgow, Cambridge, Birmingham and Leeds. Across the region, students displayed their frustration with a government that sought to triple tuition fees, effectively pricing young men and women out of their educations.
The UK government's message was clear: Sorry, there's not enough money for the little people. Yet, it soon became clear there should have been enough funds to cover the educations of Britain's youth, and to provide housing for every poor man, woman and child in the country. However, there were some entities - corporations - that were committing the equivalent of economic treason, and that is why the UK is currently experiencing a shortfall in tax revenue.
UK Uncut, a grassroots movement compromised of average citizens, organized in an effort to figure out where the money had gone. As The Nation reports, they made some startling discoveries:
All the cuts in housing subsidies, driving all those people out of their homes, are part of a package of cuts to the poor, adding up to £7 billion. Yet the magazine Private Eye reported that one company alone - Vodafone, one of Britain's leading cellphone firms - owed an outstanding bill of £6 billion to the British taxpayers. According to Private Eye, Vodaphone had been refusing to pay for years, claiming that a crucial part of its business ran through a post office box in ultra-low-tax Luxembourg. The last Labour government, for all its many flaws, had insisted it pay up.
But when the Conservatives came to power, David Hartnett, head of the British equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service, apologized to rich people for being "too black and white about the law." Soon after, Vodafone's bill was reported to be largely canceled, with just over £1 billion paid in the end.
Once news of the theft reached the people, UK Uncut's ranks swelled. They staged peaceful sit-ins that shut down Vodafone's stores. Following the successful protests, the group shifted its attention to one of Prime Minister David Cameron's official advisers, Sir Philip Green.
As The Nation notes, Green, the ninth-richest man in the UK, is also a shameless tax dodger:
Although Green lives and works in Britain and his companies all operate on British streets, he avoids British taxes by claiming his income is "really" earned by his wife, who lives in the tax haven of Monaco. In 2005, the BBC calculated that he earned £1.2 billion and paid nothing in taxes - dodging more than £300 million in taxes.
UK Uncut pointed out that the school sports partnership, one of the programs axed under Cameron's recently implemented cuts, could have been saved if Green was made to pay his taxes.
These kinds of lucid examples of corporate theft spoke to the public. More protests and occupations broke out, inspiring journalist Johann Hari to declare in The Nation that this is how the United States might build a progressive Tea Party. Here were real people exercising the method Zinn advocated his whole adult life: average people, building from the bottom up.