Love the iPhone, Hate the Tax Cheat: US Uncut Protests Apple, and Apple Gets Aggressive

News & Politics

US Uncut, the decentralized grassroots movement that works to stop corporate tax dodgers, recently turned its attention to the Apple Corporation.

On Saturday June 4, various US Uncut factions participated in a National Day of Action, targeting Apple stores in 10 cities. In response, the protesters were met with an excessive heavy hand from the maker of the ubiquitous “i” products.

Perhaps best known for its creative stunt against GE, US Uncut is a movement organized through social media that connects corporate tax cheating to public service cuts. As Americans are being forced to endure brutal budget cuts, US Uncut calls for an end to corporate tax avoidance, focusing on Apple, GE, Bank of America, Verizon and other companies that aggressively dodge taxes. The group has led over 300 actions nationwide since February 2011.

The June 4 Day of Action was built on young Americans' love of Apple, which, it turns out, supports the not-so-lovable “Win America Campaign” (WAC). If passed, the WAC legislation would give a tax holiday to Apple and other major corporations like Google and Microsoft, squandering $80 billion in American taxpayers' money -- and making Apple $4 billion richer.

As if Apple lobbying Congress for bigger profits at a time when teachers, cops and other public servants are being laid off left and right wasn't enough, the company -- known as the relative corporate "good guy" -- was more than a little forceful in its handling of protesters in at least four cities.  

The most egregious response seems to have taken place in Columbus, Ohio, where even before the protest began, organizers were threatened with arrest at their meetup place, Starbucks. An hour before the planned action, a vegan activist recognized a plainclothes cop, who stood nearby asking questions about the action.

“He was very polite and said he supports our mission, but said if we went in the store, he would arrest us for criminal trespassing,” US Uncut organizer Alec Johnson told AlterNet. A uniformed cop stood inside the store. The action in the store had to be aborted and the few protesters who weren’t scared away by the interaction resigned themselves to protesting on the street.

“Apple wants you across the street,” was the refrain from a cop in San Francisco as protesters crashed Apple's World Wide Developer's Conference on Monday. US Uncut made history there by putting on the first ever QR Code protest. Joanne Gifford, the California organizer for US Uncut, said the protest started in San Francisco's Moscone Center lobby, where 5,000 attendees gathered to hear Apple announce its new product line. When they went to the sidewalk -- public property -- a member of Apple’s security team approached the cop, and the cop told them to go across the street.  

On the June 4 Day of Action, Apple’s security detail was particularly aggressive, trying to take bullhorns and grabbing cameras. “I’ve been a part of many protests -- Bank of America, BP, Verizon -- and they were much less militant [than Apple],” Gifford said. Gifford also thought the cops at the scene looked irritated, and speculated that was because Apple had overstated the threat.

On the other coast, the story was the same. Chris Priest, the campaign's Boston organizer, noted that they didn’t publicize the location of the protest and thought that Apple had cops at all of their locations. Two and a half hours before the protest, there were cops all over setting up cones to free up the parking area and blocking their intended path to the Apple store. So the protesters changed routes and danced to pre-programmed music from computers in Apple store uniforms for about three minutes before Priest was snatched by a plainclothes cop.

Priest said he had never experienced such rough handling, even when protesting banks. The protesters moved to the sidewalks, and were told they would be in jail until Monday if they tried to go back in the store. Of the cops’ attitude, Priest said, “They seemed like Apple cops, not Boston cops."

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