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Topshop and the solidarity of the ‘ordinary shopper’

Jeremy Wight finds that 'shoppers' aren't at all annoyed with the tax protesters - whatever the right tries to claim
18 December 2010

What is most remarkable about UKUncut's protests at tax dodgers like Philip Green and Vodafone is how easy it is to explain them to passers-by - and see them not only agree with you, but join in.

In the aftermath of today's successful day of action, right wingers are trying to whip up a predictable panic about lefties standing in the way of shoppers on the last Saturday before Christmas.

"The main victims of this form of protest are the people trying to buy Christmas presents for their loved ones," cries arch school privatiser Toby Young at the Telegraph.

And if you'd never been to one of the protests, as I'm sure those retweeting such sentiments haven't, you might think that was the reality.

But at the protest in London today, inside the Oxford Street Topshop, what I witnessed was in fact a spontaneous outpouring of solidarity, or at least sympathy, from ordinary 'shoppers' who had known nothing about the cause.

The initial sit-in, in the jewellery section of the store, attracted lots of attention from passers-by. Most took leaflets. Many discussed the cause with the occupiers. And some - to my, to be honest, near-disbelief - proceeded to sit down and join the protest.

Again and again, I came across people who knew nothing of Twitter or direct action, but had simply come across the sit-in and decided it looked like a good idea. "Where did all the money go? He sent it off to Monaco," chanted a young woman who admitted to being dressed head-to-toe in Topshop clothes.

"It's only fair, isn't it," one elderly man said to me. "The rich should pay their tax like anyone else. I'm just glad someone's doing something."

And it wasn't just the hardcore activists who started booing when security guards started manhandling people out of the store.

"What are you doing?" shouted someone who was queuing to pay. "They're not doing anything. Stop it!"

Later, after I'd been thrown out of the shop myself, a woman ran up to me, holding shopping bags from several other stores. "What's this all about?" she asked excitedly.

I searched around for a leaflet, before just explaining that Philip Green had avoided paying any tax on a £1.2 billion payout to his wife in Monaco, and we were here to make the point that if the rich paid their tax there'd be no need for cuts.

"Brilliant!" she replied. "You're absolutely right." She almost jumped into the crowd, suddenly joining in the chants: "Pay your tax! Pay your tax!"

Are these isolated incidents? No. Every activist who was on one of the protests today will have stories like these.

What I'm yet to come across, though, is any tale of someone coming up to the protest and being annoyed that it's stopped them from doing their sacred Christmas shopping.

In the right wingers' imagination, the masses are outraged that some "a bunch of red-faced students" (Toby Young again) would come between them and the great temples of consumerism.

But in reality, the vast majority really do want the rich to pay their damn tax.

UK Uncut: www.ukuncut.org.uk


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Topshopper 18 December 2010, 20.25

A similar account from the Vodafone protest:

“The level of support was overwhelming. I have never been on a protest which felt so strongly as if our message was getting through, it was working, people were listening. The publicity over the last few weeks has worked. Lots of people nodded sagely, familiar with our arguments. Most – literally most – of the people who responded were on our side. That’s never, ever happened to me at an action before. It was brilliant.”

Anthony Martin 18 December 2010, 20.45

For the last 30 years the rich scum of the land have used unregulated capitalism as a foundation for predatory domination of resources and supply lines. This has lead to 5% of the population dominating 90% of the entire wealth of the west. They’ve been helped along by corrupt and biased governments and manipulated laws.
These bast**ds have become the terrorists that have driven millions and millions of peoples lives into utter poverty and misery.
While fat-cat Bankers and their fraudulent scum in government continue to cash in on colossal bonuses and bank bail-out cons, the public are left powerless and cowardice in the face of totalitarian dictatorship laws and Police brutality tactics. The fear factor that prevents citizens joining protests and taking actions are honed very well by the rich scum of the land and a manipulated media. Smear tactics of ‘thug/anarchist rallies’ are aired via propaganda broadcasters like BBC & SKY. Government manipulated institutions with fat-cat bosses at the helm.
Well now the citizens have got a legitimate way of taking action. They can join @UKuncut on Twitter or their website http://www.ukuncut.org.uk without fear of doing anything illegal.
People fear joining protests because of the big brother state and being victimised and brutalised by the Police state in UK. Governments can and will create as many ‘laws’ to protect the corrupt wealthy scum as they darn well like but, they will be resisted.
Spread the word and join the well over due revolution now starting to take shape.

Dominic gettins 18 December 2010, 21.08

No violence, perfectly targeted, ego-less, altruistic direct action. Contrary to what the right wing say this was brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Please keep this going.

Maria S 18 December 2010, 22.20

Interestingly, we did get some negative heckles in Leeds today. One guy yelled “Do you even pay tax?!”, to which people responded with a torrent of “Yes, I’m a teacher” or “I’m a pensioner” but then he started yelling at the young people protesting, “they don’t though, do they, they’re students”. We also had a couple of people shout “Get a job!”, which just made me laugh – we’re actually trying to draw attention to job cuts, amongst other things. Some people still don’t get it, so patience and persistence are vital.

Ian Anstice 19 December 2010, 08.33

These demonstrations were fantastic. Everything I have read – please see http://helenic.dreamwidth.org/347779.html – gives me hope. The public will support them if they know about them. Let’s see if the national media cover the protests at all.

It was especially great to see a “library bloc” at Vodafone. Public libraries are facing the greatest cuts in history with around 350 already under threat and perhaps 1000 by the end of 2011. For a list and maps of library cuts see http://publiclibrariesnews.blogspot.com/. For reasons to defend libraries see http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/

yawn 19 December 2010, 09.23

I’ve never read such a biased account in my life.

You are no better than those you protest against, with your refusal to see both sides of the argument.

If you had applied all this enthusiasm to getting better jobs and earning more money yourself, you too would be in a position to be in the top 5%, and if you were, would you be clamouring to pay more tax than you needed to? No, you would be holed up in Monaco with the rest of the fat cats, counting your riches and not giving a toss about these protests. We all would.

This protest strikes me as nothing more than a bunch of jealous people who would rather complain about other’s success than use their energy to get on with thier own lives.

And as for disruption, if that idiot dresses as santa hadn’t glued himself to the door of BHS, then those 10 policemen it took to arrest him could have been pursuing regular activities, such as catching criminals and the like.

Its fairly typical that whenever the next big ‘anti-government’ or ‘anti-corporate’ protest is arranged it brings out the usual anarchists who see any opportunity to simply raise hell with no decent reason, no logic and no thought for any other person on the planet.

Selfish is all they are…

bristolprotestor 19 December 2010, 10.11

Not jealous. I have a large house, savings and until I retired was in the upper tax bracket. But I believe in public services – and a cohesive society. So I was there protesting.

Overall we had excellent responses – a lot of understanding – there was the odd heckle. Great campaign to get people talking – really works. We must keep going.

ulysses 19 December 2010, 10.39


Astonishing though it may be for you to hear, but not everyone aspires to be earning enough money to be in the ‘top 5%’. People can actually be happy in all sorts of earning positions from minimum wage upwards.

I believe in top quality public services: I want my children to attend well-resourced schools, taught in smaller classes; I want to go to hospital knowing the best facilities are there; I want my rubbish bins collected by staff who haven’t been forced to take a 30% paycut…but none of this is possible if tax is being avoided by those who can afford to hire the most expensive accountants.

jessie 19 December 2010, 11.28

On behalf of disabled people I salute and thank you protesters. I would be there with you if I could. Under this govt it seems some of us will pay the ultimate price for the greed and incompetence of the financial sector, whilst people like Philip Green continue to wallow in extreme privilege.

Anthony Martin 19 December 2010, 13.18

What an ignorant little ranter you are. You epitomise the true scum in society with your attitude and smear tactics. You’re obviously of the ‘Hang ’em And Flog ’em’ Briggade. The evil scum that would shoot homeless people and promote sweatshop slave labour.
These protests are being conducted by educated individuals who have an altruistic desire to see a better fairer society. (oh, perhaps you need to look up that word ‘altruistic)
Anyone with a degree of common sense can deduce that unregulated predatory capitalism + corrupt government + greedy indifferent scum like you + population increase + technology taking over human labour = mass inequality, poverty, homelessness, hate and protests.
People like you are pure selfish and blinded by your own greed and indifference. People like you try to stereotype protests into ‘thug/anarchist’ rallies. People like you encourage Police brutality and totalitarian dictatorships.
People like you are the reason why the peoples revolution is now starting to take place. Not by uneducated louts as you would like to portray but, by people in work, financially comfortable and not brainwashed by the government propaganda BS perpetrated by people like you, the BBC, SKY etc.
Grow up you prejudice scum.

Richard Hering 21 December 2010, 01.30

Jeremy – thanks for an excellent piece. I wonder if we could use some extracts to put in our timeline of last Saturday’s protests at http://visionon.tv/payday

Richard Hering 21 December 2010, 01.31

Sorry, by the way we always credit both journal/blog and author.

Macca43 26 December 2010, 21.37

Those protesting, unlike Toby Young didn’t get a leg up in the jobs market due to a connected father. Odious twerp who repeats tired old cliches without any factual basis.

Comments are now closed on this article.

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