Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

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

December 18, 2010
3 min read

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

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright