The UK Uncut campaign, which targets high-street tax-dodgers, has captured the imagination of many with its innovative direct-action stunts. Activists from the campaign spoke to Solidarity. An unabridged version of this interview is at http://tinyurl.com/
What are the origins of UK Uncut as a campaign?
Twelve friends met in a pub in October, two nights after the Comprehensive Spending Review was announced and, over pints, started off complaining about the cuts. Someone had brought along a copy of Private Eye with the article about Vodafone’s £6bn tax dodge.
We couldn’t think of a better example to undermine the government’s claims that there is no alternative to the cuts and that we’re all in it together. Someone suggested shutting down Vodafone’s flagship store the following Wednesday. I don’t think many of us believed we’d actually do it but just five days later, 80 people were sitting inside the flagship store on Oxford Street in London.
Our hashtag #ukuncut trended on Twitter and the idea went viral. Within three days nearly 30 Vodafone stores had been shut down across the country.
How does UK Uncut function? It’s notable for its lack of formal structures; is this deliberate?
Yes. A strict hierarchical model would be inappropriate for this sort of protest. It relies on people across the country sharing ideas, tactics and skills but, essentially, taking on the work and decisions for themselves.
How do you see the anti-cuts movement developing and, ultimately, winning?
Diversity. Localism. Solidarity. No one organisation will win this. We need a plethora of groups, ideas, targets and tactics that can dynamically evolve according to the specifics of the campaign. The cuts must be taken on where they will take effect. In the workplace, on the high street, and in local communities.
A lot of general anti-cuts agitation has targeted things like, for example, big banks or military spending. You’ve chosen a slightly different angle by focusing on corporate tax evasion. Why was that?
The issue is a compelling one because it undermines both the There Is No Alternative and We’re All In This Together narratives of the Tories. It was also one that was virtually unknown about even though it’s so simple. But you’re right — there’s loads of ways of attacking the cuts narrative. Tax avoidance is a useful one for now, but things will change and we’ll have to move on.
There’s been criticism from some on the anti-cuts left (e.g. at bit.ly/hJdf3N) of a perceived softness on the part of UK Uncut to capitalism in its “mutualist” or “cooperative” forms. What’s your view on that debate?
Obviously one of the issues of open networks is that not everyone will always agree on stuff. This is inevitable but doesn’t have to be a problem. UK Uncut obviously has no official line on mutuals or co-ops. The person who set up the action took the action down after he was made aware of John Lewis’s record on unions, etc.
I think the episode demonstrates the robustness of horizontal networks rather than their inadequacy. In our three-month history this has been one of the only problems of this type.