UK Uncut Inspires US Groups to Attack Cuts and Tax Avoidance

Published on
by
the Guardian/UK

UK Uncut Inspires US Groups to Attack Cuts and Tax Avoidance

RBS to be focus of latest British demonstrations, while activists' counterpart will target Bank of America

by
Dominic Rushe in New York and Matthew Taylor

UK Uncut demonstrators occupy a bank branch. Activists in the US have planned a day of protests inspired by the campaign group. Photo Luke Macgregor/Reuters

Hundreds of activists in the US are planning to take part in a day of direct action in a move inspired by Britain's fast growing protest group.

US Uncut groups have sprung up from New York to Hawaii in the last three weeks and activists will demonstrate against government cuts and corporate tax avoidance in more than 50 cities on Saturday.

The US protest movement was inspired by UK Uncut, an anti-cuts campaign group that has temporarily closed scores of high street stores accused of tax avoidance since it was set up five months ago.

Last week it staged demonstrations in more than 30 bank branches. On Saturday hundreds of activists across the country hope to stage demonstrations inside more than 40 branches of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

"We spent billions bailing out RBS, yet now the government are cutting our services," said Rosa Brown, 42, from UK Uncut. "They are letting RBS get away with the mistakes they caused and rewarding themselves with massive bonuses but punishing us."

This week it emerged that more than 100 bankers at RBS were paid more than £1m last year and total bonus payouts reached nearly £1bn – even though the bailed-out bank reported losses of £1.1bn for 2010.

"It's just not fair," said Brown. "The government should be making the banks pay, not ordinary people."

The chairman, Sir Philip Hampton, said the number of millionaires was lower than a year ago and that a quarter of the group's 18,700 investment bankers would not receive a bonus from the £950m payout pool agreed with UK Financial Investments, which controls the taxpayer's 83% stake in the bank.

The US protests will focus on the Bank of America, which was one of the biggest recipients of taxpayers' money in the bailout that followed the financial crisis.

According to US Uncut, nearly two-thirds of US corporations and 68% of foreign firms operating in the US pay no income tax. A study from the non-partisan US Government Accountability Office found that 83 of the top 100 publicly traded corporations in the US use corporate tax havens to minimize their tax bills.

"Bank of America paid no federal tax and we gave it $45bn in the bailout," said Alisa Harris, one of US Uncut's New York organizers. "People are tired of sitting at their computers and seething, they want to get out there and do something, It's not enough just to talk about it on Facebook."

Bank of America said it had made a loss of $4.5bn in 2010 and had therefore has not owed federal taxes – but had paid $915m in local corporation taxes. "Bank of America takes its responsibilities to the communities where its clients and employees live and work very seriously," it added.

However, Harris said the focus on Bank of America was just the start for US Uncut activists. "This movement appeals to people because it's focused on something a diverse group of people can agree on – corporations should pay taxes. It's a very commonsense, basic, non-partisan cause."

Joseph Huff-Hannon, a Brooklyn-based writer, said he had been inspired by the protests he had read about in the UK. "The message is very powerful," he said. "It's very much about fairness. Why don't these massive corporations have to pay tax?"

He expected the movement would gain momentum in the US as the April 15 deadline for people to file their tax returns approached. "A lot of frustration here has been channelled in a very reactionary way. It's been anti-government, all about spending and deficits. But the banks and all the others who got us into this crisis have disappeared off the mental map until now."

In Britain UK Uncut has mobilized thousands of activists over the past five months using Twitter and Facebook. But activists say the movement's ongoing success is just as dependent on the enthusiasm of people from all walks of life who have become involved.

Daniel Garvin, one of UK Uncut's original members, said: "Twitter bashes around information but it doesn't create actions. That happens by individuals and groups taking the initiative, holding meetings maybe, working together, coming up with their own ideas, using the website, making resources, props, and contacting the local press, all in an effort to save their own local services. This is the real big society."

It is hoped Saturday's protests will be the group's biggest demonstrations so far, transforming bank branches into classrooms, libraries and creches to highlight some of the services being lost in the government's drastic program of cuts.

David Tucker, 29, said: "The government say the cuts are necessary, but they are doing nothing to rein in the banks or stop tax dodging. Surely it's our society that's 'too big to fail', not the broken banking system."

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