Anti-Cuts Campaigners Plan 'Carnival of Civil Disobedience'

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by
The Guardian/UK

Anti-Cuts Campaigners Plan 'Carnival of Civil Disobedience'

Student groups and tax avoidance protesters will stage occupations to coincide with TUC demonstration on 26 March

by
Matthew Taylor

Anti-cuts protesters in Birmingham last year. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Anti-cuts campaigners are planning a wave of sit-ins, occupations and "people's assemblies" to coincide with this month's TUC demonstration, in a "carnival of civil disobedience" designed to highlight opposition to the government's programme of cuts.

Student activists, tax avoidance campaigners and anti-capitalist groups say they plan to occupy some of the capital's "great buildings", close down scores of high street stores and stage a 24-hour occupation of Hyde Park.

"This is going to be a really important day," said Anna Walker of the campaign group UK Uncut. "We had the student protests and we have seen the growth of UK Uncut, but this is the first time we are going to have people from all over the UK together whose lives are being turned upside down by these cuts. It is going to be the start of something powerful."

The direct action is planned to coincide with the TUC's anti-cuts demonstration on 26 March, when more than 100,000 people – including public sector workers, families and first-time protesters – are expected to take to the streets of London.

UK Uncut, a peaceful direct action group set up five months ago to oppose government cuts and protest against corporate tax avoidance, is calling on its supporters to occupy and close down scores of shops on Oxford Street.

"There will be a call-out for all of our local groups who have been taking action in their home towns to come to London, go on the march, but also to pick a target, like Vodafone, Barclays or Topshop on Oxford Street and close it down," said Walker. "We hope that we will see scores of stores closed down at the same time."

Since it was formed, UK Uncut has forced the temporary closure of branches of more than 100 high street stores including Vodafone, Topshop and Boots, which they accuse of having avoided billions of pounds in tax – a claim disputed by the companies. During its last two "days of action" activists targeted high street banks, which they argue are largely responsible for the economic crisis.

Walker, a charity worker, said that after the simultaneous occupations on Oxford Street, UK Uncut supporters would move on to a new, as yet unnamed, target.

"The plan is that we will start the march together on a UK Uncut bloc and aim for the individual occupations to happen across Oxford Street. People will then come together later in the afternoon to occupy a single, secret target that will be announced on the day. People should be prepared to spend the night."

Meanwhile, activists from last year's student protests, which saw tens of thousands take to the streets to oppose the rise in university tuition fees and cuts to post-16 education, say discussions have been taking place over the past week to finalise their plans for the 26 March demonstration.

"Since Christmas the movement has become much more autonomous. There are smaller semi-independent groups planning small-scale, direct action against a range of targets," said one veteran of last year's protests. "It will be a bit of a disappointment if we get to the end of the day and one of London's great buildings is not occupied. We have to make an impact."

Students staged a protest against the government's plans for the NHS this week and Michael Chessum, the co-founder of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, which helped organise last year's student demonstration, said the focus now was on mobilising support for the demonstration on 26 March.

"There is a general feeling that something has to happen. People are not just intending to turn up, march from A to B, and then go home satisfied they have made their point but defeated.

"This is the start of what is going to be a hot summer of protest against the ideological nature of what this government is doing. It is about grassroots action – from strikes to occupations – and this demonstration will mark the starting point of that fight."

Student activists say it is difficult to predict exactly what form of direct action will take place on the day, but they say they expect tens of thousands of students and young people to join a separate feeder march outside the University of London student union building in Bloomsbury at 10am before making their way to the Embankment, where the main body of the TUC march is congregating.

Students say the campaign has been bolstered since Christmas by an influx of experienced direct action activists from the environmental and anti-capitalist movement. In east London last weekend hundreds of people gathered for the Six Billion Ways conference, traditionally an event focused on environmental issues.

"There was a real change of mood there this time," said one of the participants. "The emphasis was much more on the anti-cuts campaign and wider social justice movement. Before Christmas many people who had been involved in the green movement had not really been involved in the student and anti-cuts campaign, but that has changed and we may well see an influx of individuals and groups, many of whom were involved in the G20 protests in London."

Online, other groups are calling for more widespread direct action in London on 26 March. An organisation calling itself Resist 26 claims it will stage a number of "people's assemblies" along the route of the march and under the banner "Battle of Britain" it is calling for a 24-hour occupation of Hyde Park and "after parties" at famous London landmarks including Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and Buckingham Palace.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan police said the force had been working with the TUC to ensure the demonstration passed off peacefully.

"We want to ensure that those who want the opportunity to protest and express their views are able to do so. However, whilst the Met police and the TUC are hopeful the march will be peaceful, our policing plan will have contingencies to deal with all eventualities. We will respond to any disorder or criminality swiftly and proportionately."

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