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Tue

07

Dec

2010

William Bowles: Rebellion in the High Street?
Tuesday, 07 December 2010 00:36
by William Bowles
“The Middle Class Proletariat — The middle classes could become a revolutionary class, taking the role envisaged for the proletariat by Marx. The globalization of labour markets and reducing levels of national welfare provision and employment could reduce peoples’ attachment to particular states. The growing gap between themselves and a small number of highly visible super-rich individuals might fuel disillusion with meritocracy, while the growing urban under-classes are likely to pose an increasing threat to social order and stability, as the burden of acquired debt and the failure of pension provision begins to bite. Faced by these twin challenges, the world’s middle-classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest.”
— ‘UK Ministry of Defence report, The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme 2007-2036’ (Third Edition) p.96, March 2007 

So, a few rumblings of discontent have surfaced, first with the students and now an interesting development, targeting corporate tax avoiders such as Topshop, owned by Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group who has his multi-billion empire registered in his wife’s name and who is resident in tax-free Monaco, where of course she’s really busy running the Arcadia empire.

“With a personal fortune of more than £4bn, [Sir Philip Green] owns the Arcadia Group, whose fashion chains include Topshop, Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans and Miss Selfridge.

“His wife Tina is the direct owner of Arcadia, and she is officially a resident of Monaco. This enabled her to gain a tax-free £1.2bn dividend in 2005.

Speaking in August about the tax status of his wife, Sir Philip told the BBC: “My wife’s not a tax exile – my family do not live in the United Kingdom, it’s somewhat different.”" — ‘Topshop’s flagship London store hit by tax protest‘, BBC News Website, 4 December, 2010 [my emph. WB]

Organized by UK Uncut, who have also targeted Boots, HSBC, Barclays and Vodafone, in an economy largely composed of consumers, as I suggested in 2008 it’s a logical development that corporate interests in the high street become the target of protest, especially when we’ve been screwed out of £80-90 billion to pay for their deficit.

UK Uncut had protests right across the UK. Shops in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Leicester, York, Bristol, Portsmouth, Southampton and Cambridge as well as here in London, were picketed, some protestors even supergluing themselves to shop windows.

UKUncut say that the total tax avoidance bill involved comes to a staggering £51 billion annually, though I’ve read figures as ‘low’ as £25 billion. Whatever, in two or three three years that would be enough to pay off the ‘deficit’.
 

So what kind of a future does targeting corporate interests on the high street have as one arm of the struggle to end the madness called capitalism?

“There is something so interesting about these direct attacks on British chainstores, just as there is about the University for Strategic Optimism’s lectures in banks and supermarkets (you bring the market to education, we bring education to the market). What does it mean, this physical shut-down of the architecture of consumerism? It is, in the first place, an attack on those corporations and people (and of course a corporation is legally a kind of ‘person’) which have avoided tax

/../

But to directly disrupt the performance of shopping (on a Saturday in the run-up to Christmas no less!) as a way of making clear the anger towards those who avoid tax, while everyone else is supposed to pay more is rather brilliant: it indicates, among other things, an absolute fatigue with the corporate face of city centres. There has long been a slightly twee attack on the blankness and generic replicability of British highstreets in favour of independent or ‘unique’ shop; the direct forced closing of these tax-avoiding chain stores is so much more relevant. It is an attack on the boredom of everyday life, of the fakeness of cities, the monotony of consumerism…Shut them all down! Reclaim the streets!” — ‘a nation of shopkeepers’, Infinite Th0ught, New Left Project

A cry from the heart indeed but does this represent the majority of people hitting the malls every weekend or is this the educated, lefty middle class speaking? But connect it to the export of jobs to the countries that now produce the goods we buy in Topshops across the land, and the larger picture becomes apparent: An economy that has been completely hijacked by the corporate/political class and as the writer says, what we have is an ugly, corporately-cloned culture that’s spread like a disease across the land.

Sir Philip Green’s sleight-of-hand is of course ‘legal’, just as bailing out the banks were and the massive cuts in government spending, they’re all ‘legal’, so what recourse do we have? The rules are all made up to favour Sir Philip Green and his class. Clearly direct action is now pretty much the only avenue open to us especially now, after the Liberal Democrats stabbed their supporters in the back, thus enraging even middle-of-the-road voters. So perhaps the ‘futurists’ at the MoD were right and they have better grasp of events than the left does? Not really surprising given that the left generally expends more energy in-fighting than it does fighting the enemy.

And where is the trade union movement in all this? It’s a nightmare situation for organized labour who, by law are not allowed to engage in ‘political’ strikes. Moreover many of its members work in the stores that have been picketed. But this shouldn’t stop them from showing solidarity in other ways, after all they give millions to the damn ‘Labour’ Party every year so why not a few quid tossed in the general direction of real progressive change if they are so concerned about protecting their members interests?

The potential power of even our diminished trade unions was demonstrated this past weekend when Spanish air traffic controllers all called in sick at the same time and the government had to declare a state of emergency and force the workers back to work. So it’s not size that matters but where in the chain of capitalist management they work that counts. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending how you look at it), in the UK the biggest block of trade union members all work for government which effectively results in a kind of stalemate politically speaking. They’ll strike maybe when the layoffs start to really bite, by which time it’s too damn late (the TUC plan a big demonstration for next February, I can hardly hold my breath for the suspense of it)!

Elsewhere, on the same Website, NewLeftProject, there’s another piece, Strategy and tactics in the anti-cuts movement but it makes for rather depressing reading as it is it comes down to yet another appeal to end sectarian behaviour on the ‘left’, which by-the-way I’m all for but it reveals a fundamental problem with the left and one that’s been around for decades. The writer Luna 17, also spends a deal of time on the role of the trade union movement, or rather its lack of involvement but offers no solutions or even analysis as to why the trade unions are absent from the struggle.

So while the comrades were slugging it out at the Coalition of Resistance conference[1], pissed off people were gluing themselves to shop windows in high streets up and down the land. Clearly this is just the beginning but without some kind of national coordination that ties these separate struggles together, protests such as UK Uncut’s risk becoming nothing more than a TV news-bite until the next student protest produces more dramatic footage for the disciples of Goebbels to flood the media landscape with.

Note
1. Watch a video of the Coalition of Resistance conference here

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