Sunday, 6 February 2011

I protest

Most of us would agree that it is morally wrong for a company to avoid paying taxes in the country in which it is trading. Especially at a time when ordinary citizens are being asked to embrace austerity. And that is why I found myself, with my husband and a few other friends and allies, holding a peaceful protest on a picnic rug in front of Boots in Lewes this Sunday.

As I have written before, if injustices are not being addressed by our leaders, we need to use the power of protest to challenge those injustices. Over time, many changes have been brought about by such protests – such as the votes for women by the Suffragette movement or the end of slavery by the Abolitionists. At the time, the campaigns were denounced as marginal or wrong-headed. But at some point, the issue that was being campaigned about was overturned as a new reality came into play.

There are now some very dark injustices being revealed in our world, and I am particularly exercised by the barefaced bonus culture of baled-out banks and the tax-avoiding greed of corporations and some very wealthy individuals. Boots recently moved its headquarters to Switzerland from where it now pays £14 million in taxes annually compared with £100 million in 2007.

So we settled in on our picnic rugs and I poured a nice cup of green tea from my Baltica teapot and Susan supplied us all with biscuits. We read out Tom Paine quotes. Inevitably, the police arrived, two van loads full. We were politely asked to move, and given a five-minute deadline. I moved just 30 seconds before the time was up and was grabbed by three coppers who demanded I give my name and address. I refused, believing this was my right. They told me that they would arrest me if I didn’t give my details. I refused. They tried to handcuff me; I resisted. They twisted my arm behind my back and marched me, bent over – very undignified – to the police van where I was handcuffed and arrested. My shoulder and my pride were hurt. I was told I would be ‘de-arrested’ if I gave my details. After a while I did, to a police video camera, and was released. Presumably I will now be joining the rising numbers of people logged on a protesters database.  My information is this kind of intimidation is illegal and I will be taking legal advice.

Meanwhile, four of the protesters who refused to unblock the entrance were arrested and taken to Worthing police station and released by midnight, a full 12 hours after the protest.

It seemed appropriate to be celebrating Thomas Paine’s birthday (on 29 January) on the doorstep of Boots because he had some pretty sharp things to say about wealth and tax back in the late 1700s:
‘Separate an individual from society and give him an island or continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property, cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected to the end in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes, on every principle of justice,  gratitude, and of civilisation, part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.

‘This is putting the matter on a general principle, and perhaps it is best to do so; for if we examine the case minutely it will be found that the accumulation of personal property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little from the labour that produced it; the consequence of which is that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer abounds in affluence.’

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