In mid-September, more than 1000 people gathered in New York City’s Liberty Plaza in an attempt to occupy Wall Street. By the beginning of October, similar occupations were taking place in over 800 US cities made up of people from diverse backgrounds. Inspired by the Arab Spring and protests in Spain and Greece, the slogan “We are the 99%” has come to epitomise what this growing movement stands for. After an initial media blackout, the usual media pundits started with the hysterical namecalling, and in one of his more insane moments, Glenn Beck called for a Nazi-style purge of these “Marxist radicals”.
And on Saturday 15th October, as New Yorkers marched from Manhattan to Time Square to protest the money being spent on foreign wars instead of on people in the US struggling with no jobs and no health care, almost 1000 occupations were taking place across the globe. Tens of thousands came out in protest against corporate greed and austerity measures from Europe to New Zealand. The largest, and most violent, was in Rome where organisers said 100,000 people had taken part.
In London, the plan to occupy Paternoster Square, where the London Stock Exchange is situated, was thwarted by the police who sealed off the entire area. Instead, people gathered in their thousands in front of St Pauls Cathedral where, despite police attempts at kettling and dispersal, 500 protestors remained through the night. A sign welcomed protestors to Tahrir Square. They were cheered by Transport For London workers: “Good luck, guys. You’re doing this for all of us.” Even Jesus turned up. A field kitchen, a first aid point, a media area and a row of portable toilets have all been set up. In a wonderful show of support, the canon of St Pauls, Rev Giles Fraser, had this to say on Sunday. Similar occupations have also been taking place in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow and Norwich to name just a few.
Readers will probably guess that I didn’t need much convincing to support OccupyLSX when it was launched on 10th October. But it was upon reading three news reports last Tuesday that I realised I had to be at the occupation for they laid bare to me the grim reality of the world in which we live.
A report by ActionAid revealed that 98 of the FTSE-100 companies use overseas tax havens at an estimated loss of £18 billion per year to HMRC. This figure is twelve times the amount lost through benefit fraud. It would pay Britain’s legal aid bill nine times over and is roughly the equivalent cost of the war in Afghanistan. Speaking to The Guardian, ActionAid’s tax justice expert Chris Jordan said: “Tax havens have a damaging impact on the UK exchequer, the stability of the international financial system, and vitally on the ability of developing countries to raise tax revenues which would lift them out of poverty and make them less dependent on aid.” As these multinationals use tax havens to avoid paying their fair share, it is ordinary people in both rich and poor countries who are left to pick up the bill. They make a very small handful of people richer, but they make the rest of us much poorer.
Documents leaked to Private Eye and The Guardian revealed how HMRC’s permanent secretary Dave Hartnett – Britain’s top tax official – personally shook hands on a settlement with Goldman Sachs, waiving £10 million in interest on a failed tax avoidance scheme that would have allowed the company not to pay national insurance on bonuses for its London-based bankers. It took HMRC from the late 1990s to 2005 to demonstrate in court that these devices were illegitimate and, for five more years, Goldman Sachs refused to pay its £30.81 million bill. Hartnett, Goldman Sachs and HMRC have all declined to comment.
The Financial Times reported that the European Banking Authority has given European banks six to nine months to raise their core tier one capital ratios – the key measure of financial strength – to 9%. In other words, banks must seek further recapitalisation so that they keep 9% in their reserves. However, instead of selling their assets to raise this capital, the option favoured by banks is to simply decrease lending. If this happens, the result will be another recession. And in what will amount to another bail out, it is more than likely that the banks will turn to the taxpayer to help raise the estimated £240 billion needed to reach the threshold.
Without taking into account the prospect of another bail out to the banks, these three stories present the British public with a combined loss of up to £28 billion in tax revenue. To give this figure some perspective, the NHS was ordered by the government in March to make efficiency savings of £15-£20 billion by 2015. This has resulted in 54,000 redundancies, with 4,000 more jobs being axed every month, limited access to basic healthcare, the closing of wards and a reduction in ambulance staff in London. Whilst furthering the interests of capital, the government not only undermines the interests of the British public but ignores them altogether.
The road to St Pauls was paved by Cameron’s government. People have lost faith in a set of politicians who have become nothing more than apologists for big corporations and financial institutions – the same that caused the economic mess we are in and then asked the government to help them regain their annual bonuses. As the ConDems continue unashamedly with their austerity programme, without mandate or forewarning in their manifesto, devastating every aspect of British life, a unified message was sent out on the steps of St Pauls that people have had enough. We refuse to pay the price for the banks’ crisis, and we refuse to accept a programme of cuts in public spending that has been forced upon us as necessary and inevitable.
But this is a government of the 1%. And therein lies the problem.
Occupy London camp in front of St Paul’s Cathedral in the city of London. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP
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