On 30 October students from the University of Sussex were involved in a Brighton protest against the government cuts to public services, and a seperate protest against an alleged £6bn tax dodge by Vodafone, organised by UKuncut and Brightstart.
In a recent exposé, published on 16 September, Private Eye magazine detailed that a longstanding tax dispute between HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and Vodafone had been dropped by HMRC, the UK tax authority. One HMRC senior official criticised the outcome of the dispute as “an unbelievable cave in.”
Vodafone officially deny the tax bills and the HMRC dismisses the figure of £6bn as an “urban myth” stating that Vodafone orginally owed £1.25bn and that the figure of £6bn is a fabrication.
Sam Baker, from UKuncut, expressed his anger: “As George Osborne cheerfully sets about slashing welfare and public services for the very poorest, the Vodafone case gives like to his claim that we are all in this together.”
Tom Wills, former President of the Students’ Union, who was in town to photograph the demonstrations, told the Badger that the Vodafone march was initially meant to supplement the wider march against government spending cuts.
However, as word began to spread through social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, that protestors were also gathering outside Vodafone stores in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leicester, Portsmouth, Hastings, Brixton, Worthing, Bristol, Birmingham, York, Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford, and five central London shops, protestors at the Brighton stores took encouragement.
He added: “At the Vodafone store in Churchill Square police seemed to be expecting the protest, the shutter to the store was half-down. But people ran into the store and did manage to get in to protest.
“It was a big scene: it was lively, loud, and people were reading the flyers that people were handing out. It was energetic.” Wills moved to re-join the government spending cuts march soon after.
Later, when he arrived at another Brighton Vodafone store, on Western Road, he stated that it was more “tense than the Churchill Square store because of the greater police presence. The police were physical and heavy handed, and dragged people to arrest them.”
Allie Cannell, one of the eight who was arrested at Western Road, told the Badger that “there was a good public response, and lots of support”. Passersby got involved: “[people were]offering to get us water, biscuits, even one guy offered to get us KFC”.
When asked to move by the police, Cannell chose to stay and was arrested under Section 14 of the Public Order Act of 1986.
Sussex police issued the following statement: “The police action was taken as part of our duty to balance the right to free speech and peaceful protest with the need to prevent disorder and breach of the peace.”
More protesters from the London stores have expressed outrage against the alleged tax dodge, one of the protesters said: “The cuts are not fair; we’re not all in this together, and there are alternatives.
“Why not start by collecting the tens of billions owed in taxes by wealthy corporations? The government is writing off the taxes from big business while treating normal people on benefits like criminals.”
Another protester said: “We will not pay for their crisis! The public need to join together and hit the streets to take concerted action to fight these cuts.”
This scandal is not only confined to the UK. Last week Vodafone was told to pay a 112bn rupee (£1.6bn) tax bill in India.
Unlike in the UK, the Indian Government has given Vodafone 30 days to pay the £1.6bn tax bill, incurred by company’s 2007 purchase of the Indian telephone assets of Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa.
As part of the wider protest, a conglomerate of independent shops, including the Costcutter group and Spar, went on stop the sale of Vodafone mobile phone top-up cards in their stores.
Others offered Vodafone customers free, alternate SIM cards and some even went as far as switching their corporate mobile phone account away from Vodaphone.
Sam Baker, commenting in the Guardian, said: “Vodafone’s own slogan, Power to You, couldn’t be more appropriate. Don’t wait for the unions, don’t wait for the next march, don’t wait for the politicians and don’t wait for us – take the initiative yourself. Get out on the streets and take action.”