Posts Tagged ‘UK Uncut’

Legal Aid & Illegal Confinement

Tuesday, October 5th, 2021

Eight years ago on Saturday October 5th 2013 I turned up outside the Old Bailey to cover a protest against the governments proposals to demolish a vital part of our justice system, Legal Aid. The proposals will mean that justice becomes largely only available to the very rich, with one law for the rich and another for the poor.

Of course our system of law in the UK is one which has as its base the protection of the wealthy and the establishment and in particular the rights of property owners, dating back to the ideas of private ownership of land introudced and used for its appropropriation by our Norman conquerers, but legal aid has provided a small and important gesture towards equality. The rich and powerful can still use the law to protect their interests, with injunctions and threats of libel and other actions. They can still call upon the police to protect their property and rely on our secret services to work for their interests.

Lee Jasper

The protest came after the government had been consulting on the changes to the legal aid system which proposed making it more restrictive and also cutting the fees to solicitors and barristers. Our combative in nature system of law is complex, time-consuming and allows those who can pay large fees to prolong litigation and have a better chance of success, with costs in some cases being in £millions. It’s a system that favours not the establishment of truth, but those who can employ the most persuasive liars.

From the Old Bailey the march made its way to the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand, where I rushed ahead to find DPAC (Disabled Activists Agains Cuts) already making their way onto the pedestrian crossing to block the road. “They stopped on it and began to padlock together to form a block. The far half of the crossing was blocked by a line of figures dressed in gold, one holding the (plastic) Sword of Justice, and another her Scales.”

Police came and asked them politely to move but they didn’t respond. The marchers arrived for a noisy protest and then a mock trial of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. A number of witnesses were called, some giving testimony of how without Legal Aid they would have been unable to fight their cases, and others reading written testimony from others, and then there was more chanting and drumming as well as poetry and some legal advice before the inevitable guilty verdict.

Police had been getting more impatient and insistent about the protesters leaving the road. They don’t like to arrest people in wheelchairs, partly because it looks bad in the photographs and videos, partly because of the difficulty of providing suitable transport, but also because like the rest of us (except possibly Tory ministers) they have a human sympathy with the disabled. “The DPAC activists in wheelchairs who were still blocking the road consulted with each other and decided it was time to leave, and that they would have a final five minutes of protest and then all leave together.”

I left for Parliament Square where a peaceful vigil was marking a year since British poet Talha Ahsan was extradited to the US. Those taking part, including his brother Hamsa and other family members said that his long-term solitary confinement comes under the UN definition of torture and call for him to be returned home and unjust US-UK extradition laws repealed.

As I wrote:
“Talha Ahsan, an award-winning British Muslim poet and translator has been detained for over seven years without trial and was extradited to the USA on 5th October 2012 with his co-defendant Babar Ahmad. Although he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, the Home Secretary Theresa May refused to prevent his extradition, unlike that of Gary McKinnon, raising suspicions that this relected an anti-Muslim predjudice.”

Talha is a UK citizen and his supporters say that he should have been tried in the UK. Eventually in the US he accepted a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to one of the several charges and was sentenced. The time he had already served meant he was then free and was returned to the UK. His six years before extradition in detention without trial or charge here remains among the longest in British legal history.

More at:

Bring Talha Ahsan Home
UK Uncut Road Block for Legal Aid

Six years ago: 30 May 2015

Sunday, May 30th, 2021

May 30th, 2015 was one of those days where I travelled around London stopping off for various reasons en-route. As always on such occasions I give thanks to the GLC for their efforts which resulted in the London-wide travel card before they were sadly eliminated by Mrs Thatcher, leaving the city largely rudderless for a crucial 15 years when it fell behind other cities in the world – except of course for the financial City of London which further cemented its reputation as the corruption capital of the world.

London is very much a world city, and my first event, outside the Daily Mail offices in Kensington reflected this, with protest by Filipino health workers over their coverage of the case of Victorino Chua, a nurse found guilty of murdering two patients and injuring others. The newspaper used the case to insult Filipino NHS workers who have for years formed a vital part of the NHS. When I came round in intensive care in 2003 it was to see a Filipino nurse who greatly impressed me with his care and attentiveness over the next few days.

It had taken around an hour for me to get to Kensington, and the journey across London to Peckham Rye was around another 50 minutes. I was there not for a protest but for the proposed Peckham Coal Line, an elevated linear urban park whose proponents compared in extremely misleading publicity to New York’s ‘High Line’ walk. And while the public were invited to walk the Coal Line, we were largely unable to do so as it is still an active part of the railway network – and one I took a train along after following around its length and back on existing local roads and paths.

Despite that it was an interesting walk, including a visit to the roof of the multi-storey car park and the Derek Jarman memorial garden. Part of the proposed walk is already open to the public as a small nature reserve, cleared beside the railway line for a massive inner-ring road – part of the proposed London Ringways motorway scheme which was fortunately abandoned after the terrible impact of building its earliest sections including the A40(M) Westway in Notting Hill became clear.

A train from Peckham Rye station took me along the route of the Coal Line to Queen’s Road Peckham and then on to London Bridge, and the Underground to Waterloo where I met with UK Uncut who were to go to an undisclosed location for some direct action. This turned out to be Westminster Bridge, where the protesters blocked the road.

The then unrolled a large yellow banner and began to fill in the slogan that had been marked out on it with black paint. After some parading around on the bridge with it, they then lowered it over the upstream side of the bridge and lit a couple of smoke flares. I’d run down across the bridge and a little along the embankment in front of St Thomas’s Hospital to take pictures of the banner drop.

The banner drop was really on the wrong side of the bridge for photographs and it seemed something of an anti-climax. It was hard to read the banner and its message ‘£12 bn more cuts £120 bn tax dodged – Austerity is a lie’ ” was perhaps a little understated. I think may of those present had expected something rather more direct, both in message and action. I went on with many of them to join another protest in Parliament Square which was just coming to an end, against government plans to get rid of the Human Rights Act.

It was then a short walk to Trafalgar Square, where on the anniversary of the 1967 declaration of Biafran independence, Biafrans were calling on the UK government for support in getting back the country which they claim was taken away from them by the Berlin Conference in 1884 and incorporated into Southern Nigeria. They say Biafra was successor of the Kingdom of Nri of the Igbo people, which lasted from the 10th century to 1911 and was one of Africa’s great civilisations before the European colonisation. As well as backing the call for independence the protest also remembered those who died in the Nigerian-Biafran War.

In the main body of the square, striking National Gallery staff and supporters were holding a rally after PCS rep Candy Udwin was sacked for her trade union activities against the plans to privatise gallery staff.

At the end of the rally, people moved towards the Sainsbury Wing, where security is already run by a private company and exhibitions guarded by outsourced staff. Police blocked the doors to stop them entering, and they sat down to hold a further rally blocking the gallery.

Mass rally Supports National Gallery strikers
Biafrans demand independence
UK Uncut Art Protest
Walking the Coal Line
Filipino Nurses tell Daily Mail apologise

UK Uncut Party against Freud

Tuesday, April 13th, 2021

Protesters meet at Kings Cross Station

Not Sigmund, but his great-grandson, a millionaire merchant banker responsible for government welfare reforms. The ideas behind many of the changes in the benefits systems which are having such disastrous effects on the lives of many and particularly those with disabilities, impoverishing many, driving some to suicide and driving the enormous growth in the need for food banks come largely from the work of one man, David Freud, now Lord Freud. A modern-day Scrooge promoting Victorian ideas, the man who launched a thousand foodbanks. Rather more, over 2000 by 2021.

They came with a notice of eviction for Lord Freud

Freud went into journalism after his PPE degree at Oxford, working for 8 years at the Financial Times before becoming a merchant banker. It was Tony Blair who, impressed by his work raising finance for Eurotunnel and EuroDisney brought him into politics in 2006, asking him to produced a report on the UK’s welfare-to-work system. His 2007 report called for the involvement of private companies paid by results to get people, particularly single parents and those suffering from long-term illness and disabilities back into work and for a single benefit to replace the various benefits for working age people, combining Housing Benefit, Job Seekers allowance etc.

UK Uncut had brought a removal van and cardboard boxes, but…

His ideas were taken up enthusiastically by New Labour and incorporated into a White Paper in 2008, by which time Freud was an adviser to Gordon Brown’s government, but in 2009 he became a member of the Conservative Party, who made him a Lord and a shadow minister under David Cameron, becoming in the 2010 Coalition government Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Welfare Reform at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Police prevented the protesters reaching the house

There he began a programme against people on incapacity benefits, lone parents and the self-employed whose earnings were low, who he said were enjoying a lifestyle of living off benefits. After the 2015 election he was promoted to Minister of State at the DWP and given the job of expanding the Universal Credit scheme, retiring at the end of 2016.

Listening to songs and speeches on the road outside the house

On Saturday 13th April 2013 I went with UK Uncut supporters who travelled from Kings Cross to hold a lively but peaceful protest in the road outside Lord Freud’s home in Darmouth Park, Highgate against the bedroom tax, another of his ideas to disadvantage the poor. At the same time protesters from DPAC (Disabled Persons Against Cuts) visited the home of Ian Duncan Smith and delivered an eviction notice there.

At the party there was street theatre, games, a quiz and speeches about the bedroom tax and other measures against those on low incomes and benefits that Freud was bringing in. The bedroom tax hits particular groups such as foster carers, disabled people and single parents many of whom will be unable to meet the extra rent and will face eviction, including many now in homes with special adaptions for their disabilities. In social housing there simply are not the smaller properties available that the act is designed to force people to move into.

People are also hard hit – particularly in London where rents are high – by the strict limit of the benefits cap. Other measures, including cuts in legal aid and council tax benefits and the end to disability living allowances will also cause real distress, and those benefits that remain are getting a real terms cut by below-inflation increases. Among those speaking at the event were Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and journalist Owen Jones.

Who wants to evict a Millionaire?


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Starbucks Pay Your Taxes

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020

The recent failure of the Arcadia group brought memories of UK Uncut back to mind. Formed in 2010 this “grassroots movement using direct action to fight the cuts and highlight alternatives to austerity” organised a number of peaceful direct actions against tax dodgers in the following couple of years, though more recently it seems to have largely confined itself to posts on Twitter and Facebook – including this on 1st December this year by Rob:

It is not ‘Topshop owner Arcadia group could collapse into administration within days’, it’s ‘billionaire tax exile Sir Philip Green will let company in his wife’s name fail, with massive hole in pension pot and risking thousands of jobs at Christmas time during a pandemic.’

https://www.facebook.com/ukuncut/

I photographed a number of UK Uncut events, and their biggest day of action was 8 years ago today, on Saturday 8 Dec 2012 when there were over 45 protests at Starbucks shops across the UK with women, men and children transforming Starbucks stores into in refuges, crèches and homeless shelters in protest against the impact of the government’s cuts on women and their refusal to clamp down on tax avoidance.

While actions by UK Uncut and others have certainly done much to raise public awareness about the huge amount of tax evasion and tax avoidance by the rich and corporations in the UK it has led to very little action to cut it down. According to HMRC figures for 2018/9, quoted by Full Fact, the the ‘tax gap’ – money that should have been collected as tax but wasn’t – was around £35 billion, of which “£12 billion is attributed to tax evasion, avoidance and organised crime.” Full Fact suggest that tax evasion and avoidance is currently about 15 times greater than benefit fraud.

HMRC claim to have taken many measures to reduce this loss, but it continues to be huge, with far too many loopholes still remaining for the wealthy and companies to legally avoid paying tax on income generated in the UK. Much of the activity of the City of London is devoted to keeping things this way, along with laundering money from criminal enterprises – and the City has its own representative in our parliament – the City Remembrancer – to keep things that way.

Meanwhile, the newspapers and broadcast media plug away at the idea of ‘benefit scroungers’, creating a perception that this is far more widespread than is the case. A 2013 Ipsos Mori survey found that the general public thought that almost a quarter of benefits were fraudulently claimed – over 20 times the actual level. Of course it is still too high, as is the level of those who are underpaid benefits, which is almost as much.

I went with UK Uncut into two Starbucks just off Regent St, going into the Conduit St branch a few minutes before the widely advertised start time for the protest. Staff were denying entry to those they thought would be protesters but I walked in without any problem, and was standing in a long queue to the counter when the protest began. There were speeches and some chanting of slogans inside for around 10 minutes, along with a much larger and noisier group outside who had been refused entry before police arrived and ordered us out, falsely accusing the protesters of behaving in an intimidatory manner towards the staff and customers and threatening them with arrest. We all left quietly to join the large and loud protest outside.

I went down to the nearby Vigo St Starbucks where a similar protest was taking place but was not allowed in and had to take photographs through the windows. Eventually the crowd outside the shop was joined by the others from Conduit St and a rally began.

UK Uncut in Euston Rd Starbucks

I while the rally was continuing to photograph another of the London protests at the Euston Road branch of Starbucks, where the Labour Representation Committee was joining in with the UK Uncut day of action. By the time they arrived, rather later than the advertised time, other UK Uncut supporters had already decided to go inside and sit down, and the doors were locked. Police were rather more friendly here and came and discussed the situation with those sitting down inside, who agreed they would leave when they were requested to do so by the management and then continue the protest outside.

More about the protests at:
Starbucks Euston Road – LRC
UK Uncut Visits Starbucks


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.