New Internationalist

Just who is being violent?

It’s as though the news stories about Saturday’s big London demo were written before the event.

The peaceful protest against the Con-Dem program of drastic public service cuts would be ‘hi-jacked’ by violent elements.

The day would be ‘marred’ by ‘thugs in black’ – anarchists, who for some reason were to be dubbed ‘fascists’ and ‘mindless’ by various officials.

Well, I was one of the 250,000 or 400,000 (according to different police statistics, depending on the point was being made) and my day was not marred.

The march, called by the Trades Union Congress, was amazingly good natured and represented a good sampling of British society from across the country.

Most were happy to march and rally and express their views with chants and placards, drums and whistles.

A comparative few protesters wanted to take more direct action. Hence the peaceful occupation of the Queen’s grocer, Fortnum and Mason, by 300 or so activists from UK-Uncut, the organization that has been targeting companies accused of tax avoidance. (Some £120 billion is lost each year due to tax evasion and avoidance – more than the £80 million or so budget cuts the government is making this year.) For video footage see

A different lot of protesters threw paint and broke the windows of banks, tax avoiding shops such as Vodaphone, Top Shop and Boots, and iconic symbols of conspicuous wealth – such as the The Ritz hotel.

And others, many of them anarchists, attempted to occupy Trafalgar Square for 24 hours, resulting in the clashes with police, now beamed across the world.

I was one of the many who marched peacefully and expressed my views that way. But when I saw the UK-Uncut occupation of tax-avoiding Fortnum and Mason, I thought: ‘Good! That makes the point’

Coming across the paint-daubed and smashed windows of HSBC or RBS I did not think: ‘The people who did this have hi-jacked our protest’. Rather, that this was an expression of the outrage that many, many people feel. And compared with the damage that the banks and financial sector have done, and continue to be allowed to do, this is nothing. Really nothing. These smashed windows are not costing lives and livelihoods.

The actions of banks and tax avoiding corporations are costing lives and livelihoods as vital public services are raided to pay for the folly and greed of the rich. And this damage will last for generations. Those who are getting all hissy and prissy about a few smashed windows really need to get a sense of perspective.

Among the many homemade placards on the march was one carried by a small girl which read simply: ‘This is a sign’.

Indeed – and there are many ways of making it.  People are angry and rightly so.

And there are – and should be – different strategies for battling against the politically motivated destruction of the public.

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  1. #2 grumpooka 28 Mar 11

    I absolutely 100% agree. I was talking to my mum - who's, let's put it this way, someone who thinks the Daily Mail is a 'posh paper' - and she put it thus: 'well if they will take money off us and give it to their friends, it's not surprising people are angry. And it makes a lot more sense if they smash up bloody banks than my bus-stop'.

  2. #1 Pongo 28 Mar 11

    Great article Vanessa.

    I could add my views, but [a href=’’]this picture articulates them better that I can.

  3. #3 pokoa 28 Mar 11

    Fantastic piece.

    Its about time that someone got this whole thing into proportion. If some windows get broken, good! These bastards have been exploiting working people for years, and now they want to take away our childrens future.

  4. #4 bimblist999 28 Mar 11

    The violent minority

    I thought this ’letter from the violent minority’ was worth sharing.

  5. #5 Brad 29 Mar 11

    Thanks for some welcome perspective! No-one died, meanwhile cuts will ruin lives and probably kill.

  6. #6 Giedre 29 Mar 11

    Completely agree!

    When I posted some pictures from Saturday's demo on facebook, I received a comment: 'Was it [the demo] violent?', to which my reply was: 'Not more violent than the government's actions!'

  7. #7 lamontjenny 29 Mar 11

    thank you for this article! I was getting extremely frustrated with the news coverage of the event.

  8. #8 brumagem 29 Mar 11

    Speaking of perspective...

    I couldn't care less about the media spin on the situation, they're just doing their job, selling papers. Thankfully, I can think for myself and form my own reflections and opinions.

    How do you plan on saving the crippled economy, Vanessa? I'm personally all for people protesting and think it's vital that we do express our opinions. However, if the opinion is simply ’don't make cuts to my unsustainable lifestyle’ and there is no realistic solution being sought then it's utterly futile. It's the same old ’no ifs, no buts’ attitude that is just completely moronic and utterly selfish - things HAVE to change, and we have to move with them and not throw our toys out the pram.

    We can't just claim all the avoided tax back in one fell swoop for us to then fritter away at the current level of economic decline and social instability, and irresponsibility - tax avoidance, unlike evasion, is perfectly legal and offers business a chance to expand, and improve our economy in the long run.
    Immediate, full repayment to the state would be daft as it would cripple most companies and we'd be left with fewer jobs and no profit to the economy. One has to presume that the said £120 billion is being reinvested to secure future economic growth, and not to line the pockets of the elected government and their wealthy chums. Tax evasion is a criminal offence, and we should presume it is being addressed accordingly – I’d be interested to know the ratio of Evasion vs Avoidance for this £120 billion. You presumably got both figures from some reliable source and added them up; do tell.

    I certainly don't want to see piles of invaluable state money wasted on the current level of social benefit dependency and over-education beyond the compulsory. Admittedly, some of the public sector cuts are fairly alarming, and a balance needs to be found to sustain the necessary services at their current, bare essentials level.

    Ironically, policing events like this costs the public sector thousands (especially when deliberate damage is caused!), and often results in a knee-jerk, negative reaction from both parties as hurried decisions are made in the face of such pressure and unrest.

    Ultimately, we've been in decline long enough and we're going to inflict irreversible damage on ourselves if we continue to operate in such weighty levels of debt and state dependency. It's really not Us and Them, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the powers that be have a far greater perspective on this than most and will find the right, long-term solution.

    If you have a problem with tax avoidance then it's the law you need to change. Smashing a few windows here and there just proves one's lack of understanding and foresight. It’s far more a display of petulance than justified ‘outrage’; you’re either grossly under-informed and wildly naive, or simply anarchistic.

    This article has no weight to it other than ’I dislike the news coverage of the TUC march, in general’ - which is fair enough, but you’re not actually saying anything remotely constructive, or of any unbiased, factual substance. Poor article.

  9. #9 scherzo 29 Mar 11

    Brumagen writes that 'you can bet your bottom dollar that the powers that be have a far greater perspective on this than most and will find the right, long-term solution'.

    Er... correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it 'the powers that be' who landed us into overdependence on a deregulated finance sector - and economic liberalisation that could spread the contagion speedily around the world when it came crashing down?

    It hardly matters if 'the powers' happen to new Labour or Con-Dem, they're all following the Thatcherite model, it seems to me. Let the private sector profit as it pleases and make the public pay when it all goes belly-up.

  10. #10 brumagem 29 Mar 11

    You're referring to the powers that were, Scherzo, when talking about how we came to this situation - Brown's Labour would have us still spiralling wildly out of control, whereas ConDem seem to be tackling the issue head on, unapologetic as it is. Also, don't think for a minute that the public are blameless. If we, generally, had any inkling of social responsibility and didn't work ourselves into huge personal debts, falling back on the treasury, then we wouldn't be in a recession in the first place. We played ourselves into the hands of the bankers willingly through excessive borrowing beyond our means. I don't feel I'm owed nor deprived of anything, and am happy to take whatever measures are necessarry to stabilise the economy, and secure our future. I'd blame our culture over the government, personally.

    You want to wait and see how 'belly up' it goes when we continue blindly down the current path. We're all going to suffer either way, it's more or less a damage limitation excerise which we all have to take part in. Sitting and watching the fire burn simply isn't an option.

    We live in a capitalistic world, and the only way to come back from this recession is through protecting and nourishing UK based trade until the economy starts to grow again, at which point we may actually be able to afford our current level of expenditure. At the moment the economy simply doesn't reconcile itself, and we have to resolve that issue first and foremost.

    What's your master plan, Scherzo? I'm intrigued.

  11. #11 penguin 29 Mar 11


    By the 'current path' I assume you mean not having huge austerity measures on public spending? I guessing this from your posts, because that certainly isn't the 'current path' that's being taken.

    The alternative is summed up on the TUC march site (let me just Google that for you):

    ’an alternative in which rich individuals and big companies have to pay all their tax, that the banks pay a Robin Hood tax and on in which we strain every sinew to create jobs and boost the sustainable economic growth that will generate the prosperity which is the only long term way to close the deficit and reduce the nation’s debt.’

    I strikes me that there are at least two things in there that are different from the 'current path' - rich people & corporations not getting tax breaks that others cannot get, and a Robin Hood tax.

    I hope that goes some way towards answering your question about alternatives. Now I would like to ask you a similar question you have asked others.

    Why do you think that the current government's policies will work?

  12. #12 Vanessa Baird 30 Mar 11

    alternatives to cuts

    Point taken about the need to pay more attention to the alternatives to cuts.
    For more detail on tax based alternatives I recommend the work of Richard Murphy of Tax Research and the Tax Justice Network. Here are a couple of links, the first of which also includes ideas for growing the economy, the second on the UK 'tax gap'.

    There's also a great little video. Fast forward if you want to get straight to the alternatives

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About the author

Vanessa Baird a New Internationalist contributor

Vanessa Baird lived and worked as a journalist in Peru during the tumultuous mid-1980s, and she maintains a passionate interest in South America. She joined New Internationalist as a co-editor in 1986 and since then has written on everything from migration, money, religion and equality to indigenous activism, climate change, feminism and global LGBT rights. She also edits the Mixed Media, arts and culture section of the magazine.

Vanessa’s books include The No-Nonsense Guide to World Population (2011), Sex, Love and Homophobia (2004), The Little Book of Big Ideas (2009) and, People First Economics (2010). In 2012 she won a prestigious Amnesty International Human Rights Media award.

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