Vodafone found itself under siege last Saturday as protesters shut down its shops across Britain.
Chanting “Tax dodgers go to hell—take your Tory mates as well!” protesters blockaded and occupied Vodafone shops in protest at the firm’s legal £6 billion tax dodge.
All three Vodafone shops on London’s Oxford Street were forced to close, as was its nearby shop on Tottenham Court Road. More were closed in Hastings, Manchester, Glasgow, Brighton, Oxford, Liverpool, Bristol, Leicester, Worthing, York and Brixton, south London.
Cas, a student at Middlesex University, was among the protesters in London. “We’ve got to show the government the level of discontent that exists,” she told Socialist Worker.
“People aren’t happy about the cuts. If we just lie down and take it, they’ll roll over us.
“We’ve got to do more than just liking a page on Facebook. We’ve got to get out on the streets.
“Vodafone is particularly irritating—the Tories say we’re all in it together and we all have to pull our belts tighter, but big companies can do what they like.”
Miranda came from Essex to join the London protests. “I’m on income support and my benefit was stopped with no notice,” she told Socialist Worker.
“I’m living off a little bit of money I put away. The government is cutting money from those least able to fight it—they may be so ill or stressed that they don’t have the energy to make sure they’re getting the right benefits.
“Now they are telling me I haven’t paid enough into the system to get benefits.
“They want me to live on £26 a week. But I worked from when I was 16 until I was in my 40s. Where has all the tax I paid gone?”
The mood on the protests was upbeat. In London protesters sat outside Vodafone shops singing, “If you want to sell your phones, pay your tax” and “If you don’t pay your tax, we’ll shut you down.”
They got a good response from passers-by, many of whom had their own horror stories about what the cuts would mean for them.
People felt confident that they were cutting with the grain of a general anti-Tory feeling. Sam, a teacher on the London protest, told Socialist Worker, “There are so many people against them, the Tories are starting on the back foot. It’s not like Thatcher.”
Such is the sensitivity to the protests, the HMRC tax authority contacted Socialist Worker to deny that Vodafone owed any tax. But of course it wouldn’t owe any now—the whole point of the HMRC’s deal with the company was to write off the tax bill.
The HMRC has admitted that a deal had been done—but refused to reveal details.
Saturday’s action followed an occupation of Vodafone’s flagship store on London’s Oxford Street on Wednesday of last week.
Protesters there said the action wasn’t organised by any one group but that it was an idea that spread on the social networking website Twitter.
Many of those protesting had heard about the action on Twitter and decided to come along. Activists from the Right to Work campaign, socialists and students also joined the demonstrations.
Unfortunately, because the protests are “unorganised”, it isn’t clear what action may be called next.
But the Vodafone protests, and the public response to them, show that there is deep anger at the bankers and bosses who are raking it in while we are expected to sacrifice essential services.
They also show that everyone can do something—and that, contrary to the TUC’s position, successful action can be organised fast.