Last weekend, anti-austerity activists including UK Uncut targeted the U.S. corporation Starbucks for tax avoidance while making a point about the disproportionate impact of austerity on women. Over 40 protests occurred across the UK at Starbucks shops, UK Uncut's biggest day of action yet. Protesters staged sit-in occupations and transformed Starbucks cafes into refuges, crèches, libraries, and homeless shelters in protest against the impact of the government's cutting of services ranging from subsidies for single mothers to rape crisis centers. Occupy Wall Street stands in solidarity with this brilliant action to attack austerity and demonstrate the alternatives of mutual aid and resistance, while also calling attention to the inherent hypocrisy of governments' allowing multinational corporations to avoid taxes while cutting services to the poor. This issue is by no means limited to the UK only; these actions stand as an inspiration and one possible model for resistance movements fighting austerity across the world.
Growing public anger at Starbucks was clear today as over 40 of their shops across the UK- including in Liverpool, Cardiff, Bristol and Shrewsbury- were targeted today by the anti-cuts direct action network, UK Uncut.
In central London a creche and women's refuge were set up in Starbuck's flagship stores, and in Birmingham people slept in sleeping bags on the floor to highlight homelessness. In Barnet, activists turned Starbucks into a library, while in York protesters handed out free tea and coffee in store.
The group took action to confront the company over its tax avoidance and highlight the impact of the government's cuts on women.
The group says that Starbucks' offer of £10 million is a 'PR stunt straight out of their marketing budget'. Starbucks and other tax-dodging companies, including Google and Amazon, have had to face increasing public outrage and stinging criticism from the Public Accounts Committee over their tax practices this week. Nearly £5 billion new cuts were announced by George Osborne on Wednesday in the Autumn Statement.
Protesters say that they chose to target Starbucks as a result of its tax avoidance practices. They say that the government should be clamping down on tax avoidance by companies such as Starbucks rather than making cuts to the welfare state and the NHS which are devastating people's lives.
Women's groups  and local UK Uncut groups from Glasgow to Belfast to Cornwall participated in their biggest national day of action yet. Sit-in style protests saw Starbucks branches transformed into refuges, crèches and homeless shelters to highlight the disproportionate impact of the government's spending cuts on women.
Sarah Greene, a UK Uncut activist said: "It is an outrage that the government continues to choose to let multinationals like Starbucks dodge millions in tax while cutting vital services like refuges, creches and rape crisis centres. It does not have to be this way. The government could easily bring in billions by clamping down on tax avoidance that could fund vital services by clamping down on tax dodging."
Responding to Starbucks’ announcement that it will not claim tax deductions in the UK on a range of its tax arrangements and Starbucks statement regarding worker safety, Hannah Pearce, a UK Uncut supporter said:
“Offering to pay some tax if and when it suits you doesn’t stop you being a tax dodger. This is just a PR stunt straight out of the marketing budget in a desperate attempt by Starbucks to deflect public pressure – hollow promises on press releases don’t fund women’s refuges or child benefits.
The government must force Starbucks and every other tax dodging company to pay their fair share, instead of cutting welfare and tax credits for single mums and disabled women. All of our protests are fun, creative with a serious message to Starbucks management and the government, the hypocrisy of Starbucks execs claiming to be concerned about workers' safety because of protests is staggering at a time when workers are reporting they are being forced to sign new contracts with reduced benefits or lost their jobs.”
Kara Moses, at the UK Uncut protest in Birmingham, said “So many people have come to this protest because there is genuine public outrage that multinational companies are being allowed to avoid tax while benefits and essential services are cut. Starbucks’ admission that they have not been paying enough tax is a clear admission of guilt, and shows that direct action by the public works. We will keep the pressure up to end tax avoidance and these cuts that are devastating women's lives around the country”
A spokesperson from Global Women's strike, one of the women's groups supporting Saturday's action said:
"Women – in families, homes, communities and jobs – bear the brunt of austerity. At our Women’s Centre we see more women cut off benefits, losing their jobs, being made homeless and going hungry. Already, 3.5m children live in poverty, 1 in 5 mothers skips a meal to feed her children, and many walk miles to get food handouts because they can’t afford the bus fare. Women are also expected to pick up the pieces as services disappear or turn people away, saying they are overwhelmed. Asylum seekers were the first to be made destitute, and this is now becoming the norm. Victims of rape and domestic violence are particularly affected as more will be forced to stay in violent relationship to keep a roof over their heads."
Starbucks has come under fire after a Reuters investigation disclosed that the company had paid no UK corporation tax in the last three years, despite reporting sales of £1.2bn. The company was also reported to have filed accounts saying the companies UK operations were making a loss, while reporting strong UK profits to investors. Campaigners have highlighted research showing that women will experience a disproportionate impact as a result of the government's public spending cuts.
Women are bearing the brunt of cuts to public sector jobs, wages, housing benefit, childcare, and pensions. Additional hardship on women is being caused by the government's decision to cut £5.6m from violence against women services, £300m from Sure Start centres and a further £10 billion in benefit cuts. Every day 230 women are turned away from refuges as a result of the government's cuts to women's services.
Sheena Shah, a UK Uncut activist said "Women have had enough of being attacked by a cabinet of out-of-touch millionaires. The government's savage austerity plans are pushing the cause of women's equality back decades. Welfare, healthcare, Sure Start centres, childcare, rape and domestic abuse services are being cut and female unemployment is rocketing. Benefits cuts are forcing women to choose between heating the house and feeding the family. No one should have to make these choices."
1- UK Uncut is a grassroots anti-cuts direct action network, well-known for targeting corporate tax avoiders:www.ukuncut.org.uk
2- Go Feminist, UK Feminista, Southall Black Sisters, Global Women's Strike – http://ukfeminista.org.uk/http://www.southallblacksisters.org.uk/ http://www.globalwomenstrike.net/
5- http://www.tuc.org.uk/extras/Gender_Impact_of_the_Cuts.pdf &http://fawcettsociety.org.uk/documents/The%20Impact%20of%20Austerity%20on%20Women%20-%2019th%20March…
7- http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/care/charities-have-to-turn-away-women-seeking-refuge/6520815.article &http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=1237