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Bath Anti-Starbucks Demo
Well, unlike those uncultured swine over in Bristol, the Bath protesters yesterday were far more gentile. Rather than mussing our footware by actually entering the store and closing them down like oh so much rabble, the 20 or so assortment of BARF anarchists, Occupy Bathers, Bath Anti-Cuts Alliance, Socialist Workers Party, and UK Uncut-types instead set up a stall outside Starbucks High Street, distributing free-fairly traded, organic tea and coffee to members of the public – all vegan don’tcha know, with eco disposable cups – as well as the obligatory leaflet (see below). They came armed with not one but two banners, with one being very shiny and professional – oh, and the regular monthly Bath FreeShop, just across the way, which had temporarily been un-housed from its regular spot on Stall Street by the Christmas hysteria.
As can be expected after Starbuck’s high-profile turnabout on the tax issue a couple days before, most passersby were well-versed on the topic of the company’s tax evasion, and had already adopted their own stance on the issue – i.e. they had already decided to boycott the multinational, or they were fiercely protective of their favourite coffeeshop, and felt the need to inform leafleters who already work two jobs to go get a third. Maybe in Starbucks? Well no, maybe not in Starbucks, because a big focus of the Bath demo was to stand in solidarity with the 7,000-strong UK workforce who had been slapped with a new revised contract earlier in the week, shitting all over their work conditions and sickdays and maternity leave (though apparently staff in this Bath store will be compensated by a future payrise?), to make up for their executives’ newfound generosity to the taxman; well, they agreed to pay back £20m of the £400m they owe. But us beggars can’t be choosers, right?
Well, anyway, more than 50% of the public were supportive of the campaign, and some new folk enquired about joining up in such campaigns. The day also saw 4 or 5 people meditating to spread love all around: only in Bath, huh?
Oh please, can this only be in Bath?
“Starbucks: Shafting Their Workers & Dodging Their Tax
The recent uproar surrounding Starbucks has once again pushed the issue of tax-dodging, and its relation to austerity, into the limelight. Starbucks is one of the largest coffee chains in the UK, and the second largest café/restaurant chain in the world. Yet, in the last three years they’ve paid no corporation tax at all in the UK, despite making sales of £3.1bn. They manage this trick by juggling money between their various overseas outlets, so that accounts show an apparent loss over here. Because of their business structure, no one knows exactly how much tax they are evading, but it does involve Swiss tax havens, secret low-rate tax deals in the Netherlands and much ‘creative accounting’. But of course, rich people cheating to stay rich is nothing new.
This week however, facing public outcry, the coffee chain management dramatically offered to pay back £20m over the next two years – but at their workers’ expense. Starbucks ‘associates’ aren’t alone in getting low, low wages – too low to live on – but as bosses shifted on the tax question, they also told over 7,000 staff how they’re cutting paid lunch breaks, sick pay, maternity leave and a string of other work benefits, amongst other acts of petty spite.
The only reason that companies like Starbucks are able to employ a workforce at such rates at all, is due to state support in the form of working tax credits and housing benefit (benefits now also under threat, thanks to George Osborne). That is, the government subsidises their business. This is the only way such chain companies make a profit – not because they sell a good product, but because they cheat. If they actually had to pay their real costs, they’d go bankrupt. And we’re not just talking Starbucks: other big names recently have been Vodafone, Amazon, and the Arcadia group. And Osborne knows this. That’s why you won’t see him raising corporation tax, or closing tax loopholes, or clamping down on offshore tax-havens.
One way that Starbucks workers can fight such attacks is to unionise, and take action. Unions, as well as protest and direct action, have been instrumental in raising worldwide wages, implementing health and safety and benefits, and cutting down on long working hours – though the struggle may be far from easy. Starbucks, a company previously infamous for its union-busting, has now seen workers out on strike in Chile and New Zealand, and also unionising under the International Workers of the World (IWW) in America.
Meanwhile, the rest of us need to accept that, even if we could persuade the corporations to stop fiddling us on their tax, that alone wouldn’t make everything magically all right. It is in the politicians’ and the wealthy’s best interest to maintain mass unemployment, to replace proper, secure jobs with part-time and zero-hour contracts, and to privatise national industries and services. Increased hardship and insecurity, and the cutting of healthcare and benefits is not an unfortunate side-effect of Tory policy. It is the goal.
But we need not be powerless against such plans. Between 1918 and 1961, the UK national debt was just as bad as today – if not worse; but during that period, we saw the creation of the welfare state, the NHS, state pensions, comprehensive education and millions of affordable council houses. Yet we didn’t get these things because the government was feeling generous! Nervous about the worldwide revolutionary spirit which followed the end of World War I, politicians recognised that war-weary workers would need to be given incentives not to turn their discontent – or even their guns – on the government. And so the birth of welfare: the Tory Quintin Hogg summed up the prevailing mood in 1943 when he said: “we must give them reform, or they will give us revolution.”